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Christo Coetzee: From Turffontein to Japan

Christo Coetzee was a well known South African assemblage and Neo-Baroque artist. He is closely associated with the European and Japanese avantgarde art movements of the fifties and sixties. After completing his studies he held several mundane jobs, before turning to an art career towards the halfway mark of the fifties.

He was born at 54 Biccard street, Turffontein, to Josef A. Coetzee and Francina S. Kruger; the latter being a distant of former South African president P. Kruger. Coetzee senior was originally a farmer but after relocating several times, eventually ended up in the building industry. It was here that Josef discovered a talent for drawing; something that proved to be significant in Christo’s art career.

Christo Coetzee Art

(photo credit: and

Christo’s love for art started as a teenager when he attended Parktown Boys High School, followed by his time at Wits University where he studied alongside the likes of Larry Scully, Cecil Skotnes, Esme Berman and Nel Erasmus. It was during this time that he would become part of the Wits group, known for their careers that followed their time at Wits. A career in art for the so-called Wits group, was prepared by their teachers; Maria Stein-Lessing, Heather Martienssen and Marjorie Long; the latter who would become his first wife. Coetzee also met another reputable South African artist, Alexis Preller during his time as a student. It seems that Wits was a stepping stone for any budding artist during the forties and fifties.

An exciting yet eventful time for this up and coming South African artist was on the cards following his studies at Wits. He spent a lot of time in Europe during the fifties, even extending his reach to Japan. Christo Coetzee seems to have been at the right place at the right time, as his time at Wits university was followed by a successful stint overseas before eventually embracing the South African art scene in the seventies.