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The Enormous Room


Cyril Coetzee b. 1959

Cyril Coetzee is a largely figurative artist with roots in both European and African traditions. His multi-layered, emblematic and chromatically rich oil paintings first emerged in the company of other neo-expressionists and figurative post-modernists who received media attention in South Africa during the 1980s, in the context of the quest of young South Africans to find a voice in the stifling atmosphere of Apartheid.

Coetzee is deeply interested in the meeting and cross-pollination of cultures, beliefs, mythologies and histories. Both intensely personal, yet often reflecting contemporary social events and concerns, his works make striking use of the human figure as a vehicle of expression and, sometimes, parodic comment - aspects related to his ongoing interest in portraiture.

Coetzee has exhibited widely in South Africa, Switzerland, Canada, India and the US. He was invited to hold solo retrospective exhibitions at the University of South Africa Gallery, Pretoria, and the Getrude Posel Gallery at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg (1993).

In 1996 he was commissioned by the University of the Witwatersrand to paint a 28 square metre canvas for the William Cullen Library, an internationally renowned archive, for the 75th celebrations of the University, which was unveiled by Judge Goldstone in 1999. A large format art book focussing on the painting was published, elaborating on the themes, the commissioning and related works.

Having painted a much-publicised portrait of Nelson Mandela at the height of the latter's presidential career, Coetzee was commissioned to paint a wedding portrait of Nelson Mandela and Graša Machel, which hangs together with the presidential portrait in their home in Johannesburg.

Other portraits include well-known dignitaries such as Hans Schreiber, Colin Bundy, Anton Rupert, Conrad Strauss and George Bizos.

His works are included in various public and private collections in South Africa, America, Australia, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, Switzerland, Germany and Canada, including the Royal Ontario Museum, Johannesburg Art Gallery and the Standard Bank in London.

Coetzee has been invited to give various lectures on Art History and on his own work in South Africa, England, the United States and Canada.

Awards won include the: Vita Art Award (1993), the Rhodian 'Guy Butler' Creative Writer (1983), the Purvis Prize for Fine Art (Rhodes University, 1983), first prize for the NBS National Inter-Art School Competition (1982), the Kendall Bursary (1982) and Rhodes University Academic Colours (1981).

Coetzee has served as a Fine Art lecturer at Port Elizabeth Technikon and as an Art History lecturer at University of the Witwatersrand. He has been a full-time artist since 1990.

He has a Masters degree in Fine Art, a BA Honours degree in English (distinction). To further his research into colour theory he has also studied at the Tobias School of Art in Sussex, and at the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland.

DATE OF BIRTH: 27 June 1959
PLACE OF BIRTH: Grahamstown, South Africa
ADDRESS: P.O.Box 1908
South Africa
TELEPHONE: (011) 793-6731
E-MAIL: cyrilcoetzee@worldonline.co.za

Commissioned by the University of the Witwatersrand to execute a 28 square metre canvas for the William Cullen Library. Unveiled by Judge William Goldstone on 18 February 1999. A large format art book ("T'kama Adamastor: Inventions of Africa in a South African Painting", ed. Ivan Vladislavic) focussing on the painting, was published in 2000, elaborating on the themes, the commissioning and related works.

Nelson Mandela portrait reproduced on the limited edition international postage stamp issued for the 90th birthday of Nelson Mandela, July 2008.


1993: A one person retrospective exhibition at the invitation of the University of South Africa, Pretoria, entitled Cyril Coetzee: Paintings and Drawings 1975 - 1993, showing 30 paintings and 96 drawings. A colour illustrated brochure, with a text surveying the principle thematic concerns of the exhibited works, and a series of public lectures and workshops were sponsored by the University.
1993: A similar retrospective exhibition at the University of the Witwatersrand (Gertrude Posel Gallery), Johannesburg. This exhibition received a Vita Quarterly Award.

From July 1990 to present: Working as a full time artist. January 1987 to June 1990: Lecturer in Art History University of the Witwatersrand

  • Read conference papers at Pretoria University in 1988 and Natal University in 1989.
  • Published articles on Abstract and Contemporary Art in South African Journal of Cultural and Art History. (Vol.1, no. 2; Vol. 2, no. 3; Vol. 3, no. 4)
  • Special areas of focus in research and teaching: Baroque Painting and Sculpture, Neo Classical and Romantic Painting, Expressionist and Abstract Painting (especially Wassily Kandinsky), Joseph Beuys, South African Painting (contemporary)

1986: Lecturer in printmaking, drawing, painting, method and technique at Port Elizabeth Technikon.
1982: Commissioned to mark undergraduate papers while reading for English Honours.


1993-1994: Research into Goethean and anthroposophic colour theory. The Tobias School of Art, Sussex, UK and the Goetheanum, Dornach, Switzerland.
1983: M Fine Art. Rhodes University, Grahamstown. Entailing as the research component of this degree, a dissertation entitled Goethe's Theory of Colours: Rudolf Steiner's Foundation for an Impulse in Painting.
1982: BA Honours in English (Distinction) Rhodes University, Grahamstown.
1981: B Fine Art (Distinction in Painting and Art Theory) Rhodes University, Grahamstown.
1968-1977: St Andrews College, Grahamstown.