Art centre renamed after Peter Clarke

This Peter Clarke painting will go under the hammer at an auction by Stephan Welz & Co to be held on Tuesday October 18 and Wednesday October 19 at The Great Cellar, Alphen Drive, Constantia.

The Frank Joubert Art Centre, in Newlands, was renamed the Peter Clarke Art Centre on September 22.

The centre was started by Frank Joubert, Administrator of the Cape, in 1943 to meet a need – to equip young people returning from World War II with skills to allow them to find work. The art centre developed out of that institution.

“The proposal to rename the art centre in no way means to disregard Frank Joubert’s memorable contribution to education,” says the centre’s board of governors, which requested the change, but as most Western Cape Education Department art centres were named after well-known SA artists of the past, they felt that by renaming the art centre after a contemporary SA artist who was well-known and respected, a newer and wider constituency would take ownership and be proud to be associated with the centre.

Peter Clarke, who was born in Simon’s Town in 1929 but was moved to Ocean View in the 1970s, died on April 13 2014.

“Peter’s work was not recognised for many years because of the system,” said close family friend Mary Kindo, referring to apartheid. “It was only in his late 70s that he began to be popular and his work became in demand.”

In 2005, he was awarded the Order of Ikhamanga by President Thabo Mbeki. The order is awarded to South African citizens who have excelled in the fields of arts, culture, literature, music, journalism or sport.

“When placing the value on the work, we took into account factors such as the desirability of the work, the medium, size and the fact that the work has never been seen,” said Mr Shean.

“We have sold works on paper for up to R800 000 by the artist and a work, less than half the size for R700 000.

“I was privileged to know Peter very well when he was alive and know his personal collection very well. There aren’t works as good as this in the collection or within private collections.

“The word ‘iconic’ is often over-used, and in this case, iconic is justified,” said Mr Shean.

An “iconic” painting by the Mr Clarke is expected to reach between R900 000 and R1.5 million when it goes on auction later this month. The painting, oil and sand on board, was done as a wedding gift by the Ocean View artist and is the first time it will be displayed publicly.

The painting of nude bathers in Sandy Bay has been valued by Gary Shean, head painting specialist at Stephan Welz & Co. The painting will be auctioned at The Great Cellar, Alphen Drive, Constantia, on Tuesday October 18 and Wednesday October 19, with viewing dates from today Wednesday October 12 to Sunday October 16.

“This work shows that Peter Clarke is truly one of the hallmark artists of social realism,” said Mr Shean.

He said the painting, painted in 1969, was “monumental in medium, size (45 by 60cm), subject matter and style” and is a rare oil and sand on board – the same medium as his Listening to Distant Thunder which was painted in 1970 and forms part of the Johannesburg Art Gallery collection. Both paintings show his familiar abstract forms, geometric lines, bold brushstrokes and use of contrasting colour and line, and show a strong Cubist influence.

“Peter as far as I know did very few drawings and paintings of nudes but was not averse to doing so,” said Lionel Davis, artist and friend of Peter Clarke. “About four years before his death I invited him to the Kalk Bay Community Centre to a nude drawing session. He only came twice.

“However, in his later years, he was more interested in abstraction, mixed media as in his Fan series, patterning, geometric paper shapes and collage. He was less interested in figuration.”

Brother Richard Clarke said that Mr Shean had phoned him to find out where the artwork had been painted, asking was there a nudist beach in Simon’s Town, or could it have been Graaff’s Pool in Sea Point? When Mr Clarke went to view the work, he immediately identified it as Sandy Bay, saying that he had seen his brother paint it. This beach was seen as one where the police would not enforce the segregation laws as it was such a long walk to get there.

Mr Davis remembers those days.

“There was a time in the 1960s and 1970s when he used to hang out with poet James Matthews, photographer George Hallet and others. A time when having a nice time going up the mountain, visiting the beach, having parties, and boozing was enjoyed. It then does not surprise me that they also visited Sandy Bay. It was a time when James was into body building and enjoyed showing off his muscular physique.”

Mr Shean said that when placing a value on an artwork, he researched the work and spoke to as many specialists or when possible, the artist themselves to gain a better understanding of the work and the period of when the work was completed.

“It’s about getting to know the work, understanding the work and educating myself about the work when possible,” he said. “It’s always a bonus when you are able to speak to either the artist or a member of the artist’s family, in this case, Richard Clarke, who confirmed the title Sandy Bay.

“This work, which was given to a friend of the artist’s by the artist back in the early 1970s, was sold to the current owner a number of years ago and was then cleaned, as it had not been for nearly 30-plus years.”

Asked whether it was time to invest in Peter Clark’s work, Mr Shean said: “Stephan Welz & Co set an auction record recently with a work on paper selling for over nearly R800 000. As a print maker, even his linocuts and woodcuts are fetching over R30 000 each at auction.”

“I am not surprised at the prices for Peter’s work today,” said Mr Davis.

“His windfall now comes to those who received his generous gifts those many years ago and those who bought his works cheaply then when he was an unknown name and struggling to establish himself as an artist.”

Mr Clarke said that he would be attending the auction “just to have a look”. His son owned some linocuts by Peter and those were also being auctioned.

Like the former owner of the painting now up on auction, Percy and Mary Kindo were also given a painting by Peter as a wedding present. When told the value placed on Sandy Bay, Ms Kindo said, “Wow – fantastic! Peter often gave away his art. He was a very humble and kind man.We have a painting he gave us for our wedding in 1977 – he gave us quite a few – oil, wax, linocuts – we have about 10 in all.”

Asked whether, given the high value placed on his work, whether she would consider selling any, Mary responded instantly. “He was so, so special. His artworks are like memories of him. We could never sell them. It would be like selling part of Peter.”

A Man and His Thoughts, an exhibition of fine art prints by Peter Clarke is on at the Casa Labia Cultural Centre, Main Road, Muizenberg.

For more information, call 021 788 6068 or email events@casalabia.co.za