Archive: Issue No. 122, October 2007

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Johannes Phokela Johannes Phokela
Regarding Fontana: spatial concept I, II, III (detail) 2005
o il on canvas
165.5 x 130cm

Johannes Phokela

Johannes Phokela
Narcissus 2006
o il on canvas
134 x 100cm

Johannes Phokela

Johannes Phokela
Gold, Silver, Bronze Medals 2006
b ronze
14 x 13 x 20cm

Johannes Phokela

Johannes Phokela
Tender, Loving Care (Triptych) (detail) 2006
o il on canvas
210 x 280cm

Johannes Phokela

Johannes Phokela
Head on collar series 2006
o il sketch
59 x 41cm

Johannes Phokela to show at the KZNSA

Rapidly regaining its reputation for attracting some of the hottest in contemporary visual art, the KZNSA has pulled off something of a coup with its forthcoming exhibition by Johannes Phokela. This is the first time that Durban will get to see the work of this internationally celebrated artist, born in Soweto and now resident in London. The exhibition, presented in association with Gallery Momo, demonstrates why Phokela has been the recipient of the John Moores painting prize, the BP Portrait Award and the highly prestigious Decibel Artist's Award, and is also one of the key artists at the Institute of International Visual Arts.

Exhibition curator Brenton Maart writes, in an article in Art South Africa, that:
'At first viewing, the work of Johannes Phokela may be seen as beautiful and undemanding. In keeping with the technique of Dutch and Flemish Old Masters, this contemporary artist paints glowing light and broiling shadows in oils on canvas. His subjects are familiar. We have seen those particular figures before, in those precise positions. Being creatures of habit, the viewer experiences some sort of comfortable nostalgia, reassured by the recurrent scene.

'Upon closer view, however, African figures and faces appear amidst the familiarity of the European settings, peering from apparent slashes in the canvas, half-concealed behind velvet curtains, at feasting tables. Also, peppered in the paintings are odd objects, out of place and out of time: Comic Relief red noses plonked onto unsuspecting faces; guns leaning nonchalantly against chairs; red high-heeled shoes casually dropped onto the floor; bunches of bananas; a lit joint.

Within the frame of the original European works these other people and objects, at first, seem disjointed and unconnected to the original scene. They seem not to belong. But slowly, one at a time, they start revealing their relationship to the original work. And it is not a relationship that comes about only through a contemporary reading of meaning, it is a relationship that existed when the original work was made. And herein is the first real element of disturbance. When the African faces and out-of-place objects adopt (or are assigned) meanings, the signs lodged within the original works start changing their possible historical and contemporary readings.'

The show opens on October 23.