Christo Coetzee

Oil on Canvas
151 x 150.5cm
Signed: "Christo Coetzee" (Upper/Right)


Verso:   Titled and signed with arrow indicating top corner

Exhibited:     Johannesburg.  Graham’s Fine Art Gallery.  May – July 2007.  “Birth of the Modernist Body”.

 Illustrated & Referenced:     Graham’s Fine Art Gallery. 2007. Birth of the Modernist Body. Graham’s Fine Art Gallery, Johannesburg. p. 152 & 153.




Christo Coetzee’s prolific body of work incorporates a wide variety of styles. Extensive travels in Europe and the Far East stimulated his interest in abstraction, in the move away from the representational and purely rational. He was particularly influenced by the decorative Baroque elements in the work of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi, to the extent that the term “Neo-Baroque” was used by French theorist and critic Michel Tapie de Ceyleran as theoretical framework for Coetzee’s works produced during the 1960s.

Coetzee’s penchant for what could be termed Baroque motifs is again evident in this painting. In this instance the distinctive curvilinear shapes, read with the title of the painting, reveal another recurrent theme in his work, namely his preoccupation with the circular form and its symbolic connotations with continuity and motion, as well as his well documented fascination with space, spatial concepts and the idea of infinity.

Swirling shapes, outlined in black, are floating in a space also filled by smaller teardrop shaped forms in what appears to be a continuation of his kaleidoscopic astral themes. Behind the galaxy of floating shapes is the familiar motif of the circle which can be read as either spiralling outwards towards the viewer or inwards towards the centre of the painting, reinforcing the sense of movement in space. The dominance of blues, in conjunction with drops of water, is evocative not only of space but also of the fluidity of water contained in the vortex of circular motion (the symbolic flood allegorically represented by the zodiac sign of Aquarius) – again reinforcing the infinity of cyclical forces.

Significantly, the painting is hung in a diamond shape, which transforms the way in which we respond to it and which is indicative of Coetzee’s constant experimentation with the breaking of the traditional square format of the canvas and the white cube of the gallery space.

In view of Coetzee’s complex experimentation with concepts of ‘reality’, any interpretation of this painting purely in terms of the decorative and ornamental would be simplistic. But however one might interpret the painting, it is indicative also of what Esme Berman refers to as Coetzee’s firmly hedonistic view of art, namely that it has to at least be enjoyable to look at.

by Karin Preller

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