each: 65 by 50cm (3)
R400 000 – R800 000
each panel signed and dated 1989 oil, gouache and ink over collage on paper
Peter Clarke was impressed by the work of Jackson Pollock and the Abstract Expressionists when he visited the USA in the 1970s, but it was not until after he had attended the first Thupelo workshop at Hunter’s Rest in 1985 that he first began to experiment seriously with abstraction. For Clarke, space was always a problem and the paintings he had seen were invariably large in scale: he therefore devised the clever solution of working on large sheets of paper on the floor (always on top of plastic rubbish bags to keep the family living room, that doubled as his studio, paint-free), then combining the sheets to make large diptych or triptych works. Paint was applied very loosely to create a rich painterly surface, as it is in SPACES, but it was never entirely abstract - a horizontal band high on the format defined the narrow upper area as sky, and the densely worked plane below suggested a wall, one which became a metaphoric matrix in a series of works, collectively known as GHETTO FENCE.
Peter Clarke had long spoken of walls as symbolic of a divided society under apartheid and of the communicative gap between individuals, but the wall in these works takes on an added significance as a ‘graffitied’ surface. While walls seem authoritarian markers of division, they can also be sites of protest with inscriptions and posters, as they often were in South Africa in the 1980s. So while this work with the cut-out title ‘SPACES’ alludes to space in the political sense of division, the collaged items on the wall also provide many other spatial allusions, which Peter spoke about in a late interview in 2015. Apart from the literal references to different spaces implied by a theatre poster, doves, an advertisement for Citiliner travel, an exhibition flyer on Leonardo and his flying machine, and sketches of mariners with sextants, there are hints
of more subtle spaces too – what Peter called spaces of the mind. This is implied by the creativity of Leonardo, and of playwrights and actors, but especially by the large hand-written slogan ‘LIBERATE MINDS. OPEN ALL SCHOOLS NOW!’ Education and imagination could free the mind from imposed shackles, which is also suggested by the included title ‘Cry Freedom’. In 1989 when Clarke made this work he was already projecting ahead to the freedom to come: a half-joking, half-serious ‘WANTED’ poster with his own photograph, describes what is wanted as
something different, decent, honest, a country one can be proud yo live in and be a citizen of, a country in which every citizen has a share and a democratic right and in which each citizen can be happy.
As he said in an interview, ‘I was thinking in terms of change, positive change’ and the suffused warm colour of the sky above the wall in Spaces speaks of ‘a bright new day dawning.’
‘LIBERATE MINDS. OPEN ALL SCHOOLS NOW!’
- Elizabeth Rankin