I chose today’s images as examples of Peter Clarke’s interest and celebration of everyday life, especially within his own community. He works primarily with wood and linocuts, two similar print-making methods that enhance and complement the simplicity and honesty of his subject matter.
Coming From Shopping (1968) silhouettes a female figure against an autumnal background of trees, grass, flowers and sky. The stylized forms recall traditional African carvings and the minimalism of the figure casts her as an ‘everywoman’ of the community. She does what all must do, and do frequently. There is a brisk purposefulness to her figure – rendered nearly featureless due to our vantage point and the use of monochrome – which contrasts interestingly with the lively beauty of the natural background. She seems slightly disconnected from her surroundings; her mind is already occupied with her destination, home, and the tasks that lie ahead of her. She is not a lady of leisure to stroll slowly and luxuriate in the beauty of nature. She will cook, feed people, organise things; she has a lot to do. I like to think though that as she strides through the beautiful landscape she feels a lightness in her step and that unnamed pleasure that comes from being at one with oneself and ones surroundings, rather than a disconnected, if admiring, observer.
I like the relationship between this image and the next one which is entitled, Doing What We Do, We Get On With Our Lives (undated). It seems entirely possible that this should be the woman’s destination. The scene is of a small village, inhabited by characters with such human qualities that one almost feels they are the unnamed people that surround us on a daily basis, just a few of the many thousands that we do not form any particular connection with, but of whom we are peripherally aware, strangers, yet kin, all of us in the great mixing pot of humanity.
Birds silhouetted against the sky show a favourite theme of Clarke’s. He has a fascination with birds that he says started when he was very young at an uncle’s funeral. He was a pigeon trainer and at the end of the ceremony great baskets of birds were let loose creating a flurry in the sky.
The birds certainly seem to convey a strange, slightly melancholy spiritual quality as they fly together across a brooding sunset sky. Below them in the centre of the village is the poignant figure, in a large overcoat, of a man on crutches. He is seen from behind, his head is dipped and he does not see the magnificent, startling flight of birds above him. But of all the characters he most seems to have a tie with them, in spite of, or perhaps because he is the least free to move. His broken body has the mark of mortality upon it, invisible in the busy figures of the other folk; his shackles bring him closer to the moment when he will be free.
The evocative story-illustration power of Clarkes’ work was recently noted by Barbadian blogger, the Bajan Reporter after he exhibited A Hot and Quiet Evening in Barbados. As he put it, “His linocuts and woodcuts remind me for the most part of cels from an animated feature yet to be fully crafted, and I want to view the whole feature!”
Of course the story is that of Clarkes’ life and the life of his community and I look forward to sharing (and investigating) more images and stories over the next couple of weeks!