Pope artist's lucky break

A 'rock star' artist who is about to have his work blessed by the Pope owes much of his glittering career to an early break given to him by a former Garstang vicar.

Tuesday, 14th September 2010, 5:01 pm
Updated Tuesday, 14th September 2010, 5:02 pm

These days stained glass artist Brian Clarke counts the likes of Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney and David Bailey among his fans and friends.

His work is world renowned and includes the Pyramid of Peace in Kazakhstan, the Pfizer building in New York and the Holocaust memorial in Darmstadt.

And this weekend he will have one of his latest pieces blessed during his Papal visit to Britain by Pope Benedict XVI, which Clarke has done for the Papal Nunciature in Wimbledon.

It is all a far cry from the early 70s when, as a struggling artist, he had small studio in Preston and was handed one of his first commissions by former vicar of St Thomas', Garstang, and Courier columnist Canon Ron Greenall.

At the time Canon Ron was vicar at St John's Church, Coppull, and knew of the young artist because his studio was in an old furniture shop on Brook Street in Preston, opposite the haberdashery shop owned by Canon Ron's mother-in-law.

Canon Ron asked him to create a replacement window for St John's and Clarke happily obliged, being paid 100 for the job.

Clarke's Garstang connections didn't end there, however, as a short time later he married Liz Finch, the daughter of former Churchtown vicar Rev John Finch.

And the artist was in Garstang only recently to attend the funeral of Rev Finch's wife, Hanna, where he gave part of the eulogy.

It was there that Canon Ron reminded Clarke of his early patronage, and the artist recalled it immediately and the important role it played in his career.

"The 100 you paid me gave me a month's rent for the studio and helped me to keep working" the artist told Canon Ron. He added: "I do remember it took the Diocese some time to approve my design, and as neither you or I had transport I brought the window to Coppull by bus!''

Soon after the windows were installed at St John's a visiting vicar from St Lawrence's Church in Longridge admired the designs and asked to be put in contact with Clarke, eventually commissioning him to create the 20 modern pastoral scene windows that can still be seen at St Lawrence's Church today.

The two commissions helped to launch Clarke's career and in the late 70s he moved to London and was soon mixing with artistic royalty, from the McCartneys to photographer Bailey and American legends like film star and director Dennis Hopper and Andy Warhol.

Now, aged 57, the Oldham-born artist is also chairman of the Francis Bacon estate and has studios all over the world.