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Christo Coetzee making it big in Europe

Christo Coetzee’s story is typical of most South African artists; studied in South Africa, spend a number of years in Europe, return home to establish a career in art. This Wits alumni made the switch to London’s Slade School of Art in 1951. Unlike many of this peers, this European expedition would last more than a few years. In fact, it was only during the latter part of the 1960s when he would start spending more time in his homeland.

Coetzee travelled to London on a Wits scholarship to further his talent under the mentorship of professor William Coldstream. In 1952 he married Marjorie Long. The newly weds travelled to Spain for an extended honeymoon, which lasted for several months. The new mrs. Coetzee returned to South Africa to continue her teaching work at the university, Christo reluctantly tagged along. He forcibly engaged in the mundane tasks of office work, both at the South African Railways and then at Wits. His journey was lit up by some of his own art and later by some smaller exhibitions. It wasn’t long before Christo decided to find his way back to London. Marjorie never joined him again.

Christo Coetzee in Europe

Upon his arrival on British shores he started working as a sales assistant for a tobacco company in London and then moved to working in the framing business. It was during this time that he met Anthony Denney, who would an important part in his career and later on became a good friend.

After spending some time in London he received funds to go to Italy for four months, where he would make several important connections in the art world. After his four months in Italy had come to an end he went on to Paris where he followed up on some of his French connections, which he met through his good friend Anthony Denney. Upon arrival, he met Georges Matthieu and Michel Tapié would introduce to art informel, an art form evident in Coetzee’s latter work.

One might be forgiven for thinking that Coetzee either knew how to ride his luck or it must have been a case of right-place, right-time, as his next stop was Japan; again on a government bursrary. By this time Coetzee was a well-known artist on the European circuit as he was often asked to exhibit in various locations; quite remarkable for a boy from Turffontein.