Peter Clarke, Artist – South Africa

Who are you and where are you based?

My name is Peter Clarke and I’m based in a place called Ocean View which is near Cape Town, in South Africa.

What’s your background?
Background, how? I suppose I should speak about what I’ve been doing; where I’ve come from. Not White. To put it that way – we have all kinds of categories or had all kinds of categories in South Africa. It hasn’t quite disappeared and so we have certain categories which still operate in South Africa. So, that’s why I use the term, Not White.

Who are your favourite characters from African culture, film, literature or art?

I can’t speak about films – because I haven’t really seen much African films, unfortunately…and I don’t have television either. So there I’m not informed; literature, I haven’t really thought about a particular character in African literature, because there are so many people who form part of a crowd scene; so there are all these scenes filled with characters – at the moment, no particular person stands out. [I tend to have books as an influence on me in the past] but the most recent African book I’ve read is by Chinua Achebe about Biafra. It’s a very striking book. Very striking, disturbing story because it makes me think of so many things happening in Africa today, not only in Africa but in South Africa as well. You know factions, people, taking different roles, and you know…I see the man in the street is not certain about where he stands. One thinks of corrupt practices taking the upper hand and creating a terrible imbalance. Anyway that is a book I read not too long ago.

What are you ambitions for yourself as an artist?

What are my ambitions from this point onwards [laughs]; it’s the kind of question that should have been asked when I was a youngster – what did I have in mind when I thought about art and an art career. At this stage, what I want to do is work. I’m a workaholic, so I always work; but what I want to do is work larger than what I have been up to now  – because I’m not too old to still experiment. Most recently I’ve been working a lot with collage, but in a very playful manner, but absolutely seriously; what I would also like to do is to collaborate with other people, various other people, younger people; so that we can work on joint efforts, have more interaction, because at the moment there is not enough interaction. A number of young artists come to visit me and they always talk about how they would like to become more involved with older people. In order to have more discussions or to gain some kind of wisdom from these older people, who’ve had the experience; experiences that they’ve not had yet. So, there needs to be more of that kind of thing happening. So I’ll have to see how it works out.

What are you currently working on?

I’m working on everything.

What’s the most sublime artistic experience you’ve ever had?

I think there are certain sublime experiences that one should never speak about in public; [laughs] I can’t think of any sublime experiences that I would like to talk about in public.  Well, I think the most immediate sublime experience I’ve had was coming to London after so many years, my last visit to London was in 2001; on that occasion I visited the Tate Modern, and the other day I went again to the Tate Modern. I was greatly moved by the creativity. The presence, this huge presence of the creativity of all kinds of artist and people and so on; and greatly moved by the amount of people coming to this particular institution to look at artworks. So the marvellous thing for me is the way art speaks, or draws people, speaks to people – the magic that art possesses, because it really is magical. Also what’s interesting to me is – I also went to the British Museum and the thing that struck me again is how many artists reach out to people. In spite of the fact that centuries have gone since their own existence, but it’s still the thing about reaching out through space – to people, whom they will never know, and who will never know them either, because the distance in time is still too great. And how people can still be moved by what those people created; so for me that is amazing – amazingly sublime really. Yes. [Smiles]

What’s your greatest fear – either for yourself [as an artist] – or for Africa?

My biggest fear at the moment is losing my eyesight. I do have to go and have my cataracts removed.  Well, it’s the uncertainty of certain things you have to experience – and no one bothers to explain beforehand how we are going to remove these cataracts, from your eyes. So all kinds of nastiness that come into play in my imagination…you know…opening up and pulling out with tongs and things like that; but it probably won’t be all that. I do know a doctor friend who said to me ‘…it’s quite simple’ but then they always say it’s quite simple. There’s no need to worry. No fuss. That is not…my only…not really fear, so much as concern…but that is one of those things…but the other fear I think is about South Africa its self; because when I think of democracy supposedly finally coming to South Africa – for a lot of people the moment of arrival signalled order, change, positive change, change for the better, where everybody would be happy. But there is actually a lot of chaos…also a lot of lack of direction. Also a lot of concern by a number of people, lots of young people who on the point of leaving school, worrying about ‘ok I’ll have to go to work next year’ and there’s no possibility of jobs for them. So that, often I wonder what young people feel about South Africa and about their futures; my future is assured, I haven’t got long to go – but in their case their whole life is ahead of them. So I wish that things would be better, would be easier for them, so they could go right “here I go – from this moment things start.”

Wind Blowing on the Cape Flats: A major retrospective and the first substantial exhibition of Peter Clarke’s work in the UK is showing at Rivington Place from the 19th January – 13th March 2013