illustrator, painter, etcher, art teacher and decorator, was born in Deal, Kent. He studied topographical drawing at the Royal College of Art, South Kensington (London), before proceeding to India. He was assistant drawing master at the Teacher Training College in Poona in 1860-62 and instructor in topographical drawing at the Imperial Central School from the following year. The precise date of Clarke’s arrival in Queensland is unknown but in 1866, together with the local poet James Brunton Stephens, he founded Queensland Punch . Clarke contributed illustrations to it then, and again when the journal was revived in 1878. He also illustrated Stephens’s verse, including Illustrated Marsupial Bill and Roley Poley People . The two were members of Brisbane’s Johnsonian Club, founded in 1878; Clarke was elected vice-president in 1882.
Active in Brisbane’s cultural life generally, Clarke illuminated addresses and presentation books for the Johnsonian Club, decorated banners, such as that for the United Trades’ loyal demonstration during the Duke of Edinburgh’s visit to Brisbane in 1868, and in 1881 painted the Tragic and Comic muses on Brisbane’s Theatre Royal, then being remodelled by the architect Andrea Stombucco. He recorded important local personalities and events such as the opening of the new St Stephen’s Catholic Cathedral, Brisbane, in 1874 (later published as a tinted lithograph by the Brisbane publishers Watson & Co.), designed the first notes and seal for the Queensland National Bank and provided illustrations for popular newspapers, including the Queenslander (including a new cover in 1877), Queensland Figaro and Planter Farmer .
According to William Moore, Clarke was the first etcher in Queensland. A collection of his designs and proof copies of his book covers and book illustrations (1867-79) is in the Mitchell Library. He was a regular participant in Brisbane’s early art exhibitions – the exhibitions of Arts and Industries – held at the School of Arts in the early 1870s. He designed the prize certificates for the 1873 exhibition as he did for Brisbane’s Intercolonial Exhibition in 1876. He was one of the three organisers of the Fine Art Gallery for the National Agricultural & Industrial Association of Queensland’s second exhibition in 1877 and showed several works in it, including etchings (one being a proof engraving of the new cover for the Queenslander ), watercolours ( A Deal Lugger in a Squall and Deal Luggers in a Calm ) and 'one admirable local subject, namely a sketch of the Brisbane River in one of its most picturesque aspects’. Other works were shown in the Queensland National Association Exhibitions of 1879, 1885 and 1887, and he continued to serve as a steward for the Fine Arts section. Indeed, his enthusiasm for the local National Association exhibitions was such that he opposed the formation of the Queensland Art Society in 1887; for him existing fine arts displays adequately served the needs of local artists.
In 1881, together with the architect Christian Waagepetersen, Clarke initiated art classes at the Brisbane School of Arts which he continued until his death, then was succeeded by Godfrey Rivers. Initially he taught freehand drawing and design and held a 'ladies’ class’ for watercolour painting. He was teaching modelling in 1888 89 when Harold Parker was a student. Clarke was a keen advocate of technical education in Brisbane. When the teaching role of the School of Arts was separated off to create the Brisbane Technical College in 1884 he designed the college emblem with its motto 'Ars Orta Labore’.
He is best remembered for his large, 12 × 4 feet (3.6 × 1.2 m), panoramic painting of Brisbane, commissioned for the Queensland court in the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition. This was shown again at the 1881 Queensland National Association Exhibition, then acquired by the Queensland Museum. It was a prominent and familiar exhibit in the museum’s former building. Another well-known work is his portrait of Dr James Quinn, Roman Catholic Bishop of Brisbane, painted for All Hallows Convent where, according to Keith Bradbury, he was art master.
At the 1880-81 Melbourne International Exhibition, in Qld Class 2 division ('various paintings and drawings’, cat. p.525), J.A. Clarke showed 'black-and-white drawings, illustrations to Brunton Stephen’s poems, Marsupial Bill and Roley-Poley People published in Queenslander .
Clarke regularly contributed to major exhibitions beyond Queensland, including the 1879 Sydney International, for which he designed the cover of the Catalogue of the Queensland Court and in which he won a third prize for his 'engravings’ (etchings?). He was well represented in the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition with A Bush Scene near Brisbane as well as his View of Brisbane among the oil paintings, the Brunton Stephens illustrations among the black and white drawings and one etching, Creek Crossing at Ashgrove, near Brisbane . He also sent work to the 1886 London Colonial and Indian Exhibition and the 1888 89 Melbourne Centennial International Exhibition, at the latter showing in the Queensland Court (Class 1, Oil Paintings, cat.4) a 'View of Quart Pot Creek, Stanthorpe’ and 'Study of a Coleus’ ( Official Record p.534).
Note: Dictionary of Australian Artists biography. Kerr, Joan
Note: Additional information: "At the 1880-81 Melbourne International Exhibition... published in Queenslander."