Important South African and International Art

Live Auction, 7 November 2016

Evening Sale
  • Deborah Poynton; Safety and Security, diptych
  • Deborah Poynton; Safety and Security, diptych
  • Deborah Poynton; Safety and Security, diptych

Lot Estimate
ZAR 400 000 - 600 000

About this Item

South African 1970-
Safety and Security, diptych

each signed, dated 2005 and inscribed with the title on the reverse

oil on canvas
each: 205,5 by 300cm


Deborah Poynton's diptych Safety and Security (2006), which was also the title of her 2006 solo exhibition at Stevenson in Cape Town, depicts some sixty individuals gathered in the public square of the Cape Town civic centre. The artist's characteristic rich and realistic depictions of the people who populate her work are here shown in great detail, with each individual personality highly developed.

Poynton's expansive canvasses are inhabited by a composite of individuals. She assiduously collects fragments of images from which she then selects the people, objects and settings to include in her imposing paintings, which bear veracious witness to the world around us.

The public square is historically a space where people meet, socialize, interact and communicate. Yet here she depicts the gathering of modern day humans as figures set against a stark twilight-lit concrete architectural space. All the characters are detached and isolated from one another, in spite of their close proximity, keeping them 'safe and secure' from interaction with other human beings.

Even the striking, sensual, central nude female figure is viewed with muted interest and a lack curiosity or sexual tension. She is remotely viewed through the lens of desensitizing electronic gadgets, or not all. Her gaze is directed at the viewer, reminiscent of Edouard Manet's Dejeuner sur l'Herbe (1863), but the disinterested and distracted audience denudes her of her sexuality. The hint of aging and decaying flesh so prevalent in Poynton's work, here underscores the fleeting nature of beauty and our mortality - even of the stereotypically beautiful woman.

She is a provocative woman fully illuminated by the evening sky, and with her female curves accentuated with a glowing outline. Yet she is 'safe' from the unengaged and bored looking spectators, many barricading themselves from their surroundings in various ways. Similarly, the fully clothed man on the left of the canvas is entirely ignored, an outsider, and he himself is incredulously oblivious of the erotic naked woman next to him.

In Safety and Security the elderly couple in the foreground turn their back on the crowd, setting themselves apart from a world that no longer makes sense to them. They seem simultaneously bemused, resigned and removed from the scene. The lackluster crowd behind the couple focus attention on something out of sight of the viewer. The characteristically bored and mostly ineffectual security guards are as disinterested in the scene attracting the attention of the crowd as they are of the woman, those around them, and the viewer too.

It is a powerful comment and indictment on the world we inhabit today, a world in which the isolated person is shielded and disconnected, showing little or no engagement with those around them.


Sophie Perryer (ed.) (2006) Deborah Poynton: Safety and Security, Cape Town: Stevenson Gallery. Illustrated in colour on pages 24-28.

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