Peter Clarke

(1929 – 2014)

“The child in me has accompanied the adult that I am into old age. So, as far as I am concerned, it is essential to be honest and to be irreverent at times and to have a sense of humour as well.” Peter Clarke

Born in Simonstown 1929, Peter Clarke was the third of six children and from an early age showed an active interest in drawing. This was eagerly pursued by studying under John Coplans in the District Six art Group between 1947 and 1948, followed in 1961 by just a few months at the Michaelis School of Art under Katrine Harries and Maurice van Essche before leaving to become a dock worker. Clarke’s established artistic motivation was already fundamental in his outlook of life, which has been translated across many mediums as a result. These outlets range from drawing, painting, artist’s books, collage and graphic works, but also extend to an immensely accomplished and untaught literary background that has spanned across his long and affluent career.

It was in 1956 that Clarke made the vital decision to return full-time to art and writing, immediately finding interest in his graphic works, setting the precedence for the works of art that he would best become known for over the many decades, receiving the Drum International Short Story Award in 1955 followed by further international acclaim.

The charismatically magnetic imagery that he created shows a defined interest in coloured identity and political commentary in a structured form of narrative, coherent with his dual interest in both writing and in imagery. Clarke’s works are imbedded with a sense of satirical humour that gives each and every one of his pieces a textural depth and palimpsestic narrative; individual and intriguing.

Clarke moves freely between each of his mediums, including writing, using whichever is most appropriate to his idea, sometimes with a result of combining them. His earliest influences include the works of Mexican artists between the 1930 and 50s and also German Expressionism. The art of Japanese Prints has also been an influence in Clarke’s work across his career. Growing up and living through a difficult time in South African history, the effects are inextricable from Clarke’s works, yet his reaction in this can be described as observational, commenting more on everyday life rather than being actively political. His views have been unremittingly positive in regard to the change from Apartheid to a democracy within the art environment. Consequently his works have shown progressive characteristics that not only mark points of his life, but also do so historically.

Peter Clarke’s life and work shows an enthusiastic and intelligent commitment that is reflected in the undeniable local and international commendation that has been received. Making the best of the limited working space in his home where he produces most of works, over the entirety of his career Clarke has produced an enormous portfolio which is shown across the world. His background, development as an artist and characteristically incisive scope of work has positioned him as one of South Africa’s most interesting and significant artists both past and present. Peter Clarke passed away at the age of 85 in the peace of his Ocean View home, where he had lived and worked in the heart of a community to whom he was a mentor, role-model and larger-than-life figure for so many years.

1947

Night classes at St. Philips School with the District Six Art Group under John Coplans

1948

Technical College, Roeland Street, Cape Town

1947 – 1952

Member of various informal art groups in Cape Town

1959

Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town

1959 – 1963

Rijks Academie van Beeldende Kunsten, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

1976

Atelier Nord, Oslo, Norway

1951

Participated in various group exhibitions held across South Africa, Yugoslavia, West Germany, Brazil, Austria, Italy, Holland, Belgium, America, Argentina, Norway, Botswana, Japan, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom

1957

First solo exhibition, Golden City Post, Cape Town

1960

South African Graphic Art Exhibition, Yugoslavia

1961

South African Graphic Art Exhibition, Galerie Schoninger, Munich, West Germany

São Paulo Biennial

1963

5thInternational Graphic Art Biennale, Ljubljana, Yugoslavia; Albertina Museum, Vienna, Austria

1964

Venice Biennale, Italy

1965

Solo exhibition, Mbari Cultural Centre, Ibadan, Nigeria

Solo exhibition, Chem-Chemi Cultural Centre, Nairobi, Kenya

6thInternational Graphic Art Biennale, Ljubljana, Yugoslavia

1968

First International Graphic Exhibition, Palazzo Strozzo, Florence, Italy

1969

Second International Graphic Exhibition, Palazzo Strozzo, Florence, Italy

1970

Solo exhibition, Edrich Gallery, Stellenbosch

1971

South African Graphic Art Exhibition, touring The Netherlands, Belgium and West Germany

1972

Tercera Bienal Internacional del Grabado, Buenos Aires, Argentina

1973

Solo exhibition, Shell Harbour Art Centre, Shell Harbour, NSW, Australia

Group exhibition, Pratt Graphics Centre, New York, USA

1973 – 1974

Solo exhibition, Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee

1976

Solo exhibition, Kuumba Workshop, Southside, Chicago, USA

1977 – 1978

Solo exhibition ‘Our World is a Ghetto’, South African Association of Arts, Cape Town

Solo exhibition, Community Art Project, Mowbray, Cape Town

Solo exhibition, Public Library, Grassy Park, Cape Town

1979

Pratt Institute, New York, USA

1979 – 1982

Group exhibition, Graphic Art, Atelier Nord, Oslo, Norway

1981

Solo exhibition ‘Illusions and Other Realities’, Atlantic Art Gallery, Cape Town

1982

Exhibition of South African Art, National Gallery, Gaborone, Botswana

1983

International Exhibition of Prints, Kanagawa, Japan

1984

Exhibition of Masterworks on Paper, South African National Gallery

International Exhibition of Prints, Kanagawa, Japan

Exhibition at Jerusalem Artists’ House, Israel

Norwegian International Print Biennale, Frederikstad, Norway

1985

Group exhibition,‘FUBA: A Selection of Work by Distinguished Black Artists’,Grenchen, Switzerland (Internationale Triennale Fur Originale Graphik)

1987

Solo exhibition, Chelsea Gallery, Wynberg, Cape Town

Bienal Internacional de Gravura, Campinas, Brazil

Exhibition at Museum fur Volkerkunde, Frankfurt, W. Germany

1990

Group exhibition, ‘Freedom Now’, Namibian Independence Exhibition, Windhoek, Namibia

1992

Retrospective exhibition ‘The Hand is the Tool of the Soul’, IZIKO South African National Galleries/Natale Labia Museum, Cape Town

1994

3rdTriennial International Exhibition of Prints, Auvergne, France

1995

18th Triennial World Exhibition of Prints, Kanagawa, Japan

1996

Drawings of Tesselaarsdal, Caledon Museum

1998

Solo exhibition ‘Vital Expressions’, Association of Arts Gallery, Cape Town

1999

Solo exhibition ‘A Personal View’, Lipschitz Gallery, Cape Town

Solo Exhibition ‘Vital Expressions’, Natal Technikon Art Gallery, Durban

2000

Exhibition at Bertolt Brecht House, Berlin, German

2000 – 2001

City Press Exhibition ‘Baggage’

Participated in Manuscript Exhibition 3 (Art Studio), Johannesburg

2001

Solo exhibition, Exeter, United Kingdom

2002

Collection of Books Exhibited at Natal Technikon, Kwa Zulu Natal

2003

Exhibited in AVA ‘Surface=/=Print’, Cape Town as part of Impact Conference

2011

Retrospective exhibitionListening to Distant Thunder: The Art of Peter Clarke,Standard Bank Gallery, Johannesburg (4 May to 2 July 2011)

2013

Group exhibition, “Portrait de l’Afrique du Sud: An exhibition of artworks by George Hallett, Peter Clarke and Gerard Sekoto”, Paris, France (30 October – 27 November

Public Collections – International

  • Baerum Kommune, Sandvika, Norway
  • Dennis W. Koles, Kiama, NSW, Australia
  • Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee, USA
  • Johnson Publishing Co., Chicago, USA
  • Kunsthalle Museen der Stadt Bielefeld, Germany
  • Library of Congress, Washington D.C., USA
  • Museum of Contemporary Art, Skopje, Yugoslavia
  • Museum of African American Art, LA, USA
  • National Museum and Art Gallery, Gaborone, Botswana,
  • Stichting Afrika Museum, Berg en Dal, Holland

Public Collections – South Africa

  • Cape Town City Library, Cape Town
  • Community Arts Project
  • Municipal Collection, Fish Hoek, Cape Town

Corporate Collections – South Africa

  • Fuba Collection, Johannesburg
  • PAM; Nasou Publishing Co, Cape Town
  • Sasol Collection, Stellenbosch
  • SA Fine Worsted Co, Cape Town
  • Pentech, Bellville, Cape Town

Galleries & Museums

  • Arnold Becher Museum,
  • Caledon Municipal Museum, Caledon
  • District Six Museum, Cape Town
  • Durban Art Museum, Durban
  • Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum, Port Elizabeth
  • Municipal Museum, Simon’s Town
  • Pretoria Art Museum, Pretoria
  • South African National Gallery; University of Fort Hare, Alice
  • William Humphreys Art Gallery, Kimberley, SA
  • IZIKO South African National Gallery, Cape Town

Universities

  • Livingstone High School, Claremont
  • North-West University, North-West
  • University of Stellenbosch, Western Province
  • University of the Western Cape, Western Province
  • University of Zululand, Kwa-Zulu Natal
  • Durban University of Technology, Kwa-Zulu Natal
  • University of South Africa, Pretoria

Private Collections

  • Hymie and Jean Berndt, Kenilworth, Western Cape
  • Bruce Campbell Smith Collection

1975

Honorary Fellow in Writing, University of Iowa, USA

1982

Diploma of Merit in Art, Academia Italia

1982

Honorary Doctor of Literature, World Academy of Arts and Culture, Taipei, Taiwan

1983

Honorary Member of the Museum of African American Art, Los Angeles, USA

2000

Awarded the Molteno Award for services to the visual arts by the Cape Tercentenary Foundation

2005

Awarded the Order of Ikhamga (Silver) by President Thabo Mbeki

2010

Awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arts and Culture Trust

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