TROY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Growing up in Niskayuna, Kevin Clark always knew he wanted to be an artist.
“I also wanted to be a superhero and a football player, ” he said, “but I was always, realistically, a good artist, I knew that’s what I wanted to be.”
As he studied art in college, he pictured his future.
“I thought I would be just like Monet, paint large pretty landscapes, be famous that way.”
He ended up painting large pretty landscapes, just a lot larger than he imagined. How large? How about thirty, forty or sixty feet high?
Kevin is the artist behind a number of beautiful murals showcasing Troy’s storied past.
“I like my murals to have some sort of historical content, to be informative, have a meaning.”
It all started with a job after college helping the owners of Brown’s Brewery as they set up their Troy location. His first piece as he transitioned from renovation to creation was a logo inside.
“So, it was trial by fire,” Kevin recalled, “and that logo led to another logo which led to the rest of the brewery and then a person from another brewery saw it and said why don’t you paint our brewery in Vermont, and I just kept going and 30 years later I’m still doing it. Completely accidental that I wound up doing murals, I knew I was going to be an artist of some sort, but I didn’t know I was going to be a mural artist.”
His first big mural, on the outside of Brown’s Brewery, shows Kelly Brown toasting Uncle Sam on the Hudson.
“When I was painting her, I couldn’t tell what I was doing, so I’d paint, then I’d have to go up to the roof, go down six flights of stairs, come down the block, see what I did and make mental notes, then go up six flights of stairs and try to correct my mistakes. Now with digital cameras I can take a photo and when I go home, I print out the photo and I make the corrections right on the print and when I come back the next day and I go up on the lift I can see where my marks are, what needs to be improved, what needs to be moved and changed so it makes it a lot easier.”
NEWS10’s Lydia Kulbida asked Kevin, “When it comes to something this size, it’s not just art, it’s math?”
“Yes,” replied Kevin, “because you can’t tell when you’re right on top of it, so you have to trust your measurements. It’s like putting together a puzzle a little bit, so it’s a challenge but there’s no other way to do it when you’re right on top of something, it’s guesswork and math and you gotta trust the math.”
Originally the design called for Uncle Sam to be raising a glass in return but after he started painting, someone from the city realized Uncle Sam should not be boating and drinking.
“So, I had to do a quick pivot and figure out what he could be toasting Kelly with, the hats very iconic so that was the obvious choice. Sometimes when you start a mural you really have to think on your feet, because what you plan and what actually happens doesn’t match up a lot of times.”
His mural across from the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall does match up perfectly with the beautiful interior of the famed venue.
“That one they wanted to show off what the inside of the music hall looked like, a lot of people know what the outside looks like and have seen the inside through pictures but if you don’t go to the music hall often or at all you have no idea how beautiful it is inside. It’s a world-class venue and the acoustics are incredible, and the performers are incredible.”
The Burden Water Wheel welcoming you in South Troy? Yup, that’s Kevin too, but this location came with a unique set of problems that called for very special paint.
“So there’s a different surface on top of the original surface, and that paint got flown in from Germany a mineral paint which soaks in to the subsurface, so that one was nerve wracking just because the wall faces south, it’s exposed to all the elements and it’s a retaining wall so you have all that moisture behind it so I didn’t know how long that would last and it’s always difficult when you’re signing something and you’re holding your breath hoping that it doesn’t make you look bad down the road so I’m very pleased that’s been up nearly 20 years and it still looks good too.”
His mural on the exterior of the Hedley Building took him to new heights.
“You’re so high up the lift sways back and forth a little bit, so you’re trying to hit a moving target and it’s very hot, the texture on this wall just absorbs the heat, so when you’re doing a black, which also absorbs heat, you have the steam coming off the wall right after you paint it and there are bees up there too so you have to deal with the bees, the wind, the steam, and fear of falling”
Lydia noted, “So Michelangelo only had one thing to deal with, the heights, you had bees and swaying.”
Kevin chuckled, “He may have had bees too I don’t know.”
But he kept his finger on the pulse of Troy’s history in the murals outside and inside.
“How did you pick which buildings to reflect in the window?” asked Lydia.
Kevin noted, “These are visually iconic buildings of Troy. The Music Hall you can see it and understand that’s what the music hall looks like. The Soldiers and Sailors Monument, that’s the heart of downtown.”
The renowned residents of Troy pictured on the exterior mural also noted on the interior mural.
“The whale is a tribute to Herman Melville who wrote Moby Dick and lived in North Troy for about 10, 12 years.”
“These are all steamboats that used to frequent Troy back in the day, I wish I was alive to see it.”
Even when he’s not a couple of stories high, like when he repaired the Troybot mural under the Green Island Bridge, the size of the work and being out in the elements takes a physical toll.
“When you get home, you exhale, and you realize you’re tense and tight and the older you get the longer it takes to recover.”
“There’s not a lot of old muralists so I’m hoping to do this for a lot longer, then retire to canvas and do pretty flowers and seascapes and things like that.”
But the upside of public art? The immediate feedback to the work, instead of being made in solitary to then only be seen by whoever buys it. Claude Monet, the founder of impressionist painting, believed the noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.
For Kevin Clark, he takes pleasure in the impressions of his work giving joy to others..
“That’s very rewarding that I made other people happy, and I think if you do something you enjoy and can make a living out of it and make other people happy, then that’s kind of something you should be doing with your life.”
Visit the Clark Murals website to learn more about Kevin and his art.