In Memoriam

Mind the Gap: Remembering Ehren Clark

Edit someone’s words long enough and their voice begins to seep into your own. For 10 years, I worked with Ehren Clark, one of the most passionate voices in Utah’s art community, and his many verbal mannerisms — his cadences, syntax and lexicon — became so familiar, so intimate even, that they seemed, at times, to take over my own, becoming like a second personal dialect, one through which I could experience the world the way he did. Ehren’s death on Monday, June 26, at the age of 43, is a painful loss to our community, and I can almost hear his voice in my head, suggesting a eulogy, in the same manner he wrote his articles: passionate, soaring, superlative, reaching for the sublime and the absolute, exhausted and out of breath at the end of each sentence.

Ehren was born in Provo, and grew up in England and Houston, in an LDS family of four boys and two girls. He was tall at an early age and, growing up, put his lanky body to use on the swim team, and as a neighborhood swim coach. The oldest in the family, he was also the “gifted” one, excelling in academics, interested in art and music, full of promise.

Ehren began writing for 15 Bytes in the spring of 2007. We were a relatively young publication, still exploring the terrain and what we could make of it. He was living in Provo at the time, writing the occasional piece on the local art scene for the Deseret News. We met through a mutual friend at the BYU Museum of Art, and Ehren quickly turned his energy to our publication. An open forum, willing to speak up to our audiences rather than down, and eager to pursue the ideas that inform art and its creation, 15 Bytes was well-suited for his own interests. He began writing on a monthly basis, carving out a space of his own, diving with equal abandon into historical exhibits at large museums and small, personal shows by local artists, becoming one of 15 Bytes’ principal voices in the years it came to define itself.

Soon after he began writing for us, Ehren moved to Salt Lake City, “where the action was,” as he would say. He set up shop first in a cozy duplex near Liberty Park before settling in his longtime home at The Ruby Apartments downtown — within a block or two of a half dozen art venues, all of which he covered in his articles. He could be seen jaunting about town in all kinds of weather, on his way to Deseret Industries or a gallery exhibition, riding his little gray scooter, or, in the last years, on foot, a modern day flaneur absorbing the city he made his own, and which he refused to leave.

He was an unapologetic individualist, living a curated life, from the bohemian chic fashion sense he could forge with a select pair of corduroys and a well-chosen thrift store shirt — accented in colder months by a scarf or beret — to the numerous objets d’art and used books that filled his apartment. He was an incurable collector. He passionately bought up the entire Criterion Collection of films, then sold it off when he found the obsession too overwhelming, only to begin forming the collection once again.

He was always passionate, hungry for a new assignment. In addition to the 150-plus articles he wrote for 15 Bytes, Ehren was a regular contributor to City Weekly, wrote pieces for the short-lived print journal Fibonacci, and engaged in several independent writing projects. He even managed to slip in a stint as a professor at Westminster College.

Since he wrote about it in various public venues, it won’t betray any confidences to say that Ehren struggled with mental-health issues for years. He had his first major psychotic episode in 1994 and was hospitalized more than once as he struggled with schizoaffective disorder for two decades. Despite these difficulties, he finished his undergraduate studies at the University of Utah and was able to earn a master’s degree in art history at the University of Reading, in England. It was there he soaked up the likes of Immanuel Kant and Edmund Burke, frequent references in his writing.

He wasn’t always easy to be around. His enthusiasm, which was one of his most magnetic qualities, could become manic frenzy, spilling over into chaos and belligerence. Depression frequently followed, and one suspects not just for chemical reasons — here was a passionate, intelligent man with an open heart, frustrated by the gap between the promise of his abilities and the realities of his illness. With time, friends and colleagues learned to recognize the shifts in mood, but those who knew him less well were often left bewildered.

Which was a shame, because his struggles with mental illness frequently hid his endearing qualities. He was a kind individual, filled with an enthusiasm for life and persistent optimism even in the face of ravaging interior struggles. He fell out with friends, sometimes more than once, but seemed little willing to hold a grudge, eager always for reconciliation. When he wasn’t mired in the deepest troughs of paranoia or depression, he managed his illness with humor and a good deal of grace.

He was driven by a desire to give, to be something to the community, to the world, to bridge that gap between the early promise of his youth and the struggles of his adult years. He did that in small, personal ways, as a friend and as a brother and an uncle, but also in more public ways, in his assumed role as champion of Utah’s artists. He spent countless hours visiting shows and stopping in to talk with artists in their studios, and everything he came across was pregnant with  possible meaning.

Read his articles from the past ten years and many recurring ideas emerge — existentialism, subjectivity, the sublime. But one sticks out overall: connectivity. In art, Ehren saw the possibility for connection, between the abstract and the concrete, between the world as it is and the ideas we develop to organize it; but more importantly, between the artist and her viewer, and between the critic and his audience.

Ehren was a gay man who ultimately chose to live within his faith tradition, compounding the inherent loneliness of his mental struggles with that of being single. He was supported, however, by a loving family who managed to help him live an independent life despite his struggles; by a wide array of friends, from the well-established gallery owner to the clerk at the local 7-Eleven; and by the members of his local LDS congregation, which became his home and gave him an opportunity to care for others.

At one time, Ehren seemed almost everywhere in the Utah art scene — on social media, in the pages of 15 Bytes, City Weekly and Fibonacci, towering over the crowds at Gallery Stroll. For the last few years, however, he was seen much less frequently. The frenzy with which he immersed himself in the community at one point became unsustainable as he dealt with his mental health, and he was constrained to establish a more measured approach to the community he loved. Yet he seemed continually drawn, whenever his health would permit, to the role he saw for himself as “Utah’s art critic,” as he once styled himself.

It may be small comfort to know that in his last months Ehren was excited and engaged, rather than listless or despondent. He attended Gallery Stroll for the first time in a long while in June, and was at work on two articles for our July edition when, after a recent shift in his medication, he died from an accidental overdose. He was also drawing up plans for a home exhibition. It was to be a third Friday event, in which he would invite members of the community into the personal space of his apartment, to peruse his carefully organized but overflowing collection of books, objects and art. It was to be called “Mind the Gap.”

 

You’ll find our archive of Ehren Clark’s articles here.

 

The founder of Artists of Utah and editor of its online magazine, 15 Bytes, Shawn Rossiter has undergraduate degrees in English, French and Italian Literature and studied Comparative Literature in graduate school before pursuing a career in art.

Categories: In Memoriam

Tagged as:

35 replies »

  1. Dear Shawn,
    I have tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat reading your words about Ehren.
    They are perfect words for your friend and colleague. Also you clear away some of the questions we all have had about Ehren who many loved. Your friendship to him, was I am sure, invaluable to him. Thank you Shawn for writing about his life, struggles included. Sincerely Carolyn Coalson

    • I never met Ehren. After he wrote a beautiful review of my exhibit at Art Access in October 2015 I searched him out online with the intention of writing him, thanking him. I couldn’t find him on Facebook at the time and meant to contact 15 Bytes to get his info. Life got busy and it fell by the wayside with a thought that I’d meet him at some point and could tell him then how much his review meant to me, how he captured in words what I had expressed in paint, how he understood the great emotion behind these particular paintings. My heart is broken to know that I cannot thank him… Beautiful tribute Shawn. I wish I had known him…

  2. Shawn,
    I am so grateful to have opened this edition of 15 Bytes to see this tribute to Ehren. I was one of the people from whom Ehren distanced himself and drew to himself repeatedly in cycle for several months, and was grateful when he revealed to me the nature of his challenges so I would understand. He was a dear person and through debate and discussion helped me to see my artistic vision more clearly. Consequently, I give him credit for making me a better artist. I appreciate knowing he was happy during his last months. He will be missed!

    • Shawn that was beautifully written. Ehren spoke of you often. That speaks volumes in terms of his love of your publication and your friendship. Thank you for this.

  3. How I loved this eulogy and tribute to Ehren! It was indeed a life well lived, in spite of the challenges and difficulties. Ehren left a legacy of love for art and artists, a deep understanding of art criticism, and a devotion to his religion and culture. His family was the center of his life, and he was always grateful for their support and love. It was unwavering. He was a remarkable example to me for his sheer ability to spring back and endure all the set backs that life continually presented him. He was so loyal, I often felt undeserving of his admiration….but always grateful for his friendship. Ehren was one of a kind. The Salt Lake art community has lost an advocate and soul mate. Ehren Clark will be missed. Thank you for such a beautiful tribute and remembrance of such a singular and remarkable person.

  4. Shawn, you have saw flawlessly and honestly captured the very essence of Ehren in this eulogy of sorts, and it has left me so moved and inspired–just the way Ehren’s writing always did. The niche Ehren found with 15 Bytes generously and passionately fed those of us who crave art. His devotion to art was contagious and his voice will sorely be missed. I will also miss seeing him at the DI. Thank you Shawn for all the opportunities you provided Ehren, and your dedication to him as a friend always gave me comfort for Ehren’s sake–when I tried and failed at being a true friend to him, I selfishly always told myself, “at least he has Shawn”. I am sincerely sorry for your loss.

  5. Shawn,
    Thank you for the thoughtful write up about a wonderful man who will be deeply missed in this community. You captured the essence of Ehren.
    Many thanks,
    Kandace Steadman

  6. Dear Shawn…what a lovely eulogy for Ehren. He was always so positive about art and literature…and so much knowledge. A beautiful writer and beautiful person. I cannot believe he is gone. Anne Albaugh

  7. As Ehren’s aunt, I can honestly say, Ehren was born with a uniqueness to find truth through an incredible sincerity towards life and relationships that began from day one. As a kid, Ehren always asked the deeper questions in order to gain the deeper meaning he thrived on. A surfaced life was never going to be the take for Ehren. He had to love life more than life could actually be loved, and really for the divine purpose of conveying his super-sized take on life to those around him, as if he was okay to carry this burden so we could become enlightened? Wow! Often, life did become overwhelming to him, but only because of his over-sized engagement. Ehren was funny, gifted, loving, talkative and I so enjoyed our talks about the strange, the unique and especially the writing world we both loved. Many are the people who will miss this one-of-a-kind life-loving cheerleader for life and love and laughter. Love you, Ehren, and thank you for everything you gave me.

    • Beautifully written, Shawn. You captured the essence of Ehren’s genius, life and struggles . “Like a candle in the wind,” so glad to have known him.

  8. Shawn,
    Thank you for your thoughtfully perceptive eulogy about Ehren. I learned from his reviews of my work and I had to have a dictionary in hand in order to understand them. I appreciate so much learning more about him in your loving tribute to him.

  9. Shawn,

    Thank you so much for taking the time to write this moving essay. Ehren admired you so much and appreciated the opportunity you gave him to express himself about the love of his life on 15 Bytes. What some people may not know is the work you put into editing his contributions. Ehren’s mind moved so fast and at a different level than the rest of us. He’d often share an article with me as he send it to you and I’d think “wow, good luck Shawn!” His brain operated at a level that most of us just couldn’t keep up with and his writing was also effected somewhat by the effects of his medication. You were always able to fine tune those pieces in a way that kept not only the intent but the language, color, diction and rhythm that left them authentically “Ehren”. As a family, we are forever grateful for not only the chance to contribute but for giving him what he craved. Your time. This is not only in time editing- but as a friend… taking him to cafes or sadly when needed, checking him into the hospital.

    Bless you Shawn- and all of you artists and lovers/ supporters of the arts for being a part of Ehren’s life that he cherished so much. You made him feel like somebody important and appreciated in the community. You all will be forever in our thoughts and prayers because of this connection. You may not know us- but we, Ehren’s family know so many of you by name. We speak of you with love and reverence as part of Ehren’s family. That’s how he felt about you and so that is how we will always remember you. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for every interaction, email, card, interview, text, or conversation on the street or at gallery stroll. Each one meant so much to him and so to us!

    • He WAS somebody important and appreciated in the arts community, as you can see by the comments here, Sarah. It wasn’t just that some of us made him “seem” that way. He WAS respected. And loved by so many. Thank you and your family for sharing him. A great art critic is hard to find, you know? Ehren will be missed professionally and personally. He WAS brilliant. He WAS erudite. He WAS a lover of music and art and shared those passions with all he could. We learned from him. We were fortunate in him however briefly we had him here. We miss him now and will miss him more in the future. And that past tense is just the worst.

  10. Shawn, this is a beautiful eulogy, one I know I’ll read many times. Ehren was all you wrote, and more, and will be greatly missed. Through the many iterations of his health, he had forged so many caring communities around him: his family, his church, his art circles. He will remain large due to his capacity to engage and dive deeply into life.
    Thanks for your words and your continual faith in Ehren, Shawn.

  11. This was a beautiful tribute to a beautiful man. I was one of the fortunate to get to know Ehren on a number of different levels and yes, he was not always easy, but that was part of the package. I am so glad to have run into him the week before he passed away, so sad we were not able to have the lunch we were planning – he had bought me a vintage book on my favorite artist. I may never have received that book but I have several books and a little box from him that I will treasure. There is a certain peace in knowing he left us on a high note…

  12. This is a wonderfully written tribute to our friend Ehren Clark. I was impressed always with his intellect and his quick understanding of concepts and ideas about art we discussed on several occasions. I was most impressed with the grace and acceptance that he displayed in dealing with his terrible illness. That he chose to live by strict principles that were his safety net gave him the strength he needed to keep focused on the things he loved most that you mentioned. He was also blessed to have a loving and supportive family which he loved dearly! He was an inspiration to anyone dealing with difficult life challenges, and was definitely a true original . Thank you for writing this wonderful tribute, Ehren will be remembered as an important art critic in the world of Utah art and to those of us who knew him a delightful, caring and kind spirit.
    May he Rest In Peace.

  13. Shawn,

    While I’ve read quite a few of Ehren’s articles over the years I only just met him at the June gallery stroll and I was totally blown away about how he was able to get inside my work and understand it without much explanation. Knowing now, I wish I would have had more time to talk to him that evening before he left.

    It is a huge loss to the SLC/Utah art community.
    – Scott Filipiak

  14. Shawn,

    Lovely eulogy. I met Ehren once at a 15 Bytes staff/writer gathering and sat next to him for several exhilarating minutes. I always found his writing trenchant, luminous . . . everything you said here in this tribute to him, and more.

  15. Thanks Shawn for the tribute to a man who touched my life with his words and intelligence. He gave me a challenge and a perspective for my work and many others. I appreciated his energy and will never forget him.

  16. Beautiful remembrance. Ehren was certainly one-of-a-kind. So open and honest. No filter. He was just…Ehren. I enjoyed spending time with him visiting galleries and artists during past trips to Utah. I always learned something from Ehren about art and life’s struggles and joys. Having spent time in his Ruby apartment, I hope there may still be an opportunity for “Mind the Gap” to occur in his honor. Worry and wonder what will happen to his collections and cat. So sad, such a loss. RIP.

  17. I can’t stand the thought that I will never again run into Ehren on a downtown street corner and continue the intense conversation with him so many of us participated in over the last decade. I don’t know anyone who encountered Ehren’s way of thinking about art who didn’t wish he was more coherent in expressing it . . . but then I don’t know anyone who was caught up by the passionate way he lived and felt about art that didn’t end up loving him.

  18. Such a beautifully crafted tribute, Shawn. Worthy of Ehren, worthy of you. You have all our respect for a terribly difficult job superbly done. Thank you.

  19. I echo all the above comments. Ehren was so encouraging in my career as an artist and arts marketer. In fact, when I feel defeated or exhausted he would tell me that I’ll find success in longevity. Those words will resonate for a very long time.

    I’m glad to have known him – inside and out.

    Thanks for the beautiful piece.

  20. I was Ehren’s neighbor at the Ruby, and one of my first interactions with him involved a large Rothko print. He leaned over the balcony over to mine, saying “Take it, take it! I have too much art and not enough room!” That was six years ago, and it still hangs in my bedroom today.

    Thank you for these perfect words. To me, it seemed the universe conspired against everything Ehren Clark wanted to be. But time and time again, he planted his feet and said NO. He was kind, passionate, and he boldly asserted his right to be himself.

    I can’t see a Rothko without remembering him, and I think that’s just how he’d like it.

  21. Shawn, your eulogy for Ehren was beautifully written and reflected a thoughtful and thorough memorial of this remarkable artist. Ehren stands out as a unique and talented artist. He
    will certainly be missed!

  22. Wonderful eulogy Shawn. He was so unique, a genius, such a talented writer with great style. I had a lot of fun with him and am sad to hear of his death. He will be remembered and is loved by many, artists especially.

  23. Ehren’s number is still saved to the contacts list on my phone. I can’t imagine deleting it right now because that would feel too final.

    Conversations with Ehren would often overwhelm me. Sometimes they left me dizzy and sometimes they left me smiling, but I always appreciated his original take on things. It’s painful to know we won’t get to hear his perspective anymore.

    Nothing he did was halfway. Once during the holidays, I was a little blue. Ehren cheered me up by mailing me a stunning handmade invitation – scrolling letters and all – to join him for Thanksgiving dinner with friends. The world needs more grand gestures, and Ehren knew that.

  24. Shawn – I can almost hear Ehren’s voice saying your name so many times over the years telling me about what you were doing for him.I thank you so much for this wonderful history that you have given to us and to feel your love and appreciation for him.Our family is so proud of him and miss him beyond words. He overcame so much and worked so hard with his illness to be able to succeed as he has in Utah with your support. Our family have all been so happy for what he accomplished. It is also so comforting and heartwarming to be able to read all the comments. I hope that my husband and I may meet you sometime.

  25. Shawn – this was a beautiful tribute to a most unique soul!

    Ehren knew what he liked (and also what he did not like!) When he was moved by a particular artist he saw things at a deeper level than almost anyone else. Often, I saw my artists realize an understanding of their own passion – through new eyes. His words so moved those artists that moved him – and his words became most cherished possessions of those who felt “seen” by Ehren.

    For all of his high energy – he was incredibly ‘tuned in’ to each person who crossed his path.
    The tender gifts that he bestowed on me over the years were so very thoughtful and displayed the passion he had for those that he admired. He showed up to my very last gallery stroll – and presented me with a crazy red scarf – that was completely “me”! I have cherished that gift and it will always be a reminder of a tender and passionate friend – and fill me with gratitude that he was part of my life.

    You were a great friend and mentor to Ehren – and your acceptance (and patience!) is something that I truly admire and respect.
    Thank you for your words and thoughts dear Shawn.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *