Smithsonian Libraries' locations remain temporarily closed. To view the status of the Smithsonian’s other museums,
research centers, and Zoo, visit si.edu/museums.
Bits and Pieces
Bits and Pieces
Ocean View, South Africa, 2005-2006
National Museum of African Art, 2014-9-1
Bits and Pieces is an accordion-fold paper collage which is enclosed in an ornamental box. It is a unique edition. Inside the box there are 138 accordion folds of tiny pages, only 1⅜ x 1⅞ inches, made by gluing nineteen folded sections together. When lifted out of the box, the zigzag folds can be stretched out or snaked around. The inscription on the end page reads “This collage Bits & pieces was completed in August 2005, Clarke, Ocean View 7975, South Africa.”
The narrow lidded box is covered with rectangles of rice papers and then shellacked. The interior of the box is papered with rectangles made from envelope liners. The inscription inside the end of the box reads “This box was made by Peter E. Clarke, 14 Alpha Way, Ocean View, WC 7975, So. Africa, 2006.”
Turning Clutter into Art
Peter E. Clarke first tried his hand at collage back in the 1950s after discovering the work of German artist Kurt Schwitters (1887-1922), who pioneered modern collage-making. In Peter Clarke: Fanfare (2004), a series of fan-shaped collages, Clarke pays tribute to other artists (including Schwitters) as well as to historical, biblical, literary, and imaginary figures and friends. Clarke’s own affinity for recycling junk mail, advertisements, and packaging resonates with Schwitters’s proclivity to collect bits and pieces for his collages. In Fanfare he writes affectionately of Schwitters, “Where ever he goes he’s always seeing bits and pieces of stuff he says he’ll be able to use, bus tickets & train tickets, matchbox labels & labels off pickle jars and old post cards. . . You see this fan? You should see his house. It is so absolutely cluttered, you can hardly get into it. . .
Here is surely an inspiration for Bits and Pieces, turning clutter into art. But Clarke is also drawn to the improvisational nature of collage. He mimics the “interior decorating” in South African squatter settlements where walls are papered over with pages from colorful magazines, commercial packaging, and other scraps of paper.
Books in Boxes
Clarke made his first ornamental box in 1975 by chance when he had a remnant section of a mailing tube, which he covered inside and out. The box of Bits and Pieces is one of many he has made since then. He is enchanted by the notion of portability, of carrying around a work of art: “You can’t carry around a precious work of art. But with this, you can sit next to someone and lift the book out of its little box and say, ‘I’ve got something beautiful to show you.’” 
Clarke’s collage books are whimsical and more benign than his prints and works in other media of earlier decades, which speak to the hardships of life in a township such as Cape Flats, but which also have a universal timeless quality. In the post-apartheid period, Clarke, the aging artist, turned to the more light-hearted art of making of books in boxes.
About the Artist
Peter Clarke (1929-2014) was born in Simon’s Town, South Africa. He was a multi-faceted artist working in printmaking, painting, book illustrating, photography, and collage. Clarke was not only an accomplished visual artist, but also an author of poetry and prose. Sometimes he combined his talents, as in Fanfare. As a Colored South African, Clarke was exceptionally fortunate to have teachers throughout his early schooling who encouraged and nourished his artistic instincts. After high school he took informal art classes in Cape Town and later studied printmaking in Amsterdam at the Rijkakademie van Beeldende Kunsten. Following in his father’s footsteps, he worked as a dockworker for more than a decade, while doing his art on the side. In 1956 he made the courageous decision to quit his day job and focus on his art.
Lee, Donvé. Peter Clarke: Following Dreams and Finding Fame. Gallo Manor, South Africa: Awareness Publishing, 2006.
Miles, Elza. “Peter Edward Clarke.” In Land and Lives: A Story of Early Black Artists, pages 149-154, 163-164. Johannesburg: Johannesburg Art Gallery; Cape Town: Human & Rousseau, 1997.
Peter Clarke: Fanfare. Cape Town: Michael Stevenson, 2004.
Driskell, David C., editor. Peter Clarke: South African Artist-Poet. Nashville, TN: Division of Cultural Research, Department of Art, Fisk University, 1973.
Willemse, Hein, compiler and editor. More Than Brothers: Peter Clarke & James Matthews at Seventy. Cape Town: Kwela Books, 2000.
 Peter Clarke: Fanfare, page 86.
 Quoted in Donvé Lee, Peter Clarke: Following Dreams and Finding Fame (Gallo Manor, South Africa: Awareness Publishing, 2006), page 34.
 Colored people refers to the mixed racial populations of South Africa.