Clarke was born in Simon’s Town near Cape Town, in 1929. Much of his work is inspired by this beautiful coastal village where he lived until 1972, when he was forced to move to Ocean View under the Group Areas Act. He left high school in 1944 and was a dock worker until 1956 when, aged 27, a three-month holiday to Teslaarsdal, a small farming village near Caledon in the South West Cape, began his artistic career.
With assistance from his lifelong friend, poet James Matthews, Clarke held his first solo exhibition in the newsroom of the newspaper The Golden City Post, in 1957. At that time he said: “Before my exhibition, I was just another coloured man. Our people took it for granted that only whites could do such things. Now they are becoming aware of the fact that we can do these things too; that we are human beings.”
Clarke was best known for his graphic prints, particularly his woodcuts, and in later years he moved into collage. He also used leather, glass, found objects and other mixed media to produce his colourful work. His artistic career spanned more than six decades and he produced a large number of works and appeared in many exhibitions. Nevertheless, despite this experience and exposure, it has been said that his work was not given the full recognition it deserves. Described as a “quiet chronicler”, his work offers a critique of South Africa’s social and political history over 60 years.
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