St. Sebastian, oil and chalk on canvas, signed and dated '61 upper left, framed, 71 x 53.5cm (27 15/16 x 21 1/16in).
Provenance: Private UK Collection.
St. Sebastian belongs to a series of iconic paintings that the artist made while living in London in which he obsessively depicted a particular kind of male head and torso, painted in a starkly frontal manner with expressive lines and hatched features. The constant revisiting of these distorted heads may derive from Souza's own torment surrounding his forever marred face, a result of having contracted small pox as a child. However the abrasive frontality of these heads bears strong similarities to the Byzantine icon, images of which Souza would likely have been exposed to while growing up in a staunchly Catholic home in Goa. The connection to religious iconography is expressly stated here through the title 'Saint Sebastian'.
St. Sebastian appears in Souza's work on multiple occasions both explicitly and intrinsically through the inclusion of his trademark arrows. The idea of martyrdom enticed Souza as an embodiment of a highly complex sensation oscillating between deep suffering and ecstasy. Here however, he seems to subvert the typically reverent representations of Sebastian found in Renaissance depictions of the Saint through his manner of portraying him with crooked features, bulging eyes and exposed teeth, bringing the work closer to the reality of earthly suffering.
The use of oil and chalk on canvas to create his signature head using minimal while abrupt and vigorous lines is seen again in Man in Tunic painted by Souza during the same year and pictured in the exhibition catalogue for Grosvenor Gallery's 2005 solo show of the artist's work.