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Christo Coetzee: From Office Jobs to Gutai Art

By the late 1950’s Christo Coetzee had been collecting stamps in his passport for the most part of the decade. He completed his studies in fine arts at Wits University in 1951. The months that followed saw him relocate to London and enter into a short-lived marriage with Marjorie Long.

Many mixed years of exhibiting and office work followed, including his separation from his wife, who preferred normal life in the republic, in contrast to Christo’s life in Europe. The end of the 50’s saw Coetzee’s art being exhibited in numerous international art exhibitions in Japan, the United States and Italy. After a two-man exhibition with Lucio Fontana in Paris, he made a move to the eastern edge of the globe.

Christo Coetzee

Shortly after Coetzee’s arrival in Japan he was introduced to the avantgarde Gutai group. This group was birthed in response to the reactionary artistic ideas of the time. They were known for their large-scale multimedia environments and theatrical events. Their work emphasising the relationship between body and matter as they explored new ways of being fresh and original. Christo would eventually leave Japan for Europe.

Christo eventually left Paris to live in a small village in Spain. A trademark of this part of his life was his increased travels to his homeland, by 1975 he moved back to Cape Town on a more permanent basis. The mid-seventies saw the start of the protest years; he started an exhibition and returned after day one to cut up 23 of his paintings. The media labelled him as being angry but he would later explain this Gutai inspired conduct – labelling it as constructive rather than destructive.

Towards the end of his career he received numerous awards, including a Science and Arts Medal of Honour as well as various exhibitions in his name. Christo Coetzee died of colorectal cancer at the end of 2000. The Christo Coetzee House museum and gallery was opened in Tulbagh in August 2011.