Christo Coetzee, a Johannesburg local and part of the Wits group, went beyond the boundaries of Europe by extending his footprint east, to the land of the rising sun. His love for art started at a young age as a student at Parktown Boys High School, arguably even inheriting a talent for drawing from his father, who worked in the building industry during his career.
As a young boy Christo had a vivid imagination, often enjoying the late rains, as they provided him with a natural studio from which to craft an array of mud-sculptures. He continued on this course as a youngster; even building a miniature theatre and making chessmen out of washers and screws he found around the yard. Christo became a real artist at the age of 13, after being commissioned by Finie Basson to do his first painting. The medium sized oil painting of pink and white roses earned him £5. (Binge-Coetzee in Ballot, 1999).
Coetzee grew in stature as his paintings were well received across the globe. It was during time spent in London that one of his works fell in the hands of photographer and stylist, Anthony Denney, who immediately bought it from Coetzee for £12. Denny subsequently invited Coetzee for dinner where he found his art posing above Antoni Clave’s piece. The two become great friends after this, Coetzee even lodging with Denney and paying the rent in paintings.
One of Coetzee’s works, Crespian (1957) was included in an international exhibition alongside artists like Conrad Marca-Relli, Maurice Wyckaert and Alexander Calder. In 1959 his work was exhibited at Galerie Stadler alongside Lucio Fontana.
Japan would be his next destination. He quickly found a likeness in the Gutai group and soon met founder Jiro Yoshihara. He spent the best part of the following year working with Yoshihara. Coetzee eventually had a studio in Tokyo, which led to an exhibition of Informel works at the Minami Gallery in Tokyo. The Gutai group eventually also inviting him to exhibit his works in Osaka in 1960.
After this Japanese exhibition he returned to Johannesburg in 1961 for his first exhibition in South Africa in almost 10 years. After his brief stint in the city of gold he spent many years living in France and Spain.
As one of his Japanese counterparts noted, Coetzee’s art gave him that “fresh feeling”. The artist would continue in this vein for much of his career.
(credits: www.wallsaart.co.za and www.wikiart.org)