oil on board, 29 x 29cm
signed and dated bottom left ‘S Lekgetho 58’
Simon Moroke Lekgetho is one of the many lesser-known but fascinating early black artists who have only belatedly received critical attention. He started focusing on his painting in the early 1950s, after some brief tuition (by Walter Battiss, among others), and, until his death in 1985, produced a varied output that included landscapes, still lifes and portraits painted in oil.
In this unusual portrait painted in 1958, relatively early in his oeuvre, Lekgetho turns his scrutiny to the head and shoulders of a young boy. Elza Miles has written that, ‘A strange magical silence prevails in Simon Lekgetho’s paintings’ (Land and lives: a story of early black artists, Johannesburg, 1997, p124), and, although Miles was writing with reference to Lekgetho’s treatment of objects such as the shells and bones of divination, there is a similar quality to this portrait. It is quiet and still, yet poignantly conveys a sense of the subject’s presence. The painterly surfaces of the flat background and the child’s jersey seem to vibrate with silent energy. Combined with the trance-like intensity of the child’s stare, the result is haunting and otherworldly.
For more biographical information on the artist, see Land and lives: a story of early black artists, pp122–124.