Fred Clarke seems a little hesitant when he shakes my hand. “Are you nervous?” I ask. “No, no it’s not that.” Long pause. He continues, “The less people know about me the better, which is why I’m apprehensive about interviews. I don’t really want to talk about me, and I’d much rather talk to you about the world.”
“And what’s your intention, by the way?” he asks. Another pause, this time from me.
“I just like to write about art, it’s a personal interest thing, mainly. I like to get important messages across, via artists.”
“Good, ok, that’s great.” He loosens up.
In his latest solo exhibition, entitled Scrap Ink, Clarke transforms a pot of throwaway ink into abstract works of art, thanks to an “inexplicable” creative process.
Clarke regularly goes to a lithography studio in White River called The Artists’ Press. A few months ago, he noticed a tin that had ‘scrap ink’ scrawled on it. Upon inspection, Clarke discovered that this tin contained discarded printing ink.
“I was very excited by the idea of recycling and mathematics… It reminded me of the equation minus times minus equals plus; two negatives make a positive. I love that principle because it has a resonance with recycling. Two useless things can be connected and then transformed.”
According to Clarke, using the ink was mathematical in that the tin had randomly combined colours; it was a matter of selecting different sections of it with a palette knife, then spreading the toffee-like substance over plastic to reveal colours in the tin.
Clarke also likens his Scrap Ink series to QR codes. “In the same way the work isn’t about me, those marks are like QR codes… Form [ink] meets chaos [image]. He added that his artwork is “completely abstract” and that it contains no subliminal meaning or representation.
Clarke says he wanted to “intensify and distil the colours” that were in the tin, and reveal them in a way that’s accessible. This involved a lot of trial and error. “The prints weren’t easy to make but it was very natural at the same time… My creative process is mysterious, I’m not thinking at all, but at the same time I’m highly focused. It’s inexplicable.”
“How did you come across my art, anyway?” he suddenly asks.
I tell him that I was pointed to it via Facebook.
“Ah, yes, Mike [who co-owns the gallery with Fred] does the social media stuff. I don’t do social networking at all.”
It always really peaks my interest when someone tells me that they’re not on Facebook. So far, I know of an ex-lawyer turned lady of leisure who lives in Sandton, an ex-boyfriend who grows San Pedro on his balcony and refuses to cut his hair, and a woman who is known as ‘the white Hindu’, and whose neighbours mistake her for a Tantra teacher. Personally, I’ve been juggling the idea in my head for a while now, but a number of things keep preventing me from actually clicking on ‘deactivate’. I ask him to tell me why he doesn’t use social media.
“We’ve accelerated so much in the past 10 to 20 years, I feel that we haven’t actually created a solid enough spiritual and ethical framework. We don’t stop to ask what our intentions are. These tools can become manipulative and deceitful and time-consuming. And what’s this term ‘friend’? If you can count your friends on one hand you’re abundant.”
I find myself nodding unconsciously in agreement and adding the word ‘intention’ to my mental juggling act.
“Language is getting the meaning sucked out of it, it’s becoming shorthand. I prefer eye contact and to read information the way I was genetically made to do. Social media is a bit like food that doesn’t nourish you. The world itself is a wild and highly intelligent place, and when you try domesticate it and compartmentalise it, it becomes simplistic. There’s more to us than that.”
Clarke steadfastly maintains that his work is not about him, and that it’s separate from him. “The artwork does the communicating, not me as a person. I make and shape things that I feel are a resonance within themselves. I can’t fully claim to have made it – the same way as if you have a child: you made it, but that thing is its own person. It’s very separate from you. Artworks travel and you can’t actually map the effects that creativity has. Everything you say and do has a domino effect.”
“I focus on making the best work that I can, the highest resonating work that I can, and I trust that. I can’t explain it – it’s the X-Factor of creativity, it just comes naturally to me. I could try to explain it but it would sound … it just happens. It’s a reaction to the world around me and the people I meet.”
“I’m not denying that I made the artwork, it’s just that I’ve chosen to have experiences in life that equip me with energy to actually make these things.”
One such experience was a two-week stint in Peru where he undertook an hallucinogenic ayahuasca workshop. This turned out to be “paradigm shifting”.
“It blew my mind out the back of my head and opened up my heart…ayahuasca gave me what felt like infinity,” he said.
“My intention was to know what, who, why and how I am, so that I can do what I was born to do in the best way that I can. I felt that I’d reached a creative cul-de-sac; life was good but didn’t feel like I’d found the bulk of the puzzle pieces that I needed to solve a Rubix Cube.”
I tell him that I’ve read Carlos Castaneda, and my long-haired ex keeps saying I should try the San Pedro; how it’ll change my life; how it’ll purge me; how I’ll see god in geometry. I’m too shit-scared, though.
“I wasn’t scared,” he tells me. “But I was overwhelmed to the point that I had a nervous breakdown; it all felt right but simultaneously really alien. There’s no easy way to go into that.”
“It was very profound and completely experiential. I don’t believe or hope anything. I need to experience and incorporate what I discover. The seeds were planted and are still growing – I still have work to do. We’re given tools, and it’s important to get the most that you can out of your tool. It’s an endless journey.”
Find out more about Fred Clarke here.