Christo Coetzee: Great Artists Start Early

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.

Christo Coetzee 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.

Christo Coetzee 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: and

Stanley Pinker, The Artist and Teacher

He was liked by both his peers and students. Remembered  as a magnificent man. Stanley Pinker, a leading South African painter, left behind more than just his art. A telling contribution to art and the cultural sphere in general counts him with some of the greats, from Cezanne to Matisse.

(Photo Credit:
(Photo Credit:

‘The Wheel of Life’ painting dating back to 1974 is seen as one of his most noteworthy paintings, fetching R 2.4 million. He used the artistic elements to create a commentary about the political and social climate of the South Africa he lived in. He uses various symbols to depict the state of affairs in apartheid South Africa, something artists of the time seemed to gravitate towards for inspiration. He uses marionettes, a red devil on a bicycle and a red locust,  Strelitzias and flags to capture the   state of affairs in South Africa. This painting is one of Stanley Pinker’s most direct references to political folly, providing the public with much to ponder on. (source credit and

Stanley Pinker Garden of Eden

In Pinker’s rendition of  ‘The Garden of Eden’ one sees the mastery of cubism at work. It is a scene of Adam and Eve, face to face, in the presence of a floral audience. One can be forgiven for getting caught up in the idyllic scene; before noticing the dramatic irony of the situation. The imminent theme of loss is clearly visible as is a contrasting ambience of dark and light, innocence and knowledge. (source credit:

Stanley Pinker’s work speaks of a thorough understanding of European modernism while being rooted in a South African milieu. His return to South Africa after a decade long stay in Europe brought him face to face with the complexities of South African society, breaking away from place specific work to being more content focussed.

That was Stanley Faraday Pinker. A remarkable man known for being a great artist and teacher, accentuating the struggles of society with a reflective tone and touch of humour.



Stanley Pinker’s Influence

South African artists of the 50’s, 60, and 70’s had a tendency of heading for the famed European cities in search of artistic enlightenment. Stanley Pinker followed this trend, trading the African sun for a European chapter. His travels took him to the streets of London and France, but not before being educated at Cape Town’s own Continental School of Art.


The late 1940’s saw Pinker, who had moved from Namibia to the republic some 10 years earlier, enrol at the Continental School of Art under the guidance of Maurice van Essche. His next stop was the Hammersmith School of Art in London. He returned to South Africa for a stint at the Cape Town Art Centre during the 1960’s. His next stop was the Michaelis School of Fine Art, where he became a much loved teacher and mentor. Still remembered by an array of accomplished artists; Marlene Dumas being one of them. 

His art is remembered for being a breath of fresh air, many admirers remembering his ability to incorporate some odd objects to his art. Some remembering the buttons he stitched to the back of the coats of musicians in one of his earlier paintings. Stanley Pinker’s art accumulated substantial value, Wheel of Life fetching R 2,4 million on an auction by Strauss & Co.

This artist not only had a following, he created a legacy. He held several exhibitions at SAAA, Western Cape (now AVA). He was awarded the Rembrandt Gold Medal at the Cape Town Triennial. His lifetime devotion to art also earned him the Molteno Medal. His work is housed in many of the major public galleries in South Africa as well as countless private collections, locally and abroad.

The Stanley Pinker legacy goes far beyond the canvas, this great teacher and mentor helped other along the way of artistry.


The Artistic Genius of Alexis Preller

Alexis Preller was a Pretoria born artist whose work played a definitive role in the South African art scene during the mid 1900s. He is remembered for his brilliant imagination and artistic genius. Many remember him for being somewhat different; to say the least. As his career progressed, so did his popularity and he is now remembered as a massive kingpin on the South African art scene.

Born in South Africa in 1911, Preller worked as a clerk before pursuing formal education at the Westminster School of Art in England. After graduating in 1934 he moved on to the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere in Paris, where he graduated 3 years later. Vincent van Gogh and Piero della Francesca, along with numerous visits to European museums and galleries, were the  major influencers of this artistic genius. A few critics even labelled him as South Africa’s very own Paul Ganguin.

Alexis Preller

Preller’s style evolved into something rather unique, isolating him from the artistic movement of the 20th century, A style not common to traditional old school movement. Although he was always highly regarded in his home town of Pretoria, his following spread to the Cape in the 1960s as a result of an exhibition of his works in the Mother City.

His works are characterised by absolute precision, sound structural composition and a testament of a perfectly balanced palette. This is what makes Alexis Preller not only unique, but an artistic genius, who was way ahead of his time.



The Wandering Mind of Walter Battiss

The wandering mind of Walter Battiss made him one of the unique characters of his time. He had an almost unusual interest in African art, ranging from Ndebele artwork to Bushman rock art. Some commentators attribute his eccentric style to the influence of his friendship with Picasso in the 1950s.

(Photo Credit: and
(Photo Credit: and

He was a founding member of The New Group, a collective of young South African artists who set out to explore fresh ideas in art and explore new frontiers. A large number of this group had been studying in Europe at the time and their arrival in their motherland left them disillusioned with the conservative culture surrounding South African art. This group enjoyed a tenure of about 10 – 12 years after which it was disbanded as a result of being institutionalised. It was in this period of time that he released his first book, ‘The Amazing Bushman’.

The Walter Battiss Company notes that it was 1955 when the started experimenting with calligraphic art and evidence of human and animal abstractions became evident. It was about this time when Ndebele art became a prominent feature of his artworks.

(photo credit: and
(photo credit: and

The early 60s saw his curiousity soar to new heights as his interest in Islamic culture took him on several trips to Central Africa and the Middle-East. One might surmise that this was the period of time that he wanted to explore the rest of the world. Towards the end of that decade he made numerous trips to the north; including Greece in 1968 and Seychelles in 1972. Walter Battiss traveled to many other parts of the world as well, including Hawaii, Zanzibar, Fiji and Madagascar.

Walter Battiss was an influencer and innovator. He had a special interest in man and his environment. His impact on many young artists and the South African art scene remains as valuable as the art he left behind.

The Rise of Robert Hodgins

When you think of Robert Hodgins, you are reminded of the artist, the expressionist, a man who earned the kind words his friends remember him with. Spending much of his life as a “working” man, he left his position as a Senior Lecturer at Wits to become a full-time artist.

Hodgins had done a number of exhibits from as early as the 50’s, even though his work was only recognised in 1981. Living in apartheid-South Africa, he used his art to make anti-apartheid statements. This was a trend followed by many artists. He particularly enjoyed satirizing figures of power. These expressions had a major impact on the social climate of South Africa. In response to this Standard Bank National Arts Festival hosted a major retrospective exhibition in 1986.

Robert Hodgins had quite a remarkable rise from his days of teaching painting and drawing in Pretoria to the much loved South African artist he became towards the end of his life. His biography reads like a novel, an inquiring artist who made his way through life and became an accomplished artists towards the end.

Some of his earliest works include “Hidden Man” which he produced during his time at Pretoria Technical College; he actually made his own frame for that painting. “Man with a Cup” made its way to the Gertrude Possel Gallery, Hodgins’ work at the time was characterised by dark lines and sombre line work.

Art and politics are an unlikely combination, but in the 80s Hodgins used art to cut to the bone of inequality. (photo credit:,,
Art and politics are an unlikely combination, but in the 80s Hodgins used art to cut to the bone of inequality.
(photo credit:,,

The early 1980s saw the arrival of the iconic Ubu character in Hodgins work. Ubu Roi was a character from one of  Alfred Jarry’s stories. Ubu became a central figure of Robert Hodgins’ art, especially during the 80s, when so much of his work was focussed on depicting the social wrongs of the day. In “Ubu and Mr America”, a dreamy-eyed Ubu, painted in a series of lines, swirls and flat planes of colour gazes lustfully at muscular bodybuilder. In contrast, the Mr America figure is painted with warm colours and textured with fine indentations, like the pores of human skin.

This was the real Robert Hodgins, the artist who was not content with the status quo, but chose to use his expression as a voice against injustice. He started building a loyal following, not only because he made a statement, but because he spoke their language.

Robert Hodgins: The Optimistic Old Sod

The life of Robert Hodgins does not just lie in his art, almost more importantly it lies in the hearts of those close to him. He is described by some as an expressionistic painter and others label him as a graphic artist. Regardless of where he fits, Hodgins’ art makes him a much loved figure in the history books of South African art.

Robert Hodgins was born in Dulwich, London. His earliest encounters with art woud be from his childhood; it has been noted that many of the city’s fine galleries became his hideout during the cold winters in his home city. He went on to finish his schooling career in England before immigrating to South Africa. As a young adult he joined the Union Defence Force and served in various African countries before returning to England where he was discharged at the end of the second World War.

The life of Robert Hodgins, marked with an honest interpretation of life around him.
The life of Robert Hodgins, marked with an honest interpretation of life around him. (photo credit: ,,

He spent the first few years of his post-military life studying teaching and art. After returning to South Africa in the mid-fifties, he embarked on a career as a teacher and journalist, culminating in the position of Assistant Editor at “Newsweek” and later on filling the position of Senior Lecturer in the Department of Fine Art at the University of Witwatersrand. The university was probably his last employer and ushered in the start of his career as an artist.

Robert Hodgins is revered among his peers, most notably by the South African conceptual artist, Kendell Geers who paid tribute to Hodgins with the following words: “Very few artists command the respect and admiration of their peers in the way Robert Hodgins does, a reverence often verging on cult status.”

Join us for part two as we explore is life as an artist.

Pierneef: The Unfolding (1)

With the subsiding of the Second Anglo-Boer War, the Pierneef family returned from Holland to South Africa. (Read about Pierneef’s intriguingly formative years here.)
Whilst the 18 year old Pierneef had firmly set his sights and heart on studying architecture at university, the financial upheaval of returning from Europe and the unexpectedly exhorbitant resettling costs paralysed his father financially, and Pierneef was forced to take up work.
Pierneef’s godfather was none other than the acclaimed sculptor, Anton van Wouw – who had, like his godson, studied fine art at the Rotterdam Art Academy. The well-connected van Wouw was determined to see Pierneef succeed as an established artist, and lent him his whole-hearted support, knowledge and connections. And with this specialised support and his trademark tenacity, Pierneef made his impressive first mark on the South African art world in a group exhibition alongside his godfather and Hugo Naude.

Photographs of Anton van Wouw and Shangaan sculpture

Van Wouw organised for Pierneef to study under the brilliant Frans Oerder, a friend and colleague. Following his three years under Oerder, the Irish artist, George Smithard taught Pierneef the printmaking disciplines of wood engraving and etching – and imbuing him with a rich understanding of graphic design.
And so, with his richly diverse art education,  immense skill-set and undeniable natural talent, Pierneef built upon this foundation a career which has earned him worldwide acclaim and continued attention.
READ MORE next time about how his fine art career unfolded across the decades, encountering everything from petty jealousy to global applause!
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Pierneef: Of Exile, Drawing & a Paint Factory

 Absolut Art Gallery - J H Pierneef - Biography
Pierneef wielded his brush with a bold tenderness, conjuring colours and carving out shapes across the canvas with a soulful dexterity that has set him apart as an artist of exceptional worth – in every sense of the word. (In terms of South African investment art, a Pierneef piece is more than just a pretty picture – and worth every penny! His work is prized all around the world, selling for up to R12 million.)
‘Henk’ Pierneef enjoyed and excelled in art class at school – most particularly in drawing, which continued to fascinate him throughout his teenage years – which were spent in Holland in a temporary sort of exile away from the turbulance of the Second Anglo-Boer War.
L-R: Transvaal Boer leader, Paul Kruger | Boer defending from a trench | Burghers | concentration camp to detain Boer families and POWs
L-R: Transvaal Boer leader, Paul Kruger | Boer defending from a trench | Burghers | concentration camp to detain Boer families and POWs
L-R: British leader, Horatio Kitchener | Wounded British soldiers after Battle of Modderfontein | POW camp | British leader: Baden-Powell
L-R: British leader, Horatio Kitchener | Wounded British soldiers after Battle of Modderfontein | POW camp | British leader: Baden-Powell

A church in Hilversum, Holland (by P J Cuypers - circa 1900)
A church in Hilversum, Holland (by P J Cuypers – circa 1900)

Initially, the family lived in Hilversum where the 14 year old Pierneef pursued his love of drawing with a remarkably industrious persistence, attending evening classes in architectural drawing at an age when his peers preferred girls, dance halls and football.

His daylight hours were spent working in a paint-making factory, where his understanding, knowledge and skills in colour-mixing and paint techniques were the perfect complement to his sketching skills and natural talent for the foundational art discipline of drawing.
In 1902, the family relocated to Rotterdam – where the sixteen year old snapped up the opportunity to study art in a more formal, academic setting at the Rotterdam Art Academy. Holland, and Europe as a whole, overflowed with an incredible passion for all things cultural — fine art, classical music and literature was accessible in abundance. Our young burgeoning artist’s imagination and art education was nourished by his immersion in the fine art of Europe, with particular emphasis on the Old Dutch Masters like Rembrandt, Hals and Vermeer. Rome, too, was another art adventure for Pierneef which we can only imagine must have been exquisitely enriching for him, surrounded by the opulence and excellence of Michaelangelo, da Vinci and Giotto.

Eventually, at the age of 18, Pierneef left with his family, leaving their Rotterdam home behind them to return once again to South Africa: a brand new canvas for Pierneef to paint.

(Be sure to visit again soon to read Part II of our Pierneef series!)

Exhibition: ‘Life, Distilled.’

This exhibition is about LIFE itself:

its emotions, memories and happenings,

distilled into a single moment: captured on canvas, by lens, in wood.

Life, Distilled - an exhibition of South African art by Absolut Art Gallery

Roberts Hodgins | Frans Oerder | Tinus de Jongh | J. E. A. Volschenk | Piet van Heerden | Adriaan Boshoff | Pieter Bauermeister | Edward Roworth | Lisa Roberts | Robert Gwelo Goodman | Louis Maqhubela | Sydney Kumalo | Thijs Nel | Daniel Rakgoathe | Nat Mokgosi | Erik Laubscher | Zakkie Eloff | Stanley Pinker

Each of us experiences life in an indelibly unique way – and we capture and communicate our experiences just as uniquely. Some capture experiences in paint, photographs or penned words on paper, distilling life down to the most absolute essence. For some it is a moment of exquisite joy they capture. For others, despair and disappointment. For some, they ask questions about life and its meaning – while for others again, their distillations of life attempt an answer.

“We do not remember days, we remember moments.” ~ Cesare Pavese

Life, Distilled seeks to shift your gaze away from the constant clutter of our lives, and block out the noise so our ears can hear our own true heartbeat. Each work presented is an opportunity to leave the toil and hassle behind you and return to simplicity, purity and clarity.

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