Coetzee, from and early age, had a talent for drawing and the arts. After graduating from Parktown Boy’s High School he attended the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) from 1947 to 1950. It was here that Coetzee became part of the so-called Wits Group, along with other esteemed artists; including Larry Scully, Cecil Skotnes, Esme Berman, Nel Erasmus, Ruth Allen, Gordon Vorster and many others. After graduating with a Fine Art degree in 1951, Coetzee held his first solo exhibition, which was opened by John Paris, the then current director of the South African National Art Gallery.Funded by a Wits scholarship, Coetzee travelled to London in 1951 and married Marjorie Long the following year. When his wife returned to South Africa, Coetzee unhappily followed her six months later. He returned to London the end of 1953, without Marjorie. After being a sales assistant for a tobacco company in London, Coetzee eventually found work at Robert Savages’ framing business where he was able to stay in closer contact to young artists and the London art world. During this time, Coetzee met Anthony Denney, who would not only become his future long-term friend but also the person responsible for arranging Coetzee’s first solo exhibition in Europe, held in March of 1955 at the Hanover Gallery in London.
In 1956 Coetzee travelled to Italy for a four-month period with funding from the Italian government. It was here that Coetzee was exposed to other influential people within the art world at the time, including Pavel Tchelitchew and Albert Burri. During this period, Michel Tapié de Ceyleran, the French critic, visited Anthony Denny in London and was taken by one Coetzee’s paintings hanging in his house. Tapié then sent Coetzee and invitation to come to Paris to meet the owner of the Galerie Rive Droite. This meeting resulted in Coetzee staying in Paris for the majority of the next ten years where he continued his work under the guidance of Tapié, and in collaboration with Galerie Stadler.In 1959 Coetzee was awarded a Japanese government bursary for two years of study in Osaka, Tokyo. It was here that Coetzee was introduced to the Gutai group and many of the influential Japanese artists associated with it. Coetzee would continue to use the influences of the places and people he had met during the time spent in Paris and Tokyo in his later works. In 1965 he left Paris, settling in a small village in Spain, and began visiting South Africa more frequently. After traveling back to Cape Town in 1975, he held a solo exhibition that marked the beginning of what some call his ‘protest period’. Coetzee, after the day of the opening of the exhibition, returned to the gallery and cut up 23 of his paintings, and then began to ‘reconstruct’ them. Although, at the time, he was labeled by the media as being angry, Coetzee later gave a lecture at the South African Association of Arts, Cape Town, situating his destructive act in the context of work he had done in the 1950s, calling it a Gutai act."( wallsaart.co.za )