Tracing a life gone awry

Caught watching: Turner Adams unflinchingly returns the viewer’s gaze in Gordon Clark’s photograph.

Caught watching: Turner Adams unflinchingly returns the viewer’s gaze in Gordon Clark’s photograph.

Turner Adams, at the centre of Gordon Clark’s latest body of work, The Outcome of Turner Adams, is an extraordinary subject. Every inch of his small frame, from his face to his penis, is tattooed and reminder of the 24 years he spent in prison.

His weathered skin, his wild hair — at times dyed a shocking orange — become one with scenes of decay, of the rust, of that which is discarded, in which he is presented.

The majority of the images are shot in the nude, but however jarring it is for the audience, Adams is completely relaxed.

Each of the images portrays different aspects of Adams — at times you feel sympathy, at others you observe him dispassionately. You may also feel interrogated by his direct and unashamed gaze.
There is a look in his eyes that says “I am who I am”.

Although Clark’s previous work with the notorious kingpin gangster Ernie Lastig Solomon portrayed a search for redemption, the notion appears to have been abandoned a long time ago by Adams.

Clark states: “I did not try to cover up who he is — it is clear this is a guy who has gone on a rough journey and he is who he is. In fact, it was his idea and preference to be shot in the nude. He wanted to reveal ­everything.”.

Clark has included an image of Adams as a child in the exhibition. His sweetness and innocence — pure and untouched — is in stark contrast to who he has become. We start to understand him and empathise with a man whose home in District Six was destroyed, who was moved to the Cape Flats — a child gone rogue, arrested and jailed at the age of 15.

The behavioral pattern that we ­recognise so well is the cyclical nature of gang life.

True to Clark’s style, he takes Adams back to his childhood home and shoots him on the broken foundations of his family house. There is also a remarkable image of him with his girlfriend and mother at the locations of his family summer holidays at the sea. Nothing remains but sand and broken buildings, all that was good is gone. The decline of the locations seems to parallel his route to alienation from regular society.

As with other recent works by Clark, there are theatrical elements and at times the images have a painterly attention to detail — for example, his use of different colour palates as Adams’s hair changes from orange to brown to shaved, revealing a scalp of tattoos.

The work will be well worth viewing at this year’s FNB Jo’burg Art Fair, where the images will be presented in a large format, revealing their rich detail.

Gordon Clark is represented by the German gallery Art Co at this year’s FNB Jo’burg Art Fair

Lauren Clifford-Holmes

Lauren Clifford-Holmes

Lauren Clifford-Holmes is the multimedia editor and is in love with life behind the lens. Working in both video and stills, she seeks to tell the stories which matter most — from work relating to the environment, the rhino wars and social issues, to arts and entertainment. She's energetic, passionate and hardworking. She also happens to be a big fan of dress up parties and is mad about boxing training and horses. Read more from Lauren Clifford-Holmes

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