In the US During the great depression the federal government invested in public art through programs like the Work Progress Administration (known as the WPA). Murals, sculpture and paintings decorated courthouses, post offices and schools. After World War Two and during the post war economic boom a new vision for architecture and art emerged. Architects embracing new clean modernist styles, and clients interested in expanding the expression of buildings saw an intersection in art. Artist were commissioned to develop modern artistic languages to enhance the new clean and simplified architectural design. In Tucson a handful of artists began working with architects to develop new concepts of expression integrated into buildings.
Charles Alfred Clement was one of the better know. Clemet’s work is scattered throughout Tucson including the 1966/67 Fiberglass sculpted screen for the University of Arizona Administration Building. This integrated sculptural screen adorns the Place and Place designed building. The sculptural form provides a depth a organic quality to the other wise imposing internationally flavored seven‑story office building.
Clement’s form based, site-specific, exterior, three-dimensional abstractions elegantly heighten architectural intention, enhancing and ornamenting clean otherwise unadorned designs of the period. His work is representative of the modern art moment of the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
Clement was born in New York City August 15, 1921 the son of French parents, He was awarded National Scholastic Scholarship to Frankin School of Professional Arts in New York City where he graduated in 1943 with a degree in industrial and general design and illustration. Clement worked with muralist Paul Robertson executing murals for the Textron Corporation and with Dorthy Draper for Essex House. He opened his own studio for design and illustration on Fifth Ave. In 1944 went back to school taking courses At the New School, Brooklyn College and in Aix en Provence – France.
Clement married Louise Edmea in 1949 and the young couple relocated to Tucson in 1950 building their own home and studio in the Tucson Mountains in 1952. In Tucson, Clement established himself as a versatile freelance artist. He worked as a muralist with both mosaics and ceramics, developed architectural sculpture, painted and developed metal work.
Throughout his productive Tucson career he worked closely with his wife who was involved in the development and production. Together they produced textiles, discussed the artistic development were an important part of Tucson’s artistic community, throwing parties, hosting events and promoting modern art.
Clement collaborated with architects active in the post World War II era in Tucson, including: William Wilde, Cook & Swaim, Place and Place, Brown & Brown, and Freedman and Jobusch.
His often lyrical and sweet work embraced animal and flora abstraction. Near the corner of River Road and Campbell is his 1966 large relief cement mural designed for the Catalina Foothills school district and architects the Cook & Swaim. The mural draws on the animal abstraction and sweetens the otherwise formal courtyard space.
The 1971 main fountain at Presidio plaza uses a geometric massing and form combined with water to create an elegant modernist centerpiece for the administrative centers of the city and county. Across the street are the Transamerica Title Building relief sculptures that detail and soften the large modernist high-rise. Also in 1971 he was commissioned to deign the concrete panels for the Broadway Podiatry Building the large white geometric forms fame the building and raise visual awareness the buildings.
Other significant work included the Mosaic Mural for the Nebraska State Capitol the Thomas Davis Clinic at Alvernon at 5th Street, and the wonderful playful Van Wyk Volkswagen sculptures that once doted East Speedway,
Clement wrote in 1964:
My success to date has been due primarily to the fact that I never take the easiest or simplest or most prosaic way out.
Celment died in July of 1981 on a trip oversees. One of Clements last works in Tucson is the memorial in the Jewish quarter of Evergreen Cemetery. The graceful lines of this meditative space seem to capture his grounded senses of balance of tone and gravity. The angulating forms, the irregular use of space and cast concrete forms all indicative of his work. This memorial serves a poignant reminder of his art and his contributions to the aesthetic beauty of Tucson in the mid twentieth century.