Henry Ray Clark was a folk artist born in Bartlett, Texas, and moved to Houston, where he became a criminal with the street name of “The Magnificent Pretty Boy”. After a series of drug-dealing convictions he was found guilty of an assault, his third strike in the Texas Three Strikes Law, which sentenced him to 25 years in Huntsville State Prison. While in prison he developed a characteristic drawing style involving detailed patterning and line work, and was discovered at a prison art show by William Steen, who sold Clark’s work to national and international buyers. Clark died on July 29, 2006, the victim of a robbery and murder in his home.
Born in 1936 in the small town of Bartlett, Texas, Clark’s family moved to Houston. Young Henry dropped out of school after the sixth grade to “go up on the streets.” According to Henry, as a young teenager he was schooled by his uncle in the ways of street hustling and gambling.
Clark’s life of drug dealing, pimping, and other hustles always left him feeling on the verge of the next last score that would set him up for life. In 1977, following a series of drug-dealing convictions, he was found guilty of assault (he shot at a man who tried to run off with Clark’s gambling take) and sentenced under Texas’ “Three Strikes” Law to 25 years in Huntsville State Prison. There, Clark was introduced to the prison arts programs and began to draw. Clark found that drawing provided him with a release from the confinement of prison. Using ballpoint pens and salvaged manila envelopes, he created images of far-off galactic worlds inhabited by powerful beings.
Clark drew clocks and figures; he drew the planets he said he visited in a spaceship in his dreams. Art and dreaming — tools to engineer a temporary escape from state prison. Discovered by William Steen in a prison art show, Clark found an enthusiastic reception in the wider world. After winning a prize in the “Texas Department of Corrections Art Show,” he was exhibited in “Living Folk” at Hirschl & Adler Folk Gallery in New York in 1990; “Passionate Visions of the American South,” New Orleans Museum of Art, 1993, and “Spirited Journeys: Self-Taught Texas Artists of the Twentieth Century,” 1997. Clark said his work comes to him naturally: “I sit down and, watch a football game or watch my soap operas every day. While I’m watching, this my hand be real busy. Every once in a while, I glance down, I don’t know where it come from, but it’s beautiful precise control.” 1