Cape Town, South Africa
16.02.18 – 18.02.18
Peter E. Clarke & Lionel Davis
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