Last night, the Kalk Bay Modern had the honour and pleasure of presenting A Hot and Quiet Evening, an exhibition of work spanning six decades by veteran South African artist and poet Peter Clarke. The exhibition was opened by Clarke’s long time friend and associate Lionel Davis whose wonderfully anecdotal speech enlightened the gathered crowd as to the origins of this remarkable exhibition and gave us some insight into the man who created it.
A Hot and Quiet Evening was first exhibited in Barbados at the Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination (EBCCI) and is the loving product of Peter Clarke’s long-standing interest in Barbados and his correspondence with celebrated Barbadian author George Lamming. Lionel Davis related the story in which Clarke was presented with a copy of Lamming’s book, In the Castle of my Skin, which marked the beginning of their liaison. The victim of a forced removal at the hands of the apartheid government, Peter Clarke noted the similarities between the political and social histories of Barbados and South Africa and was moved to form a channel of communication between them.
His interest in Barbados, however, had been kindled long ago during his childhood in the vibrant mixed community of Simonstown before the forced removal to Ocean View – which, it has been noted, is depressingly deficient in a sea view. An uncle on Clarke’s father’s side had originated from Barbados and as a child Clarke had always been curious about him. He notes sadly that after the upheaval of his childhood, he was left with little more than this scrap of information about him and the knowledge that he will never be able to find out any more.
Clarke’s work is a celebration and documentation of the everyday life of his community. It has tremendous value both aesthetically and historically. It is this historical similarity that outwardly proved to be the link between Barbados and South Africa. But it is in something more closely human, more day-to-day, that the connection truly lies.
Bridget Thompson, director of the Art and Ubuntu Trust, spoke at the Barbados opening of A Hot and Quiet Evening, and read aloud from a statement Peter had written about the show. As it turns out, he had been familiar with Lamming’s work since he was a young man of 25. On a date he very specifically remembers, 7 December 1954, he bought an American paperback book called New World Writing, an anthology of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and art, from contributors all around the world. It contained an extract of the book he was to receive many years later, In the Castle of My Skin, which spoke of life in Barbados.
What he speaks of most hauntingly is an incredible sense of familiarity in the world Lamming described. His description of this revelation - “the characters, their responses to each other, the settings, the colours projected into my consciousness, all of it as if part of my own life.” – reminds me of how I felt as I stood in front of many of his works. The power of an everyday scene lies in its ability to transport one into a moment of pure being, a moment in which one somehow experiences existence in another time or place, not in a way that is monumental, mind-blowing or disorientating, but deeply, quietly and with a sense of belonging.
His hopes that the Barbadian viewers of his exhibition might experience a similar strange sense of familiarity when looking at his images shows a deep commitment to communication, a point that Lionel Davis emphasized about his friend, and an understanding of the web that interconnects all of humanity.
I look forward in the coming few weeks to sharing some of his beautiful images with you and giving more specific information on the works on exhibition. A Hot and Quiet Evening runs until the 30th of November and is very much worth visiting.
The Kalk Bay Modern would like to warmly thank the Art and Ubuntu Trust and the EBCCI Gallery in Barbados for providing us with material concerning this exhibition.