Jan Gerard Sekoto - Red Bicycle
Artist: Jan Gerard Sekoto
Title: Red Bicycle
Dimensions: 20cm x 30cm
Sekoto’s first introduction to the Parisian gallery circuit came through a chance encounter in 1948 with Raymond de Cardonne and his wife, Else-Clausen who owned the Galerie Else-Clausen. The couple fortunately spoke English and upon seeing the artist’s work, consigned a number of pieces and so began an enduring, though tumultuous friendship. A solo exhibition of Sekoto’s work was held at the Galerie Else-Clausen in 1948, following closely on from the artist’s first solo exhibition in Paris at the French Colonial House which was opened by the Minister of the South African Legation in Paris, W.C. Parminter. Both exhibitions received favorable reviews but neither of them improved Sekoto’s dire financial circumstances through the sale of works.
He had a rich social life and mingled with writers, artists and academics from all over the world and living in Paris at the time - many of whom were exiles. His work as a musician in bars, the late nights and alcohol consumption led to a short spell in St Anne’s Asylum in 1949 after a period of psychological stress spurred on by an argument exacerbated by alcohol with Raymond De Cardonne. During this time, he made a series of sketches of his fellow patients of the hospital, which exhibit a deeply empathetic understanding of depression and an economical use of line in depicting humanity. Upon his release from St Anne’s, Sekoto became the tenant of Marthe Baillon (née Hennebert) with whom he later developed a relationship that lasted until her death 30 years later.
Sekoto’s mingling with fellow exiles inspired a keen interest in and involvement with various pan-African movements in Europe. In 1957, he contributed an article titled, A South African Artist, to the July/September issue of the literary and cultural journal, Présence Africaine. In 1959, was invited to attend and address the Second Conference of ‘Negro’ Writers and Artists organized by Présence Africaine in Rome, where he spoke on ‘Responsibility and Solidarity in African Culture”. His autobiography as well as his article, The Present Situation of a Non-White Artist in South Africa were published in Présence Africaine Journals in 1969 and 1971 respectively.
In spite of his initial struggles in exile, Sekoto’s reputation grew steadily and the following years saw him exhibiting fairly extensively both in Paris and further afield in Stockholm, Vichy, Venice, Nemours, Senegal, Denmark and around the USA. In South Africa he was not forgotten, where his work was exhibited in Pretoria, Johannesburg and Cape Town.
He returned to the African continent when he was invited by Leopold Senghor, President of Senegal and famed African poet, to travel to Senegal and exhibit at the ‘First Festival of Negro Arts’ in 1966. He travelled with his friend Tiberio Wilson, a Brazilian artist and the two stayed and worked in Dakar and the more remote village of Casamance until 1967 when Sekoto was called back to Paris by Marthe, who had fallen ill.
Marthe passed away in 1976 and Sekoto was left with very little security in his life on account of Marthe having not left a will. In 1984, he was officially evicted from the residence on the Rue de Grands Augustins, where he had lived with Marthe for almost thirty years. He became a ward of the French state and was moved to a room at the Résidence Les Pinsons – an old-age home in the small, provincial town of Corbeil, where he felt restricted by the rules and regulations. Sekoto was badly injured in an accident and was forced to spend the following three years in L’Hôpital Duypuytren in Dravail-Essone (near Corbeil). When he had finally recovered, after some difficulty negotiating his position as a South African artist living off the French state, Sekoto was moved to a comfortable old age home for artists in Nogent-sur-Marne, where he died in 1993.
Up until 1988, the artist’s legacy had largely been neglected. Towards the end of his life, Sekoto’s work gained recognition both in South Africa and abroad largely through the efforts of Barbara Lindop who produced three books encouraging the promotion of his work. She has continued her work after his death together with the trustees of the Gerard Sekoto Foundation which was established in accordance with his will to develop awareness and understanding of the legacy of this forefather of South African Art.