Profile 1955-1976 The Early Years

Born in Mitcham, Surrey, UK in 1955, Andrew Coates was three when his family emigrated to Christchurch, New Zealand.

The land of blue skies and amazing vistas was a major influence on the young artist, although, early on he was more interested in cubism than the refined landscapes he is now renowned for today. Unlike today, Andrew worked in watercolour, gouache and acrylic before moving into oils.

Andrew's natural artistic ability shone out at an early age and by the time he reached secondary school it was clear painting would play a large part in his life.

At the age of 15, his family traveled to the UK for a year's holiday. This year of early independence became the most influential time in his early life. On his return to New Zealand, Andrew entered a number of art competitions where, amongst others, he was awarded first prize at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. With a natural enjoyment of painting and his strong personal commitment to work, his path as a painter appeared to open up before him.

By the time he was preparing to study fine arts at Illam University, Andrew felt comfortable painting in his own style. After a week, unhappy with the course, he left and built a studio in his parent's garden. At 17 years of age, Andrew spent the next four years learning and developing techniques as a painter alone.

"Subconsciously, from that time on, I believe I have always considered myself an outsider on the fringe of something else that was expected of me. Leaving University to discover the painting process for myself was probably the most pivotal point in my life as an artist"

During this time, Andrew became the youngest Merit Member of the Canterbury Society of Arts (CSA) in New Zealand. He went on to hold three one man exhibitions at the CSA. The inclusion of his work for the first time in the annual Summer Exhibition at the CSA brought the following review:

"Among the many oils and water colours are accomplished works by the young A.S. Coates which show his technical brilliance"

Winning several more awards including first place with 'Men in Contrast' at the Royal Overseas League's Commonwealth Art Exhibition, Andrew Coates started getting noticed.

His first one man show had forty-five paintings on display. One critic said:

"One can cope more easily with his figure compositions in which he combines stylised curves with straight lines in a way that is faintly reminiscent of Fernande Leger, though much more complex"

Headed 'Young Painter shows virtuosity', it's closing comments are:

"This is a remarkable exhibition for one so young. Coates has been wise in choosing to go his own way. With such technical virtuosity he could go far..."

Leaving University was always controversial - even in those passing comments in the last review; it was a source of constant rancour and debate behind every critique. This only served to make him work harder and gave him a healthy distrust of any institution, especially those with 'Art' in the title.

Anyone who saw this young man's work at the time could not help but be impressed by the scale, colour and diversity of his paintings. Enjoying the discipline of working everyday, his exhibitions were varied and large. Whether highly praised by one critic or damned by faint praise by another, he was always described as 'technically brilliant'.

Describing himself as an obsessive, rather than a compulsive painter, Andrew took stock of his career and questioned whether to pursue it in New Zealand, or embark on a greater challenge and return to 'the big smoke'. The family trip to England in 1971 and the working experience and independence he acquired as a fifteen year old made it easier for him to make the decision.

With ongoing contrasting reviews between two eminent Christchurch newspaper critics 'Art going backwards' and 'The unique work of a sure and subtle hand', Andrew decided to leave. His response was always found in his work and philosophically, because of his quick exit from his fine arts course, never expected great reviews from those critics who lectured at the university by day and penned their reviews by night. In 1975 he held his last one-man exhibition at the CSA and then made preparations to send a large selection of his paintings to the UK.

Andrew left New Zealand in 1976 and travelled overland through Asia and Europe for the next four months.

"New Zealand, the people, the open way of life, freedom and the remarkable landscape, gave me the most wonderful childhood. It was full of adventure and opportunities but ultimately my painting had to take precedent"

"At first I didn't want to sell anything. Now I'm happy to sell and happy when people buy my work"