Artist John Clare

“John Clare’s paintings include imagery from observed, remembered and imagined sources. The act of materializing them, however, is not simply to illustrate them but to tilt their meaning towards ambiguity and speculation of a metaphorical and emotional nature. Inanimate objects often take on a life of their own – like actors in a drama – while retaining some of their original identity. For me the importance and enjoyment of an encounter with his work lies in the recognition of this drama.”

Basil Beattie

John Clare has had an eclectic career. Jazz and psychoanalysis form a backdrop to his work as a painter, both conceptually and aesthetically. As a psychotherapist he has written on Samuel Beckett and is also the author of a book on dreaming and the socio-cultural world (with Ali Zarbafi). In 1974 he founded the legendary jazz and black music shop ‘Honest Jon’s Records’, now the longest running record business in London. His work encompasses notions of the self, memory, desire, mourning and loss. He sees painting as being, like music, an emotional language which cannot be translated into words. Like the dream, it is a potential space in which to explore both inner and outer reality.

Now living on the Welsh borders Clare has a studio with an adjacent gallery showing his own work and that of friends. He has also painted for many years in South West France. In 1984, after working with the sculptor, Michael Werner, he met the eminent painter Basil Beattie who became a friend, influence and mentor. His work in the 90’s with psychoanalysts Christopher Bollas and Jonathan Sklar led to a decision increasingly to write and paint as an adjunct to being a psychotherapist.

On the Boplicity label Clare reissued albums by many jazz musicians including Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Art Pepper and Chet Baker. He also put on live performances in the ‘80’s at the 100 Club in London’s Oxford Street with American legends such as Jimmy Witherspoon, Slim Gaillard, James Moody, Red Rodney, Art Farmer, Eddie Lockjaw Davis and many others. He now lives and works in Hay on Wye and is a member of the St. Ives Arts Club.

The book on Social Dreaming was reviewed by Christopher Bollas and in the British Journal of Psychotherapy and Opus magazine. It is available from Karnac Books or Amazon or from Tinto House. If you are interested in participating in social dreaming matrix, there is a monthly dreaming workshop at Tinto house in Hay on Wye which is open to all visitors.


John Clare in conversation with Basil Beattie R.A. [2013]

B.B. I’d like to ask you about subject matter. Your paintings start as a representation or description – of a landscape, doorways, windows, darkness – but gradually moves away from that mode.

J.C. Yes, I might begin with a pastel drawing, then in the studio I work on the on the object and slowly it turns into something else. I’ve painted the same tree in France for 20 years and that familiarity can help me paint something different I haven’t seen before.

B.B. So the subject matter is a vehicle to allow other thoughts and impulses to come to the surface?

J.C. Yes, it’s about an emotional experience not an attempt at reality. The painting is a language which is not translatable into words. In dreams unexpected things emerge, not declaring themselves but on the threshold of identity. So paintings emerge which surprise us. For me, this is how reality is. We’re never quite ourselves, we’re never quite there. The elusive nature of the object is closer to reality than any attempt at exact description.

B.B. So there’s a dialogue between you and the object you’re making but you can’t force it, it’s done by stealth.

J.C. Yes, hopefully, just as with a dream, the object acts as a vehicle to germinate an idea.

B.B. Is there a conflict of loyalties between psychotherapy and painting? Do you listen to a painting as you listen to a patient?

J.C. Both situations are about what’s hidden. It’s not a logical process but one where you absorb experience. A rapport develops.

B.B. So perhaps, as Picasso said, “A painting begins to paint itself.”

J.C. Yes, when eventually the patient is able to speak freely, so s/he elaborates and extends the self. It happens without thinking.

B.B. But maybe it’s important to avoid the stereotype of interpreting the painting in a psychoanalytic way.

J.C. Absolutely. I’ve been painting doorways and shutters for many years but still resist the temptation to interpret this. The meaning of a painting is never fixed. The meaning of a dream will always be another dream.


1947 Born Widnes, Lancashire
1965 Lived and taught in Jamaica
1966-9 London University (Sociology), post-graduate criminologist
1972-5 Lecturer in Sociology London University
1974 Founded Honest Johns Records (legendary jazz and black music business)
1982 Started jazz label Boplicity, reissuing Dexter Gordon, Miles Davis, Coltrane et al
1983-5 Studied life drawing and sculpture with Michael Werner at Camden Arts Centre
1984 Met Basil Beattie
1988-92 Trained as a psychotherapist: worked in a London psychiatric hospital
1997 Night paintings La Marchaderie , Limousin, S.W. France
1998 One man show – Studio of Basil Beattie
1997-9 Worked in supervision with psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas
2000 One man show – Studio of Basil Beattie
2001 Published ‘Samuel Beckett and Psychoanalysis’ in Une Mer, Une Terre (UNESCO)
2002 Published ‘Multi lingual Psychotherapy’ in ‘Lost Childhood’ (Freud Museum)
2003 One man show – Hay on Wye Literary Festival
2003 Published ‘Dreaming the Future’ in Experiences in Social Dreaming, ed. Lawrence, (Karnac)
2004 Out There – one man show Hay Literary festival
2005 Paintings and sculpture (with Dominic Clare) Tinto gallery, Hay Festv.
2006 Inside/Outside (with Dominic Clare) Tinto gallery
2008 Group show: How the Light Gets in – The Globe Gallery, Hay on Wye
2009 Paintings and sculpture (with Dominic Clare), Tinto gallery, Hay Fest
2009 Group show: Welsh Contemporaries, Oriel Gallery, Hay on Wye
2009 Published ‘Social Dreaming in the 21st Century (Karnac) w. A. Zarbafi
2010 Into Out (with Dominic Clare) Tinto gallery
2012 Arcadia & Beyond: joint show with Roger Luxton
2012 Paintings & Sculpture (with Dominic Clare ) Tinto gallery
2012 Small Picture Show – Brecon Cathedral
2013 One man show: St. Ives Arts Club Society
2014 Shutters: joint show with Niel Bally
2016 Pieces of a Dream: one man show Tinto Gallery
2016 The Other Art Fair, Arnolfini Bristol
2016 The Chester Art Fair
2017 Saatchi Other Art Fair, Brick Lane, London
2017 “City of Lightness and Dark”, 508 Gallery, Chelsea, London
2018 Saatchi TOAF. Bloomsbury
2018 ‘Night by Night’, Tinto Gallery