Constructing a Collection

Beaumonters Clark, Thacker ‘take care’ of contemporary art

This is the latest in an ongoing series about Southeast Texas art collectors.

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Jerry Thacker, left, and Rob Clark in their Beaumont home.

BEAUMONT — The term architecture, in a nutshell, is the art and science of designing buildings and other structures. Taking into account the environment, materials available and purpose of the newly constructed space, architects integrate function with thoughtful design.

Beaumont architect Rob Clark, and his partner Jerry Thacker, have collected artworks for about 22 years together — artworks that complement their home’s interior and reflect their passion for challenging works that parallel the complexities found in the field of architecture.

Their West End home features hundreds of pieces of art with works on display in one room overflowing into the next. Clark and Thacker are not partial to a single medium — photographs, paintings, drawings, woodcuts and sculptures, along with mixed-media pieces, cover the walls and are displayed on pedestals and mantles.

“We love going to shows to see work,” Clark said. “You really learn about an artist after you watch them over time. Purchasing a work generally means that we feel an artist has really encapsulated their statement in their art.”

The pair try to establish relationships with artists, which may influence what artwork they choose to buy.

“Getting to know the artist makes you appreciate the work more,” Thacker said. “Once you meet them and see how they are wired, how they speak about their work — some artists may turn us off because the energy is off.”

Clark and Thacker’s collection is a fusion of contemporary Texas and Latin American artists. The couple often collect multiple works by the same artists which reflects how the artists’ oeuvres grow and change.

Clark has known Beaumont photographer Keith Carter for nearly four decades, and owns a survey of his works throughout the years of their friendship. A painting by Beaumont artist John Alexander from the 1970s hangs in the living room, while a piece from the ’80s hangs in the bedroom, and tableaus and sculptures by Beaumont artist Paul Manes make several appearances throughout the house.

The couple attend gallery shows and auctions to see new works by artists in their collection, as well as uncovering emerging artists in the contemporary art zeitgeist.

Their house is not just a home, but a learning facility for interested guests. Clark and Thacker provide guided and informative viewings of their collection — finishing each other’s sentences and filling in gaps in the other’s recollection of purchasing a work. The gentlemen are also invested in nurturing new artists who are developing their individual modes of expression.

“We are very much into mentoring and watching for emerging young artists,” Clark said. “They come by the house and we review portfolios. We are constantly going to galleries and shows to watch artists and watch their transitions throughout their careers, and adding them to our collection.

“We like to maintain a dialogue with these artists and see how their works grow throughout their career. It is about creativity and newness, and it links together with the architecture.”

Thacker said that as an artist develops, one sees whether or not they have a real strong foothold, and if they are consistent with the narrative throughout their work.

Alongside works by up-and-coming artists, the couple gravitates towards cerebral works that challenge the viewer’s perception. In the kitchen, Mary McCleary’s “Who is the Third” is composite of kitsch objects and paint to create a scene from T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland.” Rather than just paint the scene, she constructs it with found objects — and she plays with the viewer’s notion of Hell with the appearance of a little snowman and Heaven, with the literal all-seeing eyes of God.

“The works we are attracted to have a complexity similar to what one finds in architecture,” Clark said.

Obsessive compulsiveness is another theme throughout the collection — a hair strand altered to resemble a DNA strand or a shadowbox with encaustic dead goldfish. The couple also like works that play with one’s understanding of concepts.

“Artist Celia Eberle’s ‘Hovel Sculpture’ plays with the notion of success,” Clark said. “She was thinking that the epitome of everything is the perfect house. So she has this log, and sitting on top is this little house made out of petrified wood. Inside, there is a speaker — the other perfect dream; reaching fame like Mariah Carey — that plays her belting out high notes.”

Other themes weaving through the collection include the exploration of relationships, such as those between mother and daughter, as well as revisiting one’s past to uncover narratives.

“It’s about looking through layers, how much do we really understand and see,” Thacker said.

One special piece is a collaboration by Mexican artists Gonzalo Lebrija and Luis Miguel Suro. The photograph is one of only three produced, and the only one to hang in a private residence. The image features three white horses eating bales of hay.

“The artists brought in a hundred bales of hay and arranged them to spell out ‘Bureaucracy,’ and then released three white horses to eat away at them,” Clark said. “One edition is in the Tate in London, one is at the Museo Moderne in Mexico City and we have the third one. We just had that immediate reaction to the work and knew we had to add it to our collection.”

The couple also enjoys bringing their works to the community and allowing a larger public to view art. They frequently lend to local exhibitions as well as integrate works in a Sunday School class at Calder Baptist Church.

“We don’t feel like we own the works — simply that we are taking care of them,” Clark said.

Just like architecture, Clark and Thacker’s collection challenges how the world works, plays with concepts and displays meticulous attention to detail. Clark may not have designed a museum building, but he has certainly created a museum in Southeast Texas.

Story and photos by Caitlin Duerler

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