If you have ever watched road-workers involved in this kind of digging, you will have noticed the strong, repetitive, hard, regular rhythm of their sounds and movement. In this painting, that is exactly what the artist is interpreting, visually: the repeated shapes of the working men are emphasized, a pattern, like the repeat pattern of the dig.
Gerard Sekoto based this painting, Song of the Pick (1946), on a photograph by Andrew Goldie taken in the 1930s. Sekoto painted this shortly before moving to Paris, in what became a lifelong exile from South Africa.
Gerard Sekoto was born in Botshabelo in 1913 – the year in which the Natives Land Act caused many black South Africans to be removed from their own lands. In 1938 Sekoto moved to Sophiatown, Johannesburg. His first solo exhibition took place the following year, and in 1940 the Johannesburg Art Gallery bought his painting Yellow Houses – A Street in Sophiatown. It was the first painting by a black South African artist ever to be bought by a South African art museum. It is said that Sekoto had to pretend to be a cleaner, at that time, in order to see his own painting hanging in the gallery.
Talk About This
Compare Sekoto’s painting, Song of the Pick, with the original photograph (above). What changes has Sekoto made in the arrangement of the figures? How do these changes affect the meaning of the picture, or the way we interpret it?
(For example: in the original photograph a foreman stands behind the workers and watches over them. However, in his painting Sekoto has moved the foreman to the other side, and made him seem smaller. How does that change our “reading” of the picture?)