In 1962 LeRoy Clarke held his first exhibition, sold his first painting for TT$15.00 and exhibited at the national Independence Exhibition. Being described as “one of the most promising young artists”, for several years he worked as a teacher in nearby John John – “part of the rural initiation”. But it was after his first solo exhibition in 1965 that a definite direction began to emerge.
In 1967 he left Trinidad for New York. He set to work, painting on crocus bags on the floor of his apartment. His work was well received at a 1968 exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem; he was part of the 100 Years of American Art exhibition in Philadelphia, where one of his pieces sold for the pricey sum of US $475.00, and embarked on a series of one man shows.
In 1971 the Studio Museum offered him a job as programme co-ordinator/ artist-in-residence, and he stayed there until 1974.
By the time LeRoy had moved on from the Douens and was working on El Tucuche, the seed of something else was already growing in his mind. He felt sacred: this was his life’s work, after all, and you can’t finish your life’s work in your forties and wonder what else to do. But beyond the summit of El Tucuche lay even higher peaks of Aripo and this began to take on new symbolic meaning. So an even bigger scheme began to emerge. Now we look down at the douens from a great height.
Think of a pyramid, with two feet at the bases. Fragments of a Spiritual under the left foot, Douens under the right. The pyramid acquires two shoulders, as the poet develops new phases. In De Maze: A Single Line to My Soul deals with Man’s choices and the decision to overcome distraction. One of the paintings – Under It All, I All Right – shows the poet under stress, beset by drugs and confusion and dreadness, but looking into a clear pool, which could be his tears, and the reflection is pure, the face is clear.
On the opposite shoulder, Eye Am is an affirmation and increasing clarity. “You say to your superior self, I am the Best, I am ready to arrive in my other self, to leave behind the ordinariness and the trollness, the opinionated confusions of the Douens”.
In Utterance the series records the awed stammer of the poet as he glimpses the possibility of perfection. The structure acquires a head: El Tucuche Approaching Apotheosis: The Divining of Man. Man looks across from El Tucuche from his new height, and sees what is higher still. Aripo. He is stunned by what he sees; a brief ecstatic vision of unity.
LeRoy maintains that this has been the most successful phase of the Poet so far, in terms of public response: In Forming the Form. “It’s the most abstract, no forms to offend you. People like the blues and greens and reds”. Out of that grew yet another phase or movement, Pantheon, the phase of transcendence, which starts to reinterpret reality through new eyes.
So the three movements of The Poet have become seven, and heaven only knows where the epic will lead to next. It’s doubtful whether anybody except the artist has a clear overview of the mass of work produced in the last 25 years. He is nearing his sixties and as prolific and possessed as ever, despite the enormous amount of energy he puts out. The paintings and poems of the poet fit together like fragments of one vast canvas, an apocalyptic vision scorching their creator’s mind.