The many people who accomplished artist Peter E. Clarke has touched through his work will remember him as humanitarian spirit who reminded us of the common spirit we share as South Africans.
On 13 April 2014 South Africa bid farewell to one of its most versatile and accomplished artists, Peter E. Clarke, who has inspired and touched the lives of many people, not only through his creative work, but by virtue of character.
Born in Simonstown in 1929, Clarke grew up facing the harsh racial and economic adversities many black people of his time came to know. Depicting the adverse social realities of urban and rural life in Cape Town, he has also produced a series of collages and prose, constituting only some of the various mediums he has worked with which further includes writing and printmaking.
Though his career stretched over the period of six decades, Clarke only officially received recognition in the public sphere in 2005 when he was awarded the Order of Ikhamga and in 2011 solo exhibition at The SA National Gallery entitled ‘Listening To Distant Thunder’ which received high praise. He drew his inspiration from a range of sources including historical, biblical, literary and imaginary figures, together with friends and people who he recalls fondly.
Clarke’s character was known for its humble, compassionate and dignified sense of self and others and his love for his country and its culture has been a focal point in most of his work. "South Africa is a very inspiring place. I am very much interested in people. If I decided only to work in a figurative way, there would be no end to what I want to say about people. People here are more involved with each other. The climate has a lot to do with it. And the variety of people - the physical variety - is very exciting in fact and the way people interact or not.”
Having witnessed the rise and fall of the Apartheid system and bearing witness to the many hardships faced by people of colour during this period of segregation – Clarke being a practising artist during this time – he has described our move towards democracy as a very exciting time for South African art. "Democracy created a lot of mental freedom and there are a lot of positive things happening. There is a great variety of themes, media and modes of production […] It is quite exciting to see what is being produced in South Africa today. We can go to the rest of the world and show what is being made here."
Minister of Arts and Culture, Paul Mashatile: “Clarke was highly accomplished and a versatile South African visual artist, working across a broad spectrum of media. He was also involved in literature as an internationally acclaimed writer and poet.”
Bringing tribute to Clarke, Colin Stevens, Manager and Co-Founder of the Ibhabhathane Project, says Clarke was an enthusiastic supporter of the Frank Joubert Art Centre in Newlands, Cape Town, and particularly its ‘outreach programme’ better known as the Ibhabhathane Project over the past 15 years. "Local artists who are now becoming well known in the Western Cape and beyond, such as Junior Ngwena, Mawande ka Zenzile, Anathi Tyawa and Simphiwe Ndzuba made the most of working with Peter at the Frank Joubert Art Centre and kept in touch with him when they continued their work and studies elsewhere. Peter was later appointed Honorary Life Artist-in-Residence at the Frank Joubert Art Centre. His portrait and pieces of his work have been on display in the Ibhabhathane Exhibition Room at the Frank Joubert Art Centre for the past few years and will in future, remain there to inspire learners and teachers."
The South African Art Times