Clifford Wright, Untitled (Eight Figures), c. 1945
Untitled (Eight Figures), c. 1945
Tempera and gouache on panel
39.5" x 30.25" Framed
36.5" x 27.5" Unframed
Illustrated in: The Lavender Palette: Gay Culture and the Art of Washington State
The child of Finnish immigrants, Clifford Wright (1919-1999) was born outside of Seattle, Washington and raised in a foster family. His artistic education began at Seattle’s Cornish School of Art where he studied alongside Mark Tobey and Walter Reese; Tobey became a lifelong friend and mentor. After working for the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) in the mid-1940s, Wright traveled to New York in the fall of 1946. He accepted a scholarship at the artist colony of Yaddo in Saratoga Springs, NY, which then led to his position as the assistant to director Elizabeth Ames in 1955. It was here, in the spring of 1952, that Wright met his future wife, the author Elsa Gress.
Interestingly, Clifford Wright was well-known in artist circles for being bisexual. In 1956 he embarked on a formative trip to Europe with a young male companion. However, arriving in Belgium, Wright’s young friend took all the money and abandoned him. Deserted, Wright reached out to Elsa Gress, who at the time lived in Copenhagen. Once reunited, the odd couple married within weeks and stayed together until Elsa’s death in 1988. Clifford adopted Elsa’s son (from a previous relationship) and they added 2 more children to their family.
As husband to Elsa Gress, Wright lived his homosexuality in his imagination and in the imagery of some of his paintings. He was happy with his life in Denmark, although he never learned to speak the language. He was helpless in many practical matters and dependent on Elsa in all respects, including money, as she was the chief earner. He was proud of Elsa's literary and dramatic achievements and of her fame. He was an introverted and modest person, though, who rarely took part in festivities.
Over the span of his career, Wright’s work has encompassed a variety of subjects, from figurative representation to pure abstraction, and a wide range of media. Certain themes and imagery continually re-emerge, however: a dream-like quality, brushstrokes with spontaneity and dynamism, a sense of play and joie de vivre.
Wright's work has been exhibited in New York, Brussels, Paris, Copenhagen, Aalborg and Stockholm, among others. He received scholarships from The National Academy of Arts and Letters, the Huntington Hartford Foundation, Yaddo, The Ingram Merrill Foundation and the Egill Jacobsen Foundation.
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