Peter Edward Clarke (1929 - )
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Profile of Peter Edward Clarke
Peter Edward Clarke was born in Simon's Town in the Cape in 1929, his father a dock-hand and his mother a domestic worker. On leaving school, he also worked at the docks for a number of years, but then left to pursue his main aim of becoming an artist.
Lacking the means for formal study, Clarke honed his natural talent by examining works in art galleries and taking advantage of whatever tuition was available to him. He attended a series of night art classes at St Philip's School in Woodstock in 1947 and studied at the Cape Technical College in 1948, but the depth of his talent, not his formal education, was his real strength.
In time, Clarke's reputation grew to such an extent that in 1961, following an exhibition of his work in District Six, the University of Cape Town allowed him to enrol for three months in order to study etching. Subsequently he spent some time at the Rijksakademie van Beeldenden Kusten in The Netherlands, where he broadened his artistic education. German Expressionists and Mexican artists of the period spanning the 1930s to the 1950s were to influence his work, as well as his liking for the austere beauty of traditional Japanese art.
The major influence on Clarke's work during this period, however, was the forcible removal of his family from Simon's Town itself to the Ocean View township – hence the recurring themes of struggle in his images, such as long roads and steep hills.
Clarke has always worked in a broad artistic context, and in a variety of media. He is best known for his graphic prints, such as woodcuts, but his work also includes paintings, illustrations, books made from recycled paper and leather, and, in later years, collages embodying a number of different materials and objects. His themes are as eclectic as his materials, but one constant is their commitment to the human condition in all its aspects.
He is also an internationally known writer and poet who has had illustrated books published in South Africa, Sweden, Germany, Britain, Nigeria and Switzerland, and, in fact, his first award, in 1955, was for a short story, rather than a work of art. Other awards and distinctions – South African, Italian and American, among others – were to follow as his work became known at exhibitions both in South Africa and as far afield as Norway and the United States.
His art has not brought him the material rewards enjoyed by some other creative workers, and to some extent the scope of his work has been limited by the fact that he has never had a studio of his own. But he has remained true to the acute artistic and literary vision, developed through his own perseverance and self-knowledge and in spite of the adverse circumstances of his youth and young adulthood.