M I C H A E L    P E T T I T

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In the court of the sultan

Artist's Statement:

Michael Pettit is a noted professional artist living in Cape Town. He has exhibited widely over many years, and has received extensive recognition. Numerous public, university, corporate and private collections feature his distinctive pictures. His academic background provides an intellectual backbone to paintings that are visually intelligent and rich in their cultural references.

Pettit has been making and thinking about art for many years. This density of experience is evident in all his work. A wide technical and stylistic range, honed and developed over time, supports his broad range of ideas, content and imagery. A full-time artist in his stride, he works with focus and passion.

The range of Pettit's work is large. The work can be brilliant or subtle in colour. It can be sensual, raw or nuanced, Some works are elaborately finessed and exuberantly rich, while others move towards distillation and simplicity. His visual knowledge and his assured technical and conceptual skills give him a huge choice of idiom to draw on. For example, he can access degrees of realism that range from high verisimilitude through to modes of the gestural and painterly, and into fields of abstraction. Moods may be lyrical or darkly comical. The fantastical is set against the quietly observed. When called for, a painting can be meditative. There is a thread of the mystical too. Viewing the span of his work it can be seen that there is a continual balancing of opposites, of the forces of dark / light, male / female, order / chaos ... The diversity of his work is part of its total meaning.

Immersed in his subject, and deepening his core themes, Pettit is continually exploring new terrain. The contrasts in his work are underpinned by recurring themes, images and motifs. The multi-faceting is integrated on an inner level. As time goes on the underlying grand themes expand, while the recurring images, subjects, signs and symbols are transformed and renewed with each new painting. These recurring elements network and reverberate between pictures and unite an ambitiously complex body of work of one artist over a span of time. Pettit's work is enriched by paradox and contradiction. It evades neat categorization.

Pettit values his independence and creative freedom, and he has had both the clarity and strength of purpose to follow his own course. This integrity and authenticity is especially clear when his work is viewed over three decades. He aims to integrate sensation, feeling, and concept in rounded works of art. This multi-layered complexity is a hallmark of his work.


Michael Pettit received a BA (Fine Arts) in 1971 and an MA (Fine Arts) in 1982 from the University of the Witwatersrand. He taught Fine Arts, 1973 to 1977, at the University of Durban-Westville. He gave up the post of Lecturer in order to concentrate on his own painting, and has been a full-time professional artist since then. He maintained a keen interest in teaching and the creative process, and taught an adult painting class from 1980 to 2001. He moved to Cape Town in 1978.

Michael Pettit's solo exhibitions have been notably large, sometimes held at two galleries simultaneously, presenting several years of work. These comprehensive diverse shows enable themes to emerge with resonance,and give the network of ideas and images full play.

His first solo show in 1973 was divided between the Walsh-Marais gallery and the Natal Society of Arts in Durban. The Durban Art Gallery purchased the first of five works by Pettit in their collection. Later solo shows, over three decades, in the main South African cities, have been held at venues including the Goodman Gallery, Goodman-Wolman Gallery, SA Association of Arts galleries, three large shows at the Everard Read Gallery in Johannesburg, University of Stellenbosch Gallery, Jean Welz Gallery, Irma Stern Museum, the Standard Bank Gallery, and in 2005 at the AVA. In 2008, in a double exhibition at the AVA and the Joćo Ferreira Gallery Pettit showed figurative paintings and lyrical abstracts.

Since the Art South Africa Today exhibitions in 1971, 1973, 1975, in which he won an award, Pettit's paintings have been included in many group shows such as the 'Cape Town Biennial' 1979, 'Cape Town Triennial' 1981 1991, 'The Brett Kebble Art Awards' 2003 and at the London fair in the UK 2005.

Pettit was the youngest artist to be accorded a full article in Esme Berman's revised 'Art and Artists of South Africa', and has been included in other books, an encyclopaedia, catalogues. There have been many articles and interviews.

His work has been profiled on several TV arts programs over the years. These include 'Portfolio' 1983, 'Collage' 1986' 1989, 1991, 'Arts Unlimited' 1995, 1996, 'Arts On One' 1992, eTV News 2001, Kyknet 'Kunskafee' 2001. Pettit's striking paintings have featured on the covers of many magazines and books.

Public collections which feature his work include the S.A. National Gallery, Pretoria Art Museum, Durban Art Gallery,Tatham Art Gallery, Pietersburg Art Gallery, Roodepoort Museum, Oliewenhuis Art Museum, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum. The universities of Stellenbosch, Zululand, the Orange Free State, and the Witwatersrand have purchased his work, and so have many prestigious corporate collections including Sanlam, JCI, Nedbank, First National Bank, Sonnenberg Hoffmann & Galombic, Investec, ABSA, Hollard and Sasol which has five paintings.

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