Benton and Matt Clark were born and raised in Coshocton, Ohio, into a family that was centered around horses. Their father was a harness maker by profession and an expert horseman. They developed an instinctive sense of equine anatomy and action, which was later to play a key role in both of their careers.
Benton studied at the School of the National Academy of Art and also at the Art Institute of Chicago. He then worked in the famed advertising art studio of Stevens, Sundblom. By 1925 he had begun to do work for Liberty Magazine. He also worked at MGM Studios’ art department in California. Then he returned East and developed his freelance career as an illustrator of the Old West. His work regularly appeared in Cosmopolitan, McCall’s, Good Housekeeping and The Saturday Evening Post.
Matt also attended the National Academy School. By 1925 he sold his first illustration to College Humor. Much of his work was rendered in dry-brush, a popular medium at that time. He soon adapted the addition of a transparent wash over the dry-brush drawing, which reproduced beautifully in half-tone. The same approach could be used in full color from a palette of dyes or watercolor.
Because their work was so similar, both in conception and subject matter, the brothers sometimes found themselves in competition with one another. Art editors tended to use one or the other, not both, in the same magazine issue.
Both artists tended to take a long view in their picture concepts. Not reliant on close-ups or facial expression to express the emotions of the story characters, they used the attitudes or the actions of whole figures to describe their relationships. That also included the settings – letting the landscape play its role. Aside from horses, they incorporated many animals in their illustrations, from yaks to tigers.
For several years the brothers shared a studio in Greenwich Village, drawing many of the same models and critiquing each other’s work. When asked who their favorite artist was, each named the other.
Both won their spurs as major players in the romantic era of the ’30s and ’40s when magazines provided escapist fiction for millions. They enticed browsers to become readers and vicarious participants in the stories through their dramatic pictures of adventures around the world, from the Far East to the Old West.
The Clarks had long, successful careers and were published in almost all the major periodicals. Benton finished his career as the cover artist for Blue Book and Matt was a regular contributor to American Weekly until his retirement.