The family of late artist and poet LeRoy Clarke said his passing has left a gap in the cultural landscape of Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean, and the diaspora.
They said a memorial is planned for August.
In a release that confirmed his death on July 27 at his Cascade home after a period of illness, the family requested privacy “as they, along with the many people whose lives he touched, celebrate his life."
The public is encouraged to share "memories and thoughts" on the website leroyclarke.com.
They said Clarke’s five-decade artistic career was filled with memorable events and accolades.
“He was the recipient of several national and community awards, including the prestigious Sylvester Williams’ 2000, presented by the Emancipation Support Committee of TT. In 2003, he was proclaimed a National Icon by the TT government. In that same year, he was a distinguished guest of the President of the Republic of Suriname for Carifesta VIII, and confirmed as an Icon, a National Living Treasure by the Trinidad Hilton. He was further garlanded by NAEAP, the National Association for the Empowerment of African People, with the Achievement of Excellence Award.”
But the family said the only achievement he allowed himself to be defined by was given to him by the Orisha community.
“In 2005 he was awarded the ;Staff of Eldership; and given the Chieftaincy Title of the Orisha community by the Ile’ Eko Shango/Oshun Mil’osa (IESOM) during the sixth annual Shango/Oshun Rain Festival."
They said Clarke was known regionally and internationally for his prolific output and his sweeping, epic works that spoke to and for Caribbean people of African descent. He wrote many publications, including a few limited editions.
Of his many exhibitions over the decades, the most recent were Eye Haiti and Season’s Vicissitudes.
Long-time friend Janice Lawrence-Clarke said she was grateful to have spoken to Clarke before his passing. She cleared up what she said was a common misconception that the two had been married.
“I’m not Mrs LeRoy Clarke, I’m Mrs Jerry Clarke. As a matter of fact I’m a widowed divorcee.
"I was never married to LeRoy: we never even had a romantic relationship, we were just friends who happened to have the same last name. We used to laugh about that all the time, that people presumed we had been married. It was the furthest from the truth, I was a beautiful black woman in his eyes, and he loved us, black women, black people.”
Lawrence-Clarke said she met Clarke randomly on Frederick Street in 1992 while walking with her daughter, and he later invited her to the launch of his book Taste of Endless Truth.
“I have always been an admirer of him, of his amazing, underappreciated talent. He’s one of the few master painters in the Caribbean. If people saw the way he worked, and the level of detail, the layers that went into producing one piece of work, they would be amazed. I think LeRoy should be studied the way people study Picasso and Rembrandt.”
She said she was glad to have spoken to Clarke about a month before his death.
“Brother Resistance left, and now LeRoy. I know we have to take that path in our creation, but it’s never real, it’s surreal. Death is this amazing transition, and I join with the community in mourning his loss. Those who may have known him would have known he was a complex man, very pro his African-ness, and impatient and annoyed at the foolishness his people indulged in.”
Lawrence-Clarke said in speaking to Clarke’s daughter, she noted the date of his death, July 27, which she said was not lost on her and would be remembered.
“It’s a significant date.
"I’m sorry he’s gone. I pray that his daughter and other loved ones be at peace and strengthened by love for him and know he has world respect. He was revered in many domains.”