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Cyril Coetzee is a largely figurative painter, best known for his ‘narrative’ paintings (e.g. T’kama Adamastor, 1999) and portraits (e.g. Nelson Mandela, 1996), though he has also produced works of an expressionist and abstract kind (e.g. Enoch, 1986; North African Scene, 1994).
Formatively rooted in the realist and painterly traditions of Brian Bradshaw’s Grahamstown Group of the late 1970s, Coetzee later embraced the Post-modern tendency to historical referencing, palimpcest and visual quotation (e.g. Revelations, 1983).
The classical tradition of figure painting, recast into varying settings, both contemporary and deliberately timeless, has from the outset formed the basis of Coetzee’s work (e.g. Couple in an Interior, 1981). Coetzee’s work in the 1980s was subdued in colour, with an emphasis on chiaroscuro, mood and evocation (e.g. Self-Portrait, 1981).
In contrast, from the 1990s onward, the use of colour is more saturated and vibrant and the intertextuality, both historical and mythological, more layered and finely detailed. Parallel with works of this magical realist or fantastic realist kind, Coetzee produced formalistic, sometimes geometric oil paintings, drawings and watercolours which explore colour dynamics inspired by research into the colour theories of Goethe and of the pioneers of abstract painting (e.g. Pyramid, 1985)
Coetzee did a large number of drawings called ‘the morphological drawings’, which explore growth patterns and archetypically recurrent patterns of form (e.g. Metamorphosis I). These drawings reveal a strongly graphic component in his work, a seismographic use of line, evident also in the recent series of etchings for Nadine Gordimer’s The Conservationist. (Oak Tree Press Special Edition Series for Booker Prize Writers, 2007)
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