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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sekano's Women

Charles Sekano Princessly Mixed Media on Paper 76 x 50cm

Charles Sekano Looking Back Mixed Media on Paper 76 x 50cm

Given the scarcity of art schools across much of the African continent it is not surprising that many of this continent's finest artists are "self taught", but whilst many artists like Richard Onyango and Jak Katarikawe are musicians (Eduard Saidi Tingatinga from Tanzania started out as a Makonde dancer) it is relatively rare to find a man who invented himself as both painter, poet and pianist. Such a man is the South African (former exile) artist - Charles Sekano. Thirty years of his life was spent in Kenya (from the 60s – 90s) escaping the poison of apartheid. His bold and passionate use of colour - a one man crusade against any kind of colour bar.

An uneasy relationship with publicity, which as his gallerist I have just frustratingly experienced at first hand, has contributed to his being more of an artist's artist, though he is a legend to many with a serious interest in East African art. He has unapologetically existed in the shadows, like so many of the subjects of his paintings. There is frequently a romantic longing within artists for their work to remain purely personal unsullied by the often crass categorisation of the public. I know this from my own work as an artist. Sekano has achieved fame – his work is to be found in New York as well as Nairobi, and in important museum collections in the States but now approaching seventy he remains the rebel – always at his happiest playing his piano in a darkened nightclub.

One of the visitors to my current show of Sekano's work commented "you can tell the works were done for himself alone" and it's true there is no sense of anything else but the artist and his immortalised subject - often a beautiful young woman in the unforgiving urban African night. Sekano's women are not sentimentalised or even romanticised they portray a stubborn range of human emotion from nostalgia to sulkiness, to maternal instinct to narcissism to pride, ambivalence, coyness and sadness - all depicted with cryptic precision.

View a catalogue of the exhibition