Like an elephant, Graham Clark never forgets. So when fellow standup comics Ivan Decker and Charlie Demers teased him about his ever-growing facial hair, saying he should paint with it the way an elephant paints with his trunk, Clark laughed—but socked the idea away.
With no artistic background other than endless—and beardless—doodles in his high-school notebooks, Clark didn’t even know how to go about it. A few weeks later, the standup comic surprised an art-store clerk with his query on how best to become a modern-day William Van Dyke using one’s own bushy Van Dyke. Being a trailblazer is not easy, but it was decided that water-based acrylics would be easier on the brush hanging off his face than oils.
With that, he was off. The first painting was an abstract ditty, looking something like, but not quite, fireworks. He put it up on eBay with the intent of raising money for a friend who was getting alternative cancer treatment in Mexico.
“I thought if I could give her a couple hundred bucks from selling things online then that would be great,” he told the Straight at a coffee shop off Broadway. That first painting sold within minutes. And with Canada’s most popular comedy podcast, Stop Podcasting Yourself, and 3,170 Twitter followers and counting, the word got out fast. Other works, like portraits of Dolly Parton and Don Rickles; a rendering of robots leap-frogging; or animals like seals, giraffes, and Irish deer, followed, flying off the proverbial shelves to bare walls all over the world. He was able to hand his friend $5,000.
He has since donated money raised from selling these unique works of art to a Japan earthquake-relief fund and paid for a new wheelchair for fellow comic Ryan LaChance.
Lately, Clark has been working—beard scrunched into a makeshift brush; mug six inches from canvas—on a show to run next Thursday to Tuesday (September 22 to 27) at the Little Mountain Gallery as part of the Olio Festival. Will the artist finally see some cash in his pocket for his hard work and artistic vision? Not a chance. All proceeds go to the charity of the buyer’s choice.
“It’s like giving a charitable donation and then you get the painting as well,” he says. “And a weird conversation piece for your house or bathroom.”
Clark doesn’t even reimburse himself for the supplies needed to create these masterpieces of kitsch. He treats the process like a hobby and puts it all under entertainment expenditures.
“What I’ve realized from doing standup comedy exclusively for a living is that once you attach money to it [something], it can take a lot of the enjoyment out of it,” he reasons. “So if I don’t ever connect it to it being my living, then I don’t have to think about it that way. If I don’t keep the money, then the stress isn’t on me. And it’s a fun way to get a weird thing across to people. It would be a lot less fun if it was something to do for a living.”
Graham Clark’s art show is at Little Mountain Gallery from September 22 to 27; he hosts the Laugh Gallery at the Biltmore Cabaret on September 24.