Minister Mashatile pays tribute to the late Peter Clarke

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14 Apr 2014

Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile has learnt with great sadness of the death of celebrated visual artists Peter Clarke.

“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,” Mashatile said.

Clarke was born in Simonstown, Western Cape in 1929. His life spanned a tumultuous period in South African history that saw both the imposition and later the demise of Apartheid. Clarke once said that democracy has ushered in a decade of "very exciting" South African art: "Democracy created a lot of mental freedom and there are a lot of positive things happening.”

Clark is best known for his graphic prints, particularly his woodcuts, and more recently he moved into collage. He also used leather, glass, found objects and other mixed media to produce his colourful work. Clarke’s art speaks of a particular time, with its significant changes, and a palpable feeling for humankind.

Clarke was well known to his community, in the township of Ocean View, as an important creative voice. Amongst many aspiring young artists over the years, those for whom going to art school was unlikely, or simply impossible due to the restrictions under Apartheid,  Clarke became a symbol of achievement as much as a voice of encouragement.

Yet it was only in 2011 that a major retrospective exhibition of his work was featured at the Standard Bank Gallery,  in Johannesburg which also then travelled to the South African National Gallery in Cape Town, where it was on show for seven months (2011/12), extended in response to audience interest.

In October 2013, Clarke featured in a special exhibition in Paris, France curated by the Iziko South African National Gallery. The event was part of the Department of Arts and Culture’s artists exchange programme with France. The South African Season in France 2013 was a tribute to South Africa’s freedom.

A Portrait of South Africa: George Hallet, Peter Clarke & Gerard Sekoto was in recognition of their use of art as an expression of resistance.

In an interview at the exhibition opening Clarke said, "I am greatly moved to be included as one of the artists, featured, it is actually an historic occasion…Because when Sekoto left South Africa I was 17 or 18 years and he was my role model. So it’s a very important exhibition for George and me. Gerard is off course here in spirit.  I hope more of this type of exhibitions will happen, with other artists also getting an opportunity and being afforded this kind of respect. It’s great to be here. I applaud these efforts to expose South Africa's talent to the international market, artists need support, and they can’t always do it on their own.  Any exhibition is important, because more and more people get to see who Peter Clarke is."

Clarke’s first contemporary African art Biennale was at the 10th edition of Dak’art, Senegal in 2012. The exhibition Wind Blowing on the Cape Flats, presented by Iniva in partnership with the South African National Gallery (Iziko Museums of South Africa) was the first significant showing of his work in London, and in Northern Europe where it toured afterwards.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to Clarke’s family, friends and colleagues. We hope the body of work he has left behind will continue to inspire and motivate all of us, especially the youth. As we are due to mark twenty years of freedom and democracy, let us once again remember that our freedom was not free and that while challenges remain, we have reason to celebrate our achievements since1994,” concluded Mashatile.

For enquiries please contact Mogomotsi Mogodiri on 071 687 4984