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SALT LAKE CITY — Howard Clark's artwork is all about healing.
The 79-year-old former businessman turned painter credits his artwork with healing himself from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Now, he is hoping the fruits of his own healing will help heal others.
"It's give back time for me," said Clark, a lifelong resident of Salt Lake City and University of Utah alumnus who has a fondness for his alma mater.
He has donated dozens of his original works to various University of Utah buildings and offices, including the University Hospital, Huntsman Cancer Institute, Technology Venture Development office, David Eccles School of Business and, as of last week, the new branch of the U. Neuropsychiatric Institute.
During his career as the co-owner of an interior design business and working in real estate, Clark struggled with his disorder. "I didn't know how to get rid of it," he said. It took a five-minute meeting with a doctor at the U.'s Neuropsychiatric Institute to find a solution: be creative.
Clark was told to take up painting. "It took the whole week's stress away, and it gave me healthy feelings," he said.
An estimated 2 percent of Americans suffer from OCD, but the number could be greater because many who suffer do not seek treatment, said Dr. Jason Hunziker with the neuropsychiatric institute.
"OCD is considered an anxiety disorder," Hunziker said. "Their brain just kind of gets stuck in this pattern and they just can't get past it."
In addition to medications, art and music therapy is used to treat OCD patients. "Artistic expression is something that we use all of the time," Hunziker said. The institute even has a professional artist come in and help with art therapy. Hunziker said art and creativity provides a way to forget compulsive thoughts, focus on something pleasant and build up serotonin in the brain.
(Painting) took the whole week's stress away, and it gave me healthy feelings.
For Clark, his treatment has grown into a lifelong passion.
He has now been painting for 30 years and has won several awards, including multiple honors from the Utah Water Color Society. He has also served as chairman of the U.'s College of Fine Arts Advisory Board and as a board member for the Gina Bachauer international piano competition.
He occasionally brings other business professionals into his studio to give them a chance to find their own inner artist.
Clark's paintings are an explosion of colors. They tend to be vibrant abstracts with a hint of a horizon to ground it. He will use everything from brushes to his hands, even a trowel he bought at Home Depot, to create his work. "I paint with my hands a lot. I put on some examination gloves and just get in there and mess things up," he said.
Mixing water and oil-based paints is also his signature. "I don't want them to mix, I want them to fight each other. When they fight each other they do all kinds of crazy things," he said laughing.
"We're so grateful to be the recipients of Howard's generosity," said Kathy Wiletz, University Health Care spokeswoman. "I'm certain his works of art will inspire our patients and their families."
"I am very inspired by the way Howard uses his art as a vehicle for philanthropy by raising money for organizations like the Huntsman Cancer Institute," said Jack Brittain, head of the U.'s venture capital office, which is home to several of Clark's original pieces. "The work energizes spaces."
Clark said it was his education at the U. that laid the groundwork for his life's ambitions. "I owe a lot to the university because it was a part of my success in life. And I love the people that run the university," he said.
He knows of family members at the Huntsman Cancer Institute who have taken his paintings off the wall and put them in the rooms of cancer patients. "Art heals patients who are sick and I like to be a part of that healing process because it was part of my healing process."