Gerard Sekoto

Article Bio Works Projects
crossroads:
everyday life, poverty
genre(subgenre):
Visual Arts (painting, portrait)
region:
Africa, Southern, Europe, Western
country/territory:
South Africa, France
created on:
July 13, 2003
last changed on:
Please note: This page has not been updated since January 16, 2006. We decided to keep it online because we think the information is still valuable.
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Article

The townships of Paris

Born near Middelburg in 1913, Gerard Sekoto is said to be the father of modern South African art. He became known through paintings showing everyday life in townships in the 1940s in strong expressive hues. In 1947 he moved to Paris without hardly changing his style and choice of motifs. Nowadays his pictures hang in all main South African museums and show him to have been an especially sensitive portraitist. He died in 1993 near Paris without ever having gone back to South Africa.
There are many critics who revere him as the "father of South African art". Gerard Sekoto was born in 1919 in a Lutheran Mission near Middelburg in Transvaal. Originally intended to become a schoolteacher like his father, he soon turned to art under the influence of rising artists like Ernest Mancoba, Louis Makenna and Nimrod Ndebele, whom he met during his training as a teacher. In 1937 he won the second prize in a competition run by the University of Fort Hare, the first prize going to Georges Pemba, another of South Africa´s great artists, then from 1939 on, he turned wholly to painting, gave up his post as a teacher and moved to Sophiatown in Johannesburg.

The hectic life in this borough, which was inhabited nearly wholly by blacks, inspired Sekoto so strongly that it became the focus of his art. His pictures show the life of the poor and the underprivileged frankly without either sentimentality or lack of feeling - an approach which at that time was exceptional among artists. This socially involved realism remained typical of his art even after his move to Paris in 1947. In his first months in Paris he made do as best he could, earning money as a bar-pianist and only gradually becoming known as a painter.

His breakthrough came on his being the only black painter chosen to take part in the exhibition "Contemporary South African Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture“ (1948-49) in the Tate Gallery in London. The Guildhall Gallery in Chicago then bought some of his works, and he was invited more often to take part in group exhibitions in Paris. There followed solo exhibitions in many museums and galleries in Europe and the USA, making him gradually known in the Parisian art scene.

His style was little influenced by his life in Paris, having already become personal and mature in South Africa, as shown by his "Girl with Orange" (1943-44) now hanging in the Johannesburg Art Gallery. His move to Paris led to only minor changes, and his paintings remained true to the folk, streets and everyday scenes in the South African townships, which he had earlier known well but was never to see again.

Among Sekoto´s early pictures, the most notable are not only his township ones, still interesting as historical documents, but also his sensitive and perceptive portraits like the "Girl with Orange" already mentioned and "Olga on Bernard´s Knee (the proud Father)". The immediacy of his realism is strengthened by vivid and expressive hues and is often, like in "Two Friends" (1941) and "Houses district Six" (1943-45), based on strident red and yellow and muted green. In the 1960s the forms became increasingly stylised, the bodies flatter, the compositions more abstract. On showing folk in groups, he increasingly added dynamism graphically.

During his lifetime, Sekoto´s works were shown in countless museums and galleries in Africa and Europe and are now found in many private and public collections, including some in South Africa, as in the Johannesburg Art Gallery, the Pretoria Art Museum, the South African National Gallery in Cape Town and several universities.

Gerard Sekoto died in March 1993 in an old folks´ home near Paris.
Author: Ulrich Clewing

Bio

1913 born in Botshabelo, Middelburg, South Africa
trained as a teacher at the Diocesan Training College in Pietersburg
1934-38 taught at the Khaiso Secondary School near Pietersburg
1938 moved to Sophiatown in Johannesburg
1947 moved to Paris
1993 died in Paris

Works

The Short Century (Kat.), Munich, London, New York

Published Written,
2001

Gerard Sekoto., My Life and Work

Published Written,
2000

Barbara Lindop, The Art of Gerard Sekoto

Published Written,
2000

Mona de Beer, Gerard Sekoto, in: Art & Artists of South Africa, An illustrated biographical Dictionary and historical survey of painters, sculptors & graphic artists since 1875, Cape Town

Published Written,
1983

Group Exhibitions (Choice)

Exhibition / Installation
2005 "South African Art: 1948 Till Now”, Michael Stevenson Contemporary Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa 2003 "Integrating Cultures“, Cotempoary Art Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa 2001 "The Short Century“, Villa Stuck, Munich, Germany "The Short Century“, House of World Cultures, Berlin, Germany 1988 Natalie Knight Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa Cassirer Fine Art, Johannesburg, South Africa South African National Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa 1986 Academy Gallery, Paris, France Alliance Française, Pretoria, South Africa 1984 South African National Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa 1980 Maison de l´Afrique, Paris, France Rand Afrikaans University, Johannesburg, South Africa 1973 Galerie du Maraias, Bourges, France 1970 Gallery Randers, Stockholm, Sweden 1968 South African Association of Arts, Pretoria, South Africa 1966 Adler Fielding Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa 1965 Piccadilly Gallery, London, Great Britain Adler Fielding Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa 1964 Adler Fielding Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa 1963 Adler Fielding Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa 1962 Adler Fielding Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa 1961 Galleria Santo Stefano, Venice, Italy Adler Fielding Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa 1960 Salon d´Automme, Paris, France Lawrence Adler Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa 1959 Lawrence Adler Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa 1958 Lawrence Adler Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa 1956 Galerie Art Primier, Paris, France 1955 Petit Palais, Paris, France Lawrence Adler Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa Galerie Reflets de Paris, Hôtel du Parc, Paris, France 1948 Tate Gallery, London, Great Britain South African National Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa 1946 Gainsborough Galleries, Johannesburg, South Africa 1944 Argus Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa Gainsborough Galleries, Johannesburg, South Africa Jerome Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa 1943 Gainsborough Galleries, Johannesburg, South Africa 1942 Duncan Hall, Johannesburg, South Africa 1941 Selborne Hall, Johannesburg, South Africa 1940 Gainsborough Galleries, Johannesburg, South Africa Selborne Hall, Johannesburg, South Africa 1939 Selborne Hall, Johannesburg, South Africa Gainsborough Galleries, Johannesburg, South Africa

Solo Exhibitions (Choice)

Exhibition / Installation
2005 "Gerard Sekoto - From the Paris Studio", Iziko-SA National Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa 1978 Galerie Art Premier, Paris, France 1975 Atlantic Art Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa 1969 Galerie Christiane, Paris, France 1968 Senegalese Embassy, Paris, France Galerie Marthe Nochy, Paris, France 1960 Galerie Saint-Placide, Paris, France 1950 Galerie Vincent, Pretoria, South Africa 1949 Galerie Else-Clausen, Paris, France 1948 French Overseas Colonial House, Paris, France 1947 Gainsborough Galleries, Johannesburg, South Africa 1939 Marlborough Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa

Projects

This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.

The Short Century

Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa

(18 May 01 - 29 July 01)