Saturday, June 4, 2016

Nobby Clark's Auckland

Ivan's Restaurant, Ponsonby Road

K S Clark – aka Nobby Clark - was a British artist and cartoonist who arrived in Auckland, New Zealand in 1952, and never went back, settling in to become one of the most vibrant chroniclers of the Queen City in the late 20th century.

Princes Wharf

He worked for Auckland's newspapers and advertising agencies, but it was his sketches of the city and its inhabitants that were his real passion, and he released two books full of these beautiful and distinctive pictures in the early 1980s.

The Union Fish Shop - Union Street

His sketches aren't a snapshot of the age, they're an evocation. This is big city New Zealand in the eighties, with all the triumphs and tragedies of ordinary life.

The Las Vegas Naked Lady

His art is full of the grime and slime of a long, wet winter in a polluted city, and his characters are awesomely ugly, shuffling across the stage of the city.

The Queens Ferry, Vulcan Lane

But they're also full of the joy of life – he heads into the city's pubs, clubs and bars, where people with munted livers sing, dance and holler, filling the void with their vitality. He captures the life of the city, before it fades away with time.

The Gluepot

Crucially, Clark's subjects were the sort of things proper historians and artists usually stayed well away from – the transvestites of K Road, and the local fish and chip shop, and the nearest public toilet.

The White Fish Shop, K Road

They're invaluable now, just three short decades later, where most of these old stone and brick landmarks were erased in the pre-crash boom of the eighties, replaced by neon nightmares and steel disasters.

The Thomas Doo (Junior) Building

Even as he was putting together his books, Clark noted that many of the landmarks he was drawing were destined for demolition, and his art is one of the few public records that they ever existed now.

Durham Lane Conveniences

(Hilariously, the public toilet in Durham Lane is one landmark that is still recognisable in this sci-fi world of 2016.)

Old Parnell

And a lot of these people are gone too. Real life is full of joyfully grotesque human beings, and so is Clarke's art – picture after picture features the little old lady, stomping down the street to the local dairy, the sort of sight you see every day, and you only miss it when it's gone.

Late Night Shopping on K Road

This is the world of late night shopping, and working class markets in the suburbs. A world of Wiccan parties in the living room, and poetry readings in the local square.

St Kevin's Arcade

Clark passed away in 2008, and a promised third book never appeared, but you can still find his work around, and you can even find tea-towels with some of his scenes on them. The city he loved has changed so much in the past few decades, but his art will be there forever.

Rupa's Store, Wellington Street, Freemans Bay


Anonymous said...

I have never seen lark's work before, but it is just beautiful. There are echoes of great artists, Giles, Eisner and Searle in there, mixing together to make something wonderful. Cheers. i look at your blog a couple of times a week, and am always drawn in. Cheers. Matt Bunce

Murray Dewhurst said...

Excellent post, it's actually very difficult finding anything online on Clark's work.

Jeni said...

Thank you. Nobby was a great personality, someone I will always remember. We worked together in the early 70s and he has always held a special place in my heart. Nobby and the Nelly Bar in K Road are some of the best memories for me. The characters we encountered up there and the laughter is something I could never forget.

Lenny SB said...

I have both his books. Thank you Nobby for preserving the old Auckland of my heart.

Unknown said...

Nobby and Margaret were close friends with my parents.
My father even designed Nobby's house in Evelyn Road, Howick back in the early to mid fifties.
He would often turn up at our house and would sit on the floor smoking his pipe
I have a few Christmas Cards from him and his family to ours and they are just the same illustrations as seen here.
He also worked in advertising agencies in Auckland as did my father.
(My father's part time passion was architecture)
Put together Nobby, my father and David Them and Ian Reynolds of Kingston Reynolds Thom and Alardice and their incredibly talented families and they were the beginning of Auckland's change

Unknown said...

Nobby and Margaret welcomed myself and my friend (Jock Gordon) who was a friend of their son, into their home in the mid 1970's.
The family were extraordinarily talented, fun and kindly. I have always remembered them with affection. I have a few photographs I would like to pass on to them should you know a contact email. Steve Doherty. Hull.

Unknown said...

An interesting ditty as to the name 'Nobby'
Navy Nicknames.
Clark(e) Nobby
During the Industrial Revolution, many common people became wealthy and to identify with their wealth had the spelling of their names changed. Smith became Smythe, Brown became Browne and Clark became Clarke. They disowned their country cousins who referred to their stuck-up relatives as aping the nobility, calling them the nobs or the Nobby Clarks.

Jasmine Clark said...

Hi Steve lovely to read your message. I am Marty's daughter and Nobbys granddaughter and would love to see the photos

JOHN said...

As a Clark (who has never been called Nobby, by the way) I find your explanation for the nickname intriguing. I was under the impression that it was work-related, i.e. clerks in the old days wrote for long hours with quills and developed callouses on their fingers (knobs, nobs), hence Nobby Clark(e); similarly, Dusty Miller, named after the dust-prone occupation in flour mills. Anyway, did Nobby Clark ever sign his work?

Unknown said...

Yes John there are so many different contenders for the origin of the nickname Nobby. Including the Knobby hat. It may be an interesting project for someone with the time and inclination. In the end I guess it comes down to being what is most likely. It reminds me of the Australian nickname for Brits arriving on their shores. Things about pomegranates and the like. For me, "Prisoners Of Mother England" has the best ring.