Charles Nicolas Sarka

Charles Sarka was born to draw and paint, and he did both constantly from childhood until his death at age 81. His old friend the artist Paul Bransom asserted that, throughout his long life in art, "Sarka never drew a bad line." Sarka's travels as a young man produced a rich body of early work. He camped along the Indian River in turn-of-the century Florida and roamed Southern California on horseback. He journeyed to the South Seas, Hawaii, Egypt, Morocco, the Caribbean and Europe. With a delicate touch and an unselfconscious eye, he painted a record of the natural beauty he encountered and of the people he came to know. It is through this work, from the first peripatetic years of his career, that Sarka has been best known. Yet, for all his youthful wanderlust, Sarka spent most of his life rooted. He lived sixty years in New York City and for fifty years kept a summer camp on Canada Lake in the Adirondacks, among a small colony of artist friends. He made his living as an illustrator and muralist, but Sarka's passion was in the spontaneous paintings and drawings he did every day, works that shimmer with vitality and sheer creative joy. In New York, he often focused on the quotidian - a neighborhood streetscape or the view from his apartment window of rooftop chimney pots. At Canada Lake, too, where nature was his focus, he was less interested in grand majesty than in minor miracles: a patch of sunlit asters, or a rock outcropping in an autumnal wood. Over the long haul, some of Sarka's most successful works were small-scale sketches and paintings, uncluttered and intimate. Born in Chicago, Sarka apprenticed at age eleven in an engraving plant, sketching figures on blocks for the engravers. By age sixteen he was a staff artist on the Chicago Record. Sarka excelled as an artist reporter and was soon hired away by the New York Herald. In New York he met artist George "Pop" Hart, who was to be his traveling companion to Florida, Egypt and the South Seas. Between trips Sarka built his name as an illustrator for Collier's, Cosmopolitan, Harper's and other popular magazines. Sarka wed Grace Jones, sister of Haydon Jones, a well known artist reporter. They were married nearly fifty years, until his death in 1960. Works by Sarka are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Chicago Art Institute, the National Portrait Gallery and other public and private collections. A painter, muralist and decorator, Charles Sarka enjoyed travel and went to many, often remote areas from the South Seas to North Africa, supporting himself with his drawing and painting. Thomas Hart was one of his travel companions and together they went to Florida, Tahiti and Egypt. Other travelling companions were Charles Summerville, Leon D'Emo and Sigurd Schou. While in Tahiti Sarka kept a journal, now at the Archives of American Art. Several of Sarka's works produced during his 1903 trip to Tahiti are currently in the collections of American Museums such as The national Portrait Gallery, The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Art Institute of Chicago and the Metropolitan Museum of Art Sarka produced works for illustrated newspapers in Chicago, San Francisco and New York.

 

For an extensive article on the artist in Tahiti, see:

Journal of art in Society, SARKA OF THE SOUTH SEAS
A STORY OF DISCOVERY AND RE-DISCOVERY

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