Of Things That Have Passed

Christo Coetzee

Oil on Canvas
146 x 96.3cm
Signed: "Christo Coetzee" (Lower/Centre)


Verso:             Inscribed: "Christo Coetzee, Of Things That Have Passed, Fine Art Space"


Perhaps the works most readily associated with South African artist Christo Coetzee are what Esmé Berman has described as his monumental “realms of informal abstraction.” In contrast to earlier pieces, Coetzee’s work from the 1960s onwards, bear little association with the recognisable figures of everyday life. Instead works such as “Of Things That Have Passed” are imposing constellations of colour, distorted form and movement. Despite the immediate differences between these works and Coetzee’s figure-paintings, there are aspects of continuity that run throughout his body of work.

Indeed, as the art historians Michael Stevenson and Deon Viljoen suggest in their book Christo Coetzee: Paintings from London and Paris 1954-1964 (2001):

“There is an overarching leitmotif in Coetzee’s early oeuvre , in spite of the fact that his body of work may appear stylistically disparate. The theme of metamorphic and the cycle of life, death and resurrection permeated his choice of imagery and use of materials”. (2001:51)

The continuity to which Stevenson and Viljoen point is evident in “Of Things That Have Passed”.  The thick bottomless black centre of the work in “Of Things That Have Passed” demonstrates both Coetzee’s characteristic use of black for contrast as well as the manner in which he often scratches through multiple layers of oil paint. However, unlike his 1954 still lives, for example, Coetzee’s work from around 1960-1965 is a celebration of the circular form .Whereas his still lives depict human object but suggest an absence of life, the abstract forms in works such as “Of Things That Have Passed” embody a vibrant sense of vitality and energy.

In a similar manner to the work “Et in Arcadia Ego” (1964), “Of Things That Have Passed” appears to be a constellation of form, much like a supernova or an explosion. This visual evocation of time and space resonates with the idea of the past that is referred to in the title— it bears witness to the beauty, complexity and obscurity of memory. Intensifying the sense that the painting is a constellation of sorts are the auras of yellow sunlight that exude from the central forms in the canvas. In addition, the perspectival experimentation that Coetzee carried out in his earlier works reaches its apex in “Of Thing That Have Passed”— the forms appear to gravitate and spin towards the black hole in the middle of the canvas.

Not only is Coetzee’s work magnificent to observe for this intricate constellation of form and colour, it becomes ever more intriguing in terms of its stylistic distinction from Coetzee’s earlier works. Indeed, “Of Things That Have Passed” is evidence of the reason for which Coetzee was an artist who was lauded both nationally and internationally, in the most sophisticated of Parisian Galleries.

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