Trevor Coleman
Abstraction: 1960 – 1977

26.06.14 – 23.08.14
Stellenbosch

Trevor Coleman: Abstraction 1960-1977 surveys a period in the career of the artist Trevor Coleman during which he produced some of his most important abstract paintings. Returning from London in 1966, Coleman emerged as one of the first and most accomplished South African exponents of geometric, hard-edge abstraction.

Very few of the pioneering South African abstract artists have drawn as deeply from avant-garde innovations and styles of the time as Trevor Coleman. In his quest to overcome ‘tradition’, Coleman was not afraid to take risks and persevered, at times under much public reproach, in his pursuit of formal and technical innovation. Coleman’s influences were varied; the energetic pulse of British pop-culture during the 60s, American hard-edge abstraction and the work of Frank Stella, Jasper Johns and Kenneth Noland as well as modern masters like Henri Matisse made a significant impression on him. Closer to home, it was his teachers at the Wits Technical College, George Boys and Wim Blom under whom he studied from 1958-1960, as well as his personal acquaintances with South African artists Walter Battiss and Cecil Skotnes, that served Coleman in his search for a visual language that he would make his own.

Commencing with Coleman’s mixed media, organic abstract works, originally exhibited in London and Johannesburg in the early 1960s, the exhibition traces Coleman’s artistic development through to his mature hard-edge paintings, produced between 1966 and 1976. Regarded as his most prolific and experimental, this period not only presents a radical change in his output, but also sees Coleman pushing the stylistic margins in South African art. Liberated from the constraints of local parochialism and inspired by formalist aesthetics, Coleman experimented with the dynamics of colour, surface, geometric shapes and modular grids, with an acute emphasis on clarity and control. Coleman’s interest in the perceptual and optical effects of colour, line and structured compositions led him to investigate the possibilities of Op Art, whilst his exploration of hard edges in his paintings led to his development of shaped – or ‘eccentric’- canvases. 1977 marks the late and final phase in Coleman’s pure abstract works. His geometrical and technically precise compositions became more informal and gestural, with layered and multi-coloured abstract fragments, seeing his work return once more, to organic abstraction before moving gradually, and finally, to figuration.

The first exhibition of Coleman’s hard-edge paintings took place in Johannesburg in 1967. Two years later, in 1969, the South African Association of Arts (Southern Transvaal Chapter) presented a ten-year retrospective of his work, which was opened by Cecil Skotnes. Trevor Coleman: Abstraction 1960-1977 is the first comprehensive survey of Coleman’s abstract paintings since then. SMAC Art Gallery is proud to exhibit this unique body of work, and in doing so, recognises and pays tribute to Trevor Coleman’s contribution to the historical course of abstract art in South Africa.

The exhibition is on view until 23 August 2014.

A fully illustrated catalogue with an essay by Matthew Partridge and foreword by Johan Myburg accompanies this exhibition.


Trevor Coleman was born in 1936 in Johannesburg. He briefly studied Geology and Chemistry at the University of the Witwatersrand before switching to art full time in 1958. Coleman obtained his Diploma in Graphic Art and Design from the Witwatersrand Technical College (now part of the University of Johannesburg) in 1960. His work was first shown in the Artists of Fame and Promise Exhibition at the Adler Fielding Gallery in Johannesburg in 1959. In 1960, Coleman left for London where he enrolled part-time at the Central School of art to study lithography, textile design and painting. His first showing in London was in the 1961 Painting group exhibition at the Lincoln Gallery in Knightsbridge and in 1963, Coleman held his first London solo exhibition. Between 1961 and 1965, Coleman presented numerous solo exhibitions and took part in various group exhibitions in London, including the Young Commonwealth Artists 1964 exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery.

Coleman’s first South African solo exhibition was held in 1963 at the Lidchi Gallery in Johannesburg. His second solo exhibition took place in 1964 at the Adler Fielding Gallery in 1964. Coleman returned from London in 1966 and in 1967 presented his hard-edge abstract work to South African audiences for the first time at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg. Between 1966 and 1977, Coleman held ten solo exhibitions and took part in several group exhibitions across the country. In 1969, a ten-year retrospective of Coleman’s paintings was presented by the South African Association of Arts (Southern Transvaal Chapter) in Pretoria.

In recent years, Trevor Coleman’s abstract work has been included in various historical review exhibitions including; 1910-2010: From Pierneef to Gugulective presented at the Iziko South African National Gallery in 2010 and more recently in Baroque Meets Modern as part of the permanent exhibition of the Michaelis Collection at the Old Town House, Iziko South African National Gallery. SMAC Art Gallery has previously featured Coleman’s work in a three part series of exhibitions titled Abstract Art from the Isolation Years in 2007, 2008 and 2009. In 2010, the gallery included his work in DIVISIONS: Aspects of South African Art 1948-2010, as well as in two further exhibitions reviewing the abstract period; Abstract South African Art: Revisited in 2011, and the contemporary revival thereof; BACK TO THE FUTURE: Abstract South African Art, Past and Present in 2013.