16.02.18 – 18.02.18
Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC)
Cape Town, South Africa
When Peter Clarke and Lionel Davis first met in 1978, at the Community Arts Project (CAP), they were 49 and 42 years old, respectively. Clarke was an established artist and published writer by then, acclaimed both locally and internationally, with many exhibitions to his name. Davis had completed a stint on Robben Island as a political prisoner which was followed by five years of house arrest. He was attempting to find meaning and direction through art and participated in as many courses offered by CAP as possible. He also worked there as a cleaner.
The two got to know each other well over the coming years as they moved in similar circles and participated in a number of art ventures. An important one was Vakalisa, a collaborative group of black artists, writers, photographers and poets from Cape Town who produced an annual calendar from 1985 to 1990. This consisted of the creative output contributed by the group members and took the form of graphic work, poems and other short texts and photographs, all freely expressing the artists’ anti-apartheid stance. For this reason, some of the editions were banned under the censorship laws of the government.
Although very different in temperament, Clarke being reserved, precise and witty and Davis gregarious, ebullient and outgoing, they found they had a lot in common. Personally, they both came from working class backgrounds and had spent their early years performing menial jobs. Both had early discovered a talent for drawing. They had many acquaintances in common and even discovered a family relationship, though not a biological link. Curiously, Clarke and Davis shared a physical resemblance and were often mistaken for each other. Clarke was fascinated by Davis’s late but enthusiastic entry into the art world while Davis respected Clarke’s achievement.
The development of the two artists, however, was markedly different. Clarke’s was a focussed, dedicated path towards recognition as a practicing artist and achievement in this field. His success was built steadily from his early twenties onwards. Davis, having come to art seriously in his 40’s, threw himself fully into acquiring the knowledge and skills to become a proficient artist. Unlike Clarke who wanted to achieve professional recognition, Davis saw his exploration of art as a means of healing and self-development. Where Clarke depended solely on his art for an income, Davis devoted himself to community development in his capacity of facilitator and trainer, positions he held at CAP during the 1980’s. Davis later became a public speaker, sharing his story with local and international visitors to Robben Island.
The two artists developed a close bond over the years, both acting as opening speakers for each other’s exhibitions and also, occasionally attending art workshops together. Besides a shared interest in drawing, printmaking and collage, both were involved in supporting youth art projects and in making art available to the broader and less privileged community.
During Clarke’s final years, he and Davis could often be seen at exhibition openings, making contact with many familiar faces, artists, art lovers, auctioneers and gallerists, all those who had provided the human backdrop to their journeys in art.
Text by Barbara Voss
February 4, 2018
Peter E. Clarke was born in Simon’s Town in 1929. After leaving high school, and a short period of employment as a dock worker, Clarke embarked on his artistic career and in 1957 presented his first solo exhibition in the newsroom of The Golden City Post in Cape Town. He completed his formal training in 1959 at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town; and thereafter at the Rijks Academie van Beeldende Kunsten, in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. His awards include: Honorary Fellow in Writing, University of Iowa, USA; Diploma of Merit in Art, Academia Italia; Honorary Member of the Museum of African American Art, Los Angeles, USA; Honorary Doctor of Literature, World Academy of Arts and Culture, Taipei, Taiwan; and the Order of Ikhamga, among many others. Clarke exhibited widely both locally and internationally, including in: South Africa, Germany, Brazil, Austria, Italy, The Netherlands, Belgium, USA, Argentina, Norway, Botswana, Japan, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Throughout his career, Clarke maintained a deep connection to his community and worked closely with the Community Arts Project (CAP), where he first met Lionel Davis in 1978.
Lionel Davis was born in 1936, in District Six, Cape Town. In 1964 he spent seven years incarcerated on Robben Island as a political prisoner, and a further five years under house arrest. In 1978, Davis chose to pursue his interests in the visual arts at the Community Arts Project (CAP), where he later took up the position of Project-Coordinator during 1988, thus combining an unwavering engagement with his community, a passion for education, and his practice as a visual artist. A former political prisoner and long-time cultural activist, Lionel Davis’ name features prominently in the history of the Community Arts Project, Vakalisa Art Associates, Thupelo Workshop and Greatmore Artists’ Studios. Drawing, painting, and printing, and often combining these media, Davis works in visual modes that range from the realist to the abstract. His themes include everyday scenes as well as reflections on black and African identity.