In pictures: Gerard Sekoto - father of South Africa's modern artPublished10 June 2013SharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingimage captionGerard Sekoto is considered to be the father of South African modern art. An exhibition of his life's work was recently held at the Wits Art Museum (WAM) in Johannesburg. Born in 1913 to a priest and teacher, his early paintings portrayed a deep sense of family. Initially his subjects were his own relatives and visitors to the house.image captionWhile Sekoto was studying to become a teacher, he discovered colouring pencils. He later moved on to watercolours, enabling him to explore colour, movement, and composition.image captionAfter winning a second prize in an art competition in 1938, he decided to leave teaching and become a full-time artist. He moved to the Sophiatown township in Johannesburg.image captionAlthough by no means an activist, Sekoto’s paintings reflected the turmoil and hardships black people experienced under the brutal apartheid system. They were a record of the communities that were destroyed in the mid 1950s when the white minority government moved black people out of many city centres.image captionHis works also portrayed the simple pleasures and daily lives of black people. He sought to counter the government's message that black people were animals, that they were dangerous and that they were inferior.image captionThis painting is based on a photograph Sekoto kept in his possession all his life. It depicts powerful men, their axes raised high above their heads being watched by a puny foreman, indolently smoking his pipe with his hands in his trouser pockets - a sign of the times.image captionAlthough some of his friends wanted him to remain in South Africa to continue portraying the lives of black people there, he decided to move to post-war France, which was a hub for young artists from around the world. His early years in Paris were challenging as he sought to make his way as an artist at a time when life in the city was changing rapidly.image captionThe first two years turned out to be the most depressing of his life. He struggled financially, linguistically and emotionally. Broke and homeless, he performed as a jazz musician in small bars and nightclubs to make ends meet.image captionIn 1948 and 1949, two solo exhibitions failed, driving him into an even deeper depression and problems with alcohol. He was hospitalised for several weeks at a psychiatric asylum on the outskirts of Paris.image captionAfter some time he began to find his feet in France. He began to paint his new environment; his paintings included street scenes of the French capital, Parisian cafes and jazz clubs.image captionThe political turmoil back home inspired a new form of art work. Here Sekoto depicts the horrific Sharpeville Massacre on 21 March 1960. A crowd of thousands had gathered to protest near a police station, the police opened fire killing 69 people.image captionSekoto returned to Africa for the first time to attend the First Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar, Senegal in 1966. Those who knew him say the experience re-ignited his creativity. With sharp, brisk strokes, he painted the big movements of the traditional dances of the Wolof people.image captionAlthough he had hoped to continue travelling throughout Africa, his partner of 30 years, Marthe Hennerbert fell ill and he had to take care of her until her death in 1982. After the death of his love, Sekoto returned to depression and drink.image captionThe death of Steve Biko, a South African political activist inspired this painting. He died in police custody after being tortured. Here Mr Biko’s mother, eyes downcast, is depicted in the centre of the composition, with Mr Biko’s portrait on the right and a policeman on the left.image caption"I think Sekoto was a true professional, he kept on doing the same skills that he was good at whether he was here under apartheid, whether he was in Europe, whether he was in Senegal. So it just shows that nothing really dampened his spirit," South African artist Sam Ntlengethwa told the BBC.image captionFrom the 1980s onwards, interest in Sekoto has surged around the world with his work featured in many exhibitions. Some of his paintings are now valued at more than $1m (£640,000).image captionIn spite of his international acclaim, Sekoto died a lonely death, at a home for elderly artists outside Paris. He never returned home, not even for his mother’s funeral. He died in 1993, just before white minority rule ended in South Africa.