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Peter Clarke, Artist Writer Poet, Dies at 84

By M Blackman on 18 April

Peter Clarke

Peter Clarke, . Photograph

Peter Clarke, the artist, poet and writer, whose best-known prints and paintings feature angular figures within Cape Peninsular landscapes, died last Sunday at his home in Ocean View.

Born in 1929 in Simon’s Town, Clarke and his family were relocated to the Ocean View location – where he would spend the rest of his life – during apartheid’s forced removals. Clarke started work as a dockworker in the town of his birth, but in 1956 he decided to dedicate himself entirely to his artistic practice.

Clarke had lived to a degree, until quite recently, in the shadow of other artists like Gerard Sekoto and Dumile Feni. However, as Jo Dolby has pointed out, Clarke’s drawings of angular heads predate similar and perhaps slightly more famous works by the other two.

As Prof Lize Van Robbroeck intimated in her review of Clarke’s 2012 exhibition, 'Listening to Distant Thunder: The Art of Peter Clarke', at the Iziko South African National Gallery, perhaps Clarke’s lack of fame had something to do with the mediums that he worked in. Clarke has often been referred to as a ‘graphic artist’ and the vast majority of his work was made on paper. 

Clarke famously never had a studio and, due to financial constraints, he worked from home for most of his life. According to several critics, this meant that he could only choose mediums that were suited to the spaces of his small house. However, as his recent exhibition, ‘Just Glue and Paper’, at the Stevenson Gallery in Cape Town showed, paper was the medium that Clarke felt most comfortable working with, and it was certainly an inherent part of Clarke’s artistic charms. Far from detracting from his work, the simplicity of his chosen mediums reflected Clarke’s authenticity both as an artist and as a person.

What is certain is that this diminutive, quietly spoken man had no need for grandiose gestures or expensive materials. His themes and enduring interests lay in the people who inhabited and shared his world and who stood out in the landscapes of the windswept and stark Cape Peninsular. As Hayden Proud said in his recent dedication to Clarke: ‘he recorded, as perhaps no other artist ever has, the realities and the humour of life as it is lived in the Cape by the majority of its inhabitants.’

Although perhaps overlooked for many years, Clarke was recently the figure of a great deal of attention. Not only did he have an exhibition, ‘Wind Blowing on the Cape Flats’, at the Institute of International Visual Arts in London, he was also one of the featured artists at the 2012 Dakar Biennale. What is more, his work, along with that of George Hallett and Gerard Sekoto, last year traveled to France as part of the French South Africa Season.

Clarke will be buried in Simon’s Town – the town of his birth – on April 23, at St Francis Church, at 10:00.

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