Bathers with Passing Yacht (1969) is the image I will be discussing today and it is such a luxurious picture that I feel sorely tempted to leave my desk and follow the example of the reclining figures.
The scene is a timeless, sundrenched day spent next to the sea, (quite possibly a scene from a harbour in Simonstown). The atmosphere is utterly familiar to me; it is so unmistakably Cape Town in the summer on one of those perfect days in which the air seems to contain something indescribable, both elating and soporific.
No doubt this is the sort of day which would precede the ‘hot and quiet evening’ of the exhibition title. This show was initially intended to introduce Barbadians to Cape Town and Clarke talks about the similarities between the weather of Cape Town and Barbados – the powerful storms and terrible winds, as well as the long hot summer days. There is something mysterious and connecting in the palpable effect that weather has on those who expose themselves to its vast but changeable phases.
The intense colouring of this woodcut creates the atmosphere of shimmering heat, a sense of air so warm it is almost solid. The figures are as natural and integrated into the landscape as a crowd of sea-gulls; they are overcome with the stillness and content that humans rarely experience away from the hypnotic sun and mesmerising sea.
The sea is slightly rippled by the gentlest wind – days on which the South Easter does not blow are always set apart; there is just enough of a breath to fill the white sails of the yacht, the lightest object both in terms of tone and gravitational quality. The horizontal lines of figures, land, and sea are as languorous and sedentary as their rich golden and copper colour while the crisp white of the ship offers a breath of fresh air. It is silhouetted against an almost purely abstracted background which could be sky or land. Its density, verticality, and vaguely cubist configuration convince me that it is the land on the other side of a bay, which encloses and cocoons the day’s warmth.