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Vernon artist sets wolf free

Jude Clarke has not been known to cry wolf often, even while living with the pain of a chronic disease.

Instead, the Vernon artist has written about her experiences of being a painter living with systematic lupus erythematosus, documented in her 2002 internationally-acclaimed book The Language of Water.

First diagnosed with lupus, which comes from the Latin word for wolf, when she was 21 years old, Clarke has continued to paint, write, educate and inspire others with her story.

Her journey comes full circle with the re-launch of The Language of Water with new publisher, Kelowna’s Old Mill Publishing. The book features a new epilogue and comment by acclaimed B.C. poet Lorna Crozier.

The launch comes at the same time as Clarke’s new art exhibition, There’s Something in the Air, which opens at the Vernon Art Gallery Thursday.

Clarke has spent eight years overall from the time Language of Water was conceived to this latest and, what she says, is the final installment.

“I see this as a visual completion of what I set off to do,” said Clarke. “This is a big statement for me. I feel like I’ve completed it, but I didn’t think it would take eight years.

“If you want to look at it as a chronic disease being a plus, this has been a way to be focussed on doing what’s important to you. I’ve been able to concentrate on my art and writing.”

Clarke showed her first series of paintings based on Language of Water at the now defunct Headbones Gallery in Vernon, a year before the book was released.

“When I did the book, I knew I was also going to do an exhibition. What I didn’t know was that the undercurrent was going to be living with an adverse situation,” she said.

Known as the disease of a thousand faces, lupus can present itself with painful or swollen joints and muscle pain, as experienced by Clarke, as well as unexplained fever, red rashes, most commonly on the face, chest pain upon deep breathing, unusual loss of hair, pale or purple fingers or toes from cold or stress, sensitivity to the sun, swelling in the legs or around eyes, mouth ulcers, swollen glands and extreme fatigue.

“I’ve been able to accept the disease... I’ve been able to recover from the flares that took over a year of my life,” said Clarke. “It’s taken age, wisdom and knowledge learning about the disease. There was so much unknown back when I was diagnosed. Now I have so much more knowledge.”

Painting has been a form of therapy.

Clarke has 20 new paintings, which she calls abstract landscapes, to show at the Vernon Art Gallery. Some feature hairy amoeba-like creatures that seem to be floating in space. There is also a strong element of water and weightlessness in them, said Clarke, adding she has no preconceived notion of what she is going to paint before starting.

“They are joyous paintings. They play at gravity. These are about release, and I hope if you look deeper, you will feel that underside – there are depths,” she said.

“Something in the Air is a metaphysical thing that’s not seen. You can’t put your finger on it. When I was painting these organic creatures, they were trying to talk to me, inviting me to transcend gravity and join them in the air, and be free.”

Clarke uses mixed media – watercolour, pastel and hard chalk – painted on watercolour paper, which she sometimes washes the paint out of over and over again in the bathtub and then paints over to achieve a muted and layered effect.

“When I put the pastel on, I smear it around like paint. I get texture that way. I use a whole pastel (crayon) at a time,” she said.

“It’s so much fun... I start painting on my desk and once it stops dripping, I put it on my studio wall, then on the floor. My studio is a disaster zone even my dog Finnegan doesn’t come in.”

An opening reception for the re-launch of Clarke’s Language of Water (books are available at the gallery) and the exhibition There’s Something in the Air takes place at the Vernon Art Gallery Thursday, Nov. 1 at 5 p.m.

Also opening Thursday will be the gallery’s annual members’ exhibition, smallMATTERS, featuring small-scale work by area artists, and Power Comes in a Form of a Circle, an exhibition of painted deer hide ceremonial drums by Okanagan Nation artist David Wilson.

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