Spotlight: South African Artist Hannelie Coetzee’s Elegant Ink Drawings Unleash the Essence of Wildlife

Hyenas, giraffes, wildebeests, and more abound in Coetzee's exploration of eco-queer theory and art.

Hannelie Coetzee, Hyena clan IV (2023). Courtesy of the artist and Morton Fine Art, Washington, D.C.

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What You Need to Know: This month, Washington, D.C.-based gallery Morton Fine Art is presenting a solo show of recent work by artist Hannelie Coetzee in “In mid-loping gait.” On view from November 11 through December 19, 2023, the exhibition features drawings on paper, a practice that Coetzee turned her creative attention back to during the pandemic. Synthesizing observation of wildlife with wide-ranging research into zoomorphism, queer theory, and sociology, the artworks refute common refrains around the “unnaturalness” of human queerness through the unfettered expressions of queer behavior in the natural world. The compositions are based on the artist’s en-plein-air excursions to see and record wildlife, such as in South Africa’s Kruger National Park and Bushveld.

About the Artist: South African artist Hannelie Coetzee (b. 1971) earned her B.Tech degree from Vaal University in social documentary photography in 1994, followed by an Advanced Diploma in fine arts from the University of the Witwatersrand in 1997. She spent two decades of her career as a photo essayist, documenting diverse stories from around the world. Last year, she completed her M.Sc at Wits University’s Animal, Plants, And Environmental Sciences School in global environmental change. In her artistic practice, Coetzee has become well-known for her site-specific works, both temporary and permanent. Considerations and explorations of space, its designation, and how people move through it is a common theme that emerges in her work. Though Coetzee experimented with drawings as a child, it is only recently that she returned to the practice in a professional capacity, primarily using ink on paper, and frequently drawing from life. She joined Morton Fine Art’s roster of represented artists earlier this year, and the present exhibition is her first solo with the gallery.

Why We Like It: Through gestural and intuitive strokes of ink, Coetzee is able to uniquely capture the movement and interactions of different species of wild animal; from wildebeests to warthogs, giraffes to hyenas, each composition uses an economy of means to elegantly depict its subject, yet still conveys the nuances of the animals’ interactions, behaviors, and presence. Much of the paper supports have been salvaged or otherwise sustainably sourced, with the variability of paper stock—its permeability to ink, dimensions, and texture—playing a central role in the work. One such paper stock is drawn from a mining leger, replete with notes and center binding stitches. Coetzee’s animals are thus placed in a complex dialogue with the paper, and poses questions around habitat, the dichotomy between natural and unnatural, and broader issues around climate change. Together, “In mid-loping gait” uses visually poetic approaches to question the socio-political status quo.

See featured works from the exhibition below.

Hannelie Coetzee, Baboon troop V (2023). Courtesy of the artist and Morton Fine Art, Washington, D.C.

Hannelie Coetzee, Zebra I (2023). Courtesy of the artist and Morton Fine Art, Washington, D.C.

Hannelie Coetzee, Giraffe necking III (2023). Courtesy of the artist and Morton Fine Art, Washington, D.C.

Hannelie Coetzee, Penguins bowing III (2023). Courtesy of the artist and Morton Fine Art, Washington, D.C.

Hannelie Coetzee, Warthogs VIII (2023). Courtesy of the artist and Morton Fine Art, Washington, D.C.

Hannelie Coetzee “In mid-loping gait” is on view November 11–December 19, 2023, at Morton Fine Art, Washington, D.C.

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