Mr. Clark achieved widespread recognition relatively late in his career, which he had begun with art studies on the GI Bill after World War II. As an African American, he was long excluded from many white-owned galleries. He forged his artistic identity during the postwar years in Paris, where black artists such as Beauford Delaney and writers including James Baldwin had sought escape from the rampant discrimination they found in the United States.
Mr. Clark was working in his studio in the Montparnasse neighborhood of Paris, he recounted, when he decided that the painting on which he was laboring called for an unusually wide brush. He found one in the janitor’s closet. He would later dub his technique, in which he took a push broom to a canvas laid flat on the floor, “the big sweep.”
“That’s what the push broom gives you, speed,” he once told an interviewer. “Maybe it’s something psychological. It’s like cutting through everything. It’s also anger or something like it, to go through it in a big sweep.”
Mr. Clark’s paintings featured “all the colors of the spectrum,” he once said in an interview at the Pérez Art Museum Miami — from rich oranges, reds and purples to gentle pastels, sometimes in juxtaposition with one another. For some viewers, the sweeping lines formed by the bristles of his broom evoked the colorful strata of a sunset; for others, they looked like waves.
Notable deaths in 2019: Elijah Cummings, Cokie Roberts, Toni Morrison and others we have lost this year
In a tribute after his death, the publication Art News described his paintings as exuding “the rare and exquisite sense of having come instantly into being with just a few pushes of his broom. Their brash, joyous confidence comes from the tool’s movement, but also from his unique sense for color — where, say, mint green, lava red, and aquamarine can hover together gloriously.”
Many of his works featured ovals and shaped canvases, a practice that he was credited with helping to pioneer. He described his work as having a life of its own — “You just let it go,” he said — and told the publication Black Renaissance Noire that he sometimes let galleries decide “which way is up” when they displayed a painting of his.
By the end of his life, his work was exhibited in institutions including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington.
Edward Clark Jr. was born on May 6, 1926, in New Orleans and grew up largely in Chicago.
He told Bomb magazine that his paternal grandmother, who was black, was 14 when she had his father, and that the baby’s father was a white sheriff. Mr. Clark’s father could “pass” as white, the artist said, but never wished to do so. He worked a variety of jobs, including construction work, and was fired from one of them when his employer discovered his race.
Mr. Clark described his mother as a devout Catholic, and he attended Catholic schools before leaving high school to enlist in the Army Air Forces during World War II. After serving in Guam, he began his formal art studies, first at the Art Institute of Chicago and later in Paris at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière.
The artistic ferment in Paris proved enormously invigorating for Mr. Clark. “New York in that moment was not considered the capital of the art world — it was Paris,” he said. “They were all alive, man! Picasso, Braque, both of them. Everybody was there!” He was also deeply inspired by Nicolas de Staël, a French painter of Russian origin who was known for the thick paint that he applied in his abstract works.
In 1957, Mr. Clark settled in New York — although he would return to Paris throughout his life — and helped form the Brata Gallery, a cooperative that showcased the works of a racially diverse group of artists. He traveled extensively for his artwork, including to the American Southwest, the Caribbean, Brazil, the Mediterranean, Africa and China, seeking new landscapes and shades of light to inspire him.
Mr. Clark’s marriages to Muriel Nelson, Lola Owens, Hedy Durham and Liping An ended in divorce. Survivors include a daughter from his third marriage, Melanca Clark of Detroit, and two grandchildren.
During his formative years in Paris, Mr. Clark studied the Old Masters as well as modern art. But then as after, he was drawn inexorably to the abstract form.
“It struck me that if I paint a person — no matter how I do it — it is a lie,” he once remarked, according to the Art Institute of Chicago. “The truth is in the physical brushstroke and the subject of the painting is the paint itself.”
Read more Washington Post obituaries