28.10 - 29.05.2022
The first thing that I noticed when I walked into Johannes Phokela’s exhibition was the deep royal blue on the walls hung with paintings that resemble classical Western styled paintings. This immediately made me curious to find out if there was a reason why he used this style of art. When I walked into the exhibition I noticed that it was extremely quiet. At first it made me really nervous to be there, but then I realised, because there was no sound I focused more on the painting. The painting where speaking of themselves. One of the most striking things in his artworks were the white grid/frames. This made me question why the grids are there and made me think deeper regarding the artworks.
After spending some time with the work and reading further I learnt that Phokela is mimicking the tradition of European paintings in his work. When you look at his exhibition you can clearly see that he has mastered this style of art. You can identify where his influence comes from but you can also see how he makes it his own with the use of his own stylistic choices, the subjects that he paints, and political stories that he demonstrates through his artworks.
In an interview with Bruce Haines, Phokela commented on how many African artists are put in a box and people have assumptions about how they should do their art. He feels by painting in his style, he is breaking the mold of what people think African artists should be. He stated, “I do not want to be labeled necessarily as an African artist, but I just wants the title of artist.” He further explained that you get African artists or black artists but not necessarily white artists. White artists are just referred to as artists and he also would like to be perceived as just an artist. He wants to break out of this mould of being seen as a specific type of artist and I feel this can also be reflected in his work where he uses a white frame grid.
The manner in which he frames his work with these white grids can be interpreted as drawing attention to the way his own work and choice of style has already been framed in the gallery and within art history. Another thought was if Phokela was trying to put the viewers eyes on a specific part of the artwork or draw attention on a specific person in the painting.
The white frames can also be interpreted that his paintings or even his thoughts are outside of the box. He is thinking further than what the westernised idea of painting could be. He could be using these frames to draw a line in the sand between the past art and current art. This could be seen as how he could take an old form of art and transform it into modern day art by making it more interesting and making people question more about the artworks.
He stated in a past interview that he feels that the idea of putting frames in his work it is almost like framing the work itself, framing a part of it as if it could be taken out and be framed by itself. I feel this grid focuses you to take in the entire image and not just focus on the part that is within the frame. It is up to you as the viewer to try and see what is outside of frame and ask questions. I feel his use of a grid or frame makes the artwork more interesting by making you question certain aspects of the artwork.
In his work, he states that copies of original work are just as good as originals, and should be seen as art, just as the original was. By examining his work, you can see how he uses old stories from history, for example in where it is depicting the story of death and the ghost of Maximillian but shows it in a new way. He also makes use of old references, for example in Death of Maximillian you can see that it looks like he is using old artwork in this new artwork that he has created. In this work specifically it looks like he is framing/giving new life to this old artwork by turning it into a new form so more people can appreciate it. You could also see his process of thinking, specifically when it comes to Ghost of Maximillian. It is interesting to see how his thinking process evolved in making this artwork as Ghost was painted before Death.