Thursday, November 19, 2009

Knowledge (2006) - Peter Clarke

I was struck by the work Knowledge (2006) when I first saw it; it reminded me strongly of posters I recall gazing up at in junior school celebrating reading week or encouraging reading in general. These posters always seemed very important to me and I was always warmed by them – there were people in the world who knew how wonderful reading was and they were trying to encourage others to discover this. Then there were the posters stating the demographics of illiteracy rates in and around South Africa (and sometimes the world) and I discovered for the first time that there were people who had not been given the education that I had, that to refrain from reading was not always a choice, that the necessary tuition was not as abundant as tap-water (which again I went on to find out was not as abundant as I had thought).
Perhaps it is for these reasons that Knowledge strikes a chord in me. Books were a haven for me as a child and in books I came across, more than once, stories of people learning to read, or pursuing a higher education while struggling against the tide of their circumstances to do so, and I was always filled with awe. 
This image seems to encapsulate my experiences as I brushed against this other world. Even without the title, one can sense a story; the young man has a glow around him as he sits in a dark space. There is the hinted presence of a candle or some such humble lighting device that provides just enough light to see by (does this man study late at night after working a long day?  Is this his valued leisure time, savoured while others sleep?). The unspecified light-source also doubles as the aura of the world he is experiencing – for him nothing exists beyond the world his mind is occupying. The ability for the human mind to space-and-time travel into the imagination in this way is deeply mysterious; this experience alone may be as valuable as all the knowledge one may absorb from the writing itself.
I have noted the story-telling quality in Clarkes work in the previous blog but I think it is worth reiterating as it is such an integral feature to appreciating his work. It seems probable that it is the result of Clarke’s other creative outlet, poetry, having a natural and enriching influence on his printmaking and drawing. For Clarke, the combination of practices results in a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
The addition of the title ‘Knowledge’ lends a bold, archetypal quality to the delicate humanism of the implied story. It draws us away from the account of an individual (this young man and his private toil) and reminds us that each knowledge seeker is a tributary that joins up to a great ocean of collected experience.

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