Peter Clarke. It is such sad news to hear of his passing quietly in the middle of the night on Sunday 13 April. His body is gone but his art remains – bearing witness, etched into memory. Peter Clarke holds a special place in my personal history. He was born in my home town, Simonstown in Cape Town. He and my mum grew up in the Kloof (pronounced Kloef)–what was then the poorer part of town. They went to the same school, Arsenal Primary, and my mum always recalls his artist prowess from then; the Clarkes were regular customers in my grandfather’s shop in Waterfall Road, at the foot of what is still one of the resident naval barracks. He is the only South African artist I know of to have captured Simonstown pre-forced removals.
The Clarkes were one of the many forcibly moved by the Apartheid state to Ocean View; a few kilometers away but far cry from the idyllic seaside hamlet with not a view or a scent of the ocean. He spent most of his life painting from his studio in Ocean View–quietly–and with success. Though, I would hazard to say that if you had to quiz people in Simonstown, they’d probably know more about who Just Nuisance (a statue of a dog) was than a legendary painter just around the corner and over the hill. This painting is entitled the “Ruined houses of Simonstown” where his family used to live. It’s so easy to forget and erase – people, their histories and becomings. We need our artists to help us remember. For generations past, generations present, the born frees and beautyful ones yet to be born – this is to not forgetting. In memoriam Peter Clarke, in memoriam.
EDITOR: For a good account of Peter Clarke’s career as a visual artist and poet, we’d recommend Hein Willemse’s More than Brothers: Peter Clarke and James Matthews at 70. George Hallett also took many of the images in the book. And here, below, are some videos (embedded as a playlist) of Clarke at his last major exhibition, a retrospective in London at Rivington Place last year (from 15 January until 9 March, 2013). In one of the videos Tessa Jackson, chief Executive of Iniva, previews the exhibition:
Image Credit: George Hallett.