Live Auction, 12 November 2018

Sold for

Lot 91
Johannes Phokela; St Sebastian

Lot Estimate
R 80 000 - 120 000
Selling Price

About this Item

South African 1966-
St Sebastian
oil on canvas
177 by 100,5cm excluding frame


South African artist Johannes Phokela lived in London for 17 years, first studying towards a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Art at the University of the Arts and then towards a Master’s degree at the Royal College of Art. During this period, the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square become a haven for the young artist. He was particularly struck by the Old Masters and he repainted their work but always with a postmodern twist. In the permanent collection of the National Gallery, Phokela saw a variety of depictions of St Sebastian, the Christian martyr killed for his religious beliefs on the orders of Roman emperor Diocletian, including those by Bernardino Zaganelli, Carlo Crivelli, Matteo di Giovanni and Lucas Cranach. It was, however, Peter Paul Rubens’s Sebastian that impressed him the most. Phokela made a life-sized replication, executed in fairly swift but deft brush strokes. He gives the saint’s martyrdom a contemporary twist by replacing the arrows that pierce the saint’s body in traditional representations with a modern AK-47 assault rifle. A wound from the weapon is visible on the saint’s abdomen, with the thread of a medical wound plug trailing out, and a few bloody discarded wound plugs are strewn around the saint’s feet. What Phokela perhaps suggests, is that contemporary warfare can be explained in terms of the past: the martyrs of modern global warfare have their precursors in St Sebastian.


Purchased directly from the artist.

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