HYATTSVILLE, MARYLAND - Clarke Bedford is an artist who prides himself on being a non-conformist. He creates collages, sculptures and photos to express his humorous outlook on life. And he has turned everything around him -- his house and cars -- into a fantastical art gallery.
Junk to modern art
Bedford’s studio is filled with all kinds of materials -- collected from antique stores, thrift shops, and junk yards -- that he's turning into artworks.
Each piece speaks for itself and reflects how Bedford was feeling and thinking at the time.
“It’s making a whole thing that has a whole feeling out of individual parts and allowing the individual parts to still show their individuality and their histories and their feel and all that,” he explains. “So you get the overall and then you can start to look through it and see the things. I think that’s a modernist notion.”
Creating assemblages is what Bedford is focusing on right now. In years past, he showed interest in sculpture and photography. A sense of humor has always been part of what he creates.
One of his works for example, reflects his take on the temple of Abu Simbel in Upper Egypt. “[This is] a famous photograph of the colossi in ancient Egypt, and I’m only using kewpie dolls, and they‘re cast in plaster and worked and painted to look real and so on,” he adds. “Then you photograph it using multiple sources -- candles, flashlights -- all these little dark room tricks that people don’t have to do anymore.”
Conservator vs. Artist
Bedford started to express himself through art when he was a little boy. He says working for over 30 years as a conservator at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden influenced his approach to art.
“I think the best thing that that job did for me was in a way make you slow down and not think about myself, but about art in a really broad way, other people’s art,” he says. “In conservation, you might spend months and months working on something that you’re not even particularly interested in, but you come to see what’s interesting about it. So I think that’s the biggest influence. You think more broadly about art not about yourself and your own taste. ”
It’s not just the interior of the house in Hyattsville, Maryland, that’s been turned into a gallery. The exterior of his house is also covered with his creations. That gives him a sense of satisfaction and comfort.
“I feel kind of like I’m living in this little world,” he says. “So when I go out into the world and get into traffic for two and half hours and you come home into this, it’s kind of ..." He sighs with relief.
But his little world goes with him into traffic, since his metal sculptures blanket every square millimeter of his four cars. There are wheels, whirl-a-gigs, spires and colored stones. “You ride around in it and it’s like a decorated horse,” he says, comparing himself to a street musician. “(This is) not different really from someone who dresses up in clothes, even like in fashion and sort of put on a bit of a show, you know, probably mostly to make themselves feel good. I don’t understand why more people don’t do this?!”
His cars grab attention and often admiration, whether they're rolling down the street or parked in front of his house. His neighbor, Peter O’Day, says Bedford’s house and cars make the whole neighborhood recognizable. “People stop all the time and they stop in the middle of the road and take pictures all the time,” O’Day reports. “It’s curious, it's quite curious. Every time I look at his stuff, I see something I hadn’t seen before. When I have guys come over to do work or whatever, they’re always saying, ‘Wow, what is that?!’ People either hate it or love it. That’s how I know it’s art.”
Whether people love it or not, artist Clarke Bedford says he’s happy with what he’s doing. He enjoys creating and living in his own little world.