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Artist Details

WH Coetzer

It seems an irony, if not a contradiction, that W.H. Coetzer, an artist who is closely identified with the spirit of Afrikaner Nationalism and history, should figure in a collection and have deliberate inclusion on an exhibition that celebrate ‘the neglected tradition’ in South African art. It has to be accepted that the selection of this image has everything to do with its subject which is a highly unusual one for this artist. One has also to bear in mind that as an artist Coetzer kept certain kinds of subject a ‘private’ matter. At one time, for example, still life was a genre in which he worked entirely to his own satisfaction, not intending it in any way for public consumption. The ‘discovery’ of Coetzer as a still life painter by an appreciative public was a later development in his career. The white South African public appreciated the historical veracity of Coetzer’s scenes from Afrikaner history, and there was a considerable demand for his small idealised landscapes that valourised the ‘vacant’ and open spaces of the South African interior. This urban landscape, which still features Coetzer’s typical predilection for warm pinkish skies, is a ‘township’ subject and a momentary ‘lapse’ into realism. The muddy road with its puddles, the smoky background and the woman and brazier to the left, all suggest that this scene has little to do with the privileged life of white suburbia, but rather with its underside. It has been noted in ReVisions that Bruce Campbell Smith has been constructing his own idiosyncratic narrative of South African art history in his collection; one that fuses the two disparate streams of ‘white’ art history and ‘black’ art history into one. This work shows that even Coetzer was not blind to the living conditions of black people under white rule, and that he was actually not incapable of a form of realism that incorporated and reflected this.
WH Coetzer