Friday, November 27, 2009

Peter Clarke - creative energy

I am currently doing an artists course entitled ‘The Artists Way’ which is supposed to encourage the creative process. While browsing through information on Peter Clarke for the purpose of writing today’s blog, I came upon a quote that seemed to explain Clarke’s creative energy. He is an incredibly prolific artist, having taken part in over 40 exhibitions since 1957 to the present day – that is at least one exhibition every one and a half years. On his process he comments, "I work when the idea strikes. I don't have a regime; while I work the ideas come. I'm not interested in waiting around for the muse."

His method – generating ideas through using the creative process – confirms for me the deep spirituality of Clarke’s work. The creative process has often been described as being spiritually driven, and Clarke’s words indicate an incredible harmony with this force that is splendidly and powerfully down to earth.

In June 2006 Peter Clarke spoke at an artist’s workshop at the Art and Ubuntu Trust and organisation dedicated to ensuring that the legacy of Ernest Mancoba, South African artist and philosopher, lives on so that it may enrich South Africa both socially and creatively. This is the organisation that worked in collaboration with the Kalk Bay Modern to put together a Hot And Quiet Evening.

(for more info see link below) 

His talk focussed on how a work of art has a life of its own once it is complete and viewed by other people. His personal example of this was seeing a photograph of Gerard Sekoto in a newspaper as he left for Paris. This experience had a great impact on his life, convincing him that a black man could become an artist – which could easily seem like a pipe dream whilst living during apartheid.

The fact that Clarke was so prolific during a time of such crushing ideology is amazing and awe-inspiring. That he continued to be prolific after the backdrop of his entire life and work started to fall away is even more amazing still and is the result of his flexibility and ability to change as the world changes.

The differences and similarities between Clarke’s work during the apartheid years and his work now are interesting to consider. He speaks about how after 1994 he felt the urge to start creating work that did not necessarily make ‘a statement’, as was expected of black artists during apartheid. 

I think that this sentiment – wanting to move beyond the statement – shows an incredible personal as well as artistic maturity. It can become easy for an artist to fall back on social criticism as a way of feeling relevant.
While social criticism certainly has its place in art, to think it is the pinnacle of art’s purpose (as some do) creates something incredibly narrow and stagnant and is, I think, a symptom of the need for art to be something grand and commanding – somehow an authority on life.

To get caught in the role of the critic is to never see life as it is exists in between the various unhealthy social constructs and mindsets that do undeniably exist. It is more important, more progressive, and more helpful I think to realise and be in tune with the beautiful, wholesome aspects of life that continue to exist on a day-to-day level in spite of various social ills. This living, breathing world, real, wonderful, painful, even prosaic, is the world that Peter Clarke depicts.

Art is relevant, not when it holds up a moralizing mirror to society but when it is the result of being deeply in tune with people, one’s own personhood and the spiritual, creative flow of life. A true artist is not one who stands by the wayside and criticizes but one for whom art is the by-product of living fully and presently, characteristics that Peter Clarke most certainly embodies.

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