John Phalane was born in Tzaneen, Limpopo in 1957. From 1980, he was a driver for the Inanda Country Club in Johannesburg, for sixteen years. After returning to Limpopo, he continued to drive, ferrying people from the southern parts of the province to Masina in the north, and to other parts of Venda. Both of these experiences gave him his source of subject-matter: roads and road maps.
Phalane’s map drawings are not merely maps or signposting. Maps provide Phalane with a rich source of pattern and imagery, but for him they are also expressions of his real experiences. They are partly diagrams, but in part they also express a delight in what exists in real life, both above the ground and on the ground. Shifting between the 2-dimensional and the 3-dimensional, they can sometimes include illusionistically-drawn buildings and bridges, or even aeroplanes flying above.
His street maps of Johannesburg originated in 2004 when he first began making art. For Johannesburg and Polokwane, Phalane uses commercially-printed maps to draw from, as visual source material. But the rural roads and small towns of Limpopo are taken entirely from his memory and imagination and from his intimate knowledge of all the highways and back roads of the province.
All his works are very meticulously and laboriously created, usually with coloured pencils and ballpoint pen.