The bathroom on the main floor of Jane Adams Clark's rambling West Vancouver studio-home is not a room that would likely please the minds or bowels of the morally constipated. The 77-year-old owner and artist (mother of Bryan Adams, Canada's most famous male rock musician) has, in fact, posted a sign on the door warning anal-retentive visitors to enter at their own risk.
Inside, the counter is a clutter of body lotions, Q-Tips and toothbrushes. A rustic wood Reckless wall clock, sliced from a log and emblazoned with an image of her eldest son wailing on a guitar, hangs above the door. Neither the mess nor the flea-market memorabilia is what Clark fears might offend. No, the warning sign actually refers to the nude photographs and paintings plastered all over the walls.
Sit down on the toilet, look left and you'll find yourself face-to-face with a full-frontal drawing of a buxom woman with big, curvy hips. Farther down the wall is a faded photo of Clark as a young woman with her tiny waist and full, ripe breasts, sitting in the shadow of a window that looks out to the North Shore Mountains. Over by the sink, a peek in the mirror reveals the pièce de résistance -- a bright oil painting of two women lying in the grass, exuberantly engaged in mutual cunnilingus.
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"That's the original Summer of '69," says Clark, laughing outrageously at the clever double entendre that takes the mickey out of her son's early hit.
In most families with successive generations of creative types, it is usually the children who are cursed with having to contend with a celebrity parent. And while it probably wasn't easy for Bryan or his younger brother Bruce to grow up with a single mother as delightfully free-spirited and eccentric as theirs, it is now Clark who finds herself grappling with the legacy of her famous son as she attempts to establish a second, late-life career as a painter.
"To have a successful son is fabulous," Clark explains a few days before her current exhibit of landscape paintings, photographs and Chinese-ink watercolours is due to open at Brewster's Café in West Vancouver. "Having a famous son is very hard. There are no advantages for me."
In fact, on a personal level, Clark concedes that there are some benefits. "I get to see his concerts. And I can fly on his points, sometimes." Still, she must go to London, as she does for four months each year, to spend any sort of quality time with her son, since he's always so busy when he's here. Adams was actually in Vancouver the week before her opening last Friday, but wasn't able to stay. "Who knows where he is now -- in Germany, I think. You journalists probably know better than me."
On a professional level, however, Clark says the Adams name is definitely more hindrance than help. "It hasn't opened any doors. If I go to a gallery, people say, 'Oh, you're here because of your son.' This is mostly in Vancouver," she notes. "I'll say, 'No, my art has nothing to do with my son.' And they say, 'Yes, but if we take you, it will be because of your son.' Well, thank you very much. I don't want that."
For Clark, Bryan Adams is just Bryan. "He's my eldest son. We get on very well. He laughs at my artwork and chuckles at my Web site. And Bruce, he likes my artwork too, but he has the same problem. People will say to him, 'You have a rich brother. Why are you doing this or that?' "
Like any protective mother would, Clark is proud to point out that Bruce, a biochemical engineer, is also very creative and successful. "He's invented a laser tool to detect bacteria in water. . . . And you might be interested to know that both boys paint. I think there is a creative gene. It's a wonderful gift to have. It can be transferred in many different ways. I think that's why Bryan has taken up photography as a second career. That isn't to say I'm about to take up guitar playing. If I start writing songs, somebody had better sit on me."
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Clark does, however, write poetry. And much like her landscapes, her poems reflect her love of the wilderness, and are inspired by her solo camping trips to the Far North, where she also pans for gold as a hobby.
"I'm the spirit of nature," she laughs, telling the story of how she drove all the way up Dease Lake, midway between Smithers, B.C., and Whitehorse, and hired a daredevil helicopter pilot to take her into the Stikine Canyon. "He was absolutely fearless, my kind of man," she says of the pilot, who apparently "freaked" when she got there and he realized how old she was. He took her on the adventure, nonetheless, flying low along the riverbank as she madly sketched by his side.
Back at home, she used the pencil sketches and her memory to draw vividly detailed black-and-white watercolours in Chinese ink. The paintings are now among the 50 or so for sale in her current show, culled from the hundreds and hundreds of paintings that have been piling up in her basement studio since she began painting in earnest about a decade ago.
"Age is a funny thing, isn't it?" says Clark, whose green eyes sparkle as brightly as those of any 20-year-old. "In my head, I don't feel 77 or whatever 77 is supposed to feel like. I just feel less able to do some of the things I was able to do before."
Clark certainly won't die wondering. She says she has always had a free spirit, and credits it for helping her "escape" England in 1950.
"When I first came to this country, I couldn't believe the wide-open skies and huge landscapes and great big, beautiful cars and piles of butter. I came from a land that was still struggling with ration cards, to this wonderful land, and I've never looked back. I love it here."
Clark immigrated to Ontario, where she met her first husband. He worked with the Canadian army, and their family lived on military bases all over the country, with stops that included Ottawa, Kingston, Camp Borden, Ont., London, Ont., Brandon, Man., Wainwright, Sask., Edmonton and Calgary.
"The military life instills a certain sense of restlessness, or get up and go. I wasn't drawn to that life, though. I had, and still have, an objection to being referred to as chattel. Whenever we moved, the forms would list the man, the furniture and the chattel. I'd say to my husband, 'Which am I?' He'd say, 'You're the chattel, of course.' Uh, hello?"
Clark eventually broke free and divorced her husband. In 1974, she and her two sons moved to Vancouver, where she worked as a land-administration officer for the Ministry of Indian Affairs, and later as a finance officer for the Public Service Commission. They lived in Lynn Valley on the North Shore, then moved to Kitsilano when the boys were approaching their teenage years and "had to be put into decent schools." When her children were 16 and 17, she moved back to the North Shore with Bill Clark, her boyfriend and future husband, and became what she calls a "remote mother," living between the two homes.
"Before I'd go to work, I'd drop by the boys' place to pick up their washing and bring them food and do whatever needed to be done. I had a job, two boys, two dogs and a boyfriend. I was a very busy girl."
Clark doesn't ever regret leaving the boys on their own while establishing her own life. "I didn't want my husband to take on the role of being their stepfather. Why should he have had that responsibility? There are so many ways of having a family. He was their friend and they probably had a much better relationship because of it."
She and Bill were together for 21 years until he passed away in 2001. She first caught his eye at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, where they both had single-seat subscriptions. As he later told the story, "I'd look to the balcony and all I could see were these great legs under a miniskirt." They eventually met through their personal ads in the Province newspaper, which they had been running concurrently.
"I miss him terribly. We had a whale of a time," she says, smiling wickedly to herself.
One can only imagine. Above Clark's bedroom door is another handwritten sign, with editorial inserts from Bill. "Leave your anger and frustration (and sexual inhibitions) outside. This room is for love, (wild) sex and gentleness."
Clark now sleeps in the living room, with its great big picture windows overlooking Howe Sound. "It seems a shame to sleep in there when you can sleep out here and watch the moon," she explains. "Last night, it was a beautiful, brilliant orange."
As with the bathroom, the living-bedroom walls are covered in nude paintings, an original Alberto Vargas pinup poster from the forties, and one saucy, blown-up photograph, taken by Bill about a decade ago, of Clark grinning hugely while standing on a rock as the wind blows her skirt up around her waist.
"This one was shown at an exhibit at the Royal Academy in London in 1998," she says, pointing to The Baby Moved, a nude watercolour of a ripely pregnant woman. Clark has found it easier to sell her work in London than Vancouver, having had additional shows at British Columbia House on Regent Street, and at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Canada House is currently considering her application for an exhibit space next year. Her luck in London, she adds, has nothing to do with her son, who, she insists, is there considered just another artist among many.
"I don't analyze why one place is different from another. In any case, I'm working for myself. I love to paint, I love to go out in the wild and camp out and enjoy this province. I'm no martyr."
The current show does not include any of her vibrant nudes. "I thought it was inappropriate for a coffeehouse," she explains. "And I don't really want to be known for my nudes, although I suppose it would get a lot of publicity. I think nudes are beautiful, and I'm sure the dear girls who come to the house and pose might not like to hear this, but I do them primarily as practice for my landscapes. It leaves your hand flowing and keeps the lines soft."
Clark is donating the proceeds from her sales to Dr. Grace McCarthy's CH.I.L.D. Foundation for Crohn's disease in B.C. "They're not getting millions off me, but it's a very honest foundation and I'm going to be giving them awareness. Awareness has its place. And for me, it's like payback. I'm 77. I have a lot to pay back."
Or, as she drolly explained to one celebrity-curious art lover on opening night, who asked if she was really Bryan Adams's mother: "Yes, for my sins."