Bruce Murray Arnott

15 SEPTEMBER 1938 TO 19 JULY 2018

EARLY 1950s


EARLY 1970s

EARLY 1980s





The early years

Bruce was born in the village of Highflats in the Ixopo district of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), South Africa. He attended Treverton Preparatory School and Michaelhouse Diocesan College in KZN matriculating in 1955. Bruce graduated from the Michaelis School of Fine Art at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in 1960 with BA Fine Art (Cape Town).

In 1961 he graduated with MA Fine Art (Cape Town), comprised of a full theoretical thesis titled The evolution of sculpture in South Africa, and a body of original sculptures carved from wood and stone.

The South African National Gallery

Bruce was appointed first on a temporary basis and then permanently as the first Professional Officer, subsequently Senior Professional Officer, at the South African National Gallery (SANG) in 1962 until 1970. During this time he was responsible for curating the SANG collections of sculpture, prints and drawings. In 1970 he was promoted to Assistant Director of the South African National Gallery.

The Drakensberg and San rock art

In 1972 he resigned from his position as Assistant Director of the SANG. He left the city with his family to subsistence farm in the Underberg district in the foothills of the Drakensberg.

During the time on his Underberg farm Bruce continued to make sculptures modeled in the local clay and cast in lead. It was here that the large Numinous Beast sculpture situated in the front of the Iziko South African National Gallery was initiated, influenced by the Drakensberg San rock art to which Bruce had been introduced as a child.

The Michaelis School of Fine Art

In 1978, after a few spells as external examiner and some part-time teaching at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, Bruce took up a full-time teaching position in sculpture. He remained at the Michaelis until his retirement in 2003, first as Lecturer in sculpture, then Senior lecturer, Associate Professor, Head of the Department of Fine Art, Director of the Michaelis School of Fine Art, Convener of Postgraduate studies, Professor of Fine Art and Emeritus Professor of Fine Art on retirement.

Large public sculptures and solo exhibitions

Most importantly, during his long academic career at the University of Cape Town Bruce continued to practice as a sculptor, participating in many group exhibitions nationally and three solo exhibitions in Cape Town. Even though there was very little opportunity for South African artists to exhibit abroad during the apartheid years of the 1970s and 1980s, Bruce's sculptures of this period often full of irony and subtle but astute social commentary were selected for a few key curated international exhibitions.

It was during the 1980s and the 1990s that he produced many of his large public commissions situated in most of the major cities in South Africa.

Retirement, Honorary Research Associate and solo exhibition

After his retirement in 2003 Bruce continued to work as an Honorary Research Associate at the Michaelis.

In 2004 he produced a series of drawings and sculptures for his solo exhibition Dreamtime: Signs and Portents (2004) shown at the Irma Stern Museum. From 2005 until shortly before his death in 2018, Bruce continued to work from his workshop at home on existing editions and generating new individual pieces. He also developed and completed his last series of bronzes titled Conjuria.

Culmination and synthesis of a long career

Conjuria is a meaningful culmination and synthesis of ideas and themes developed over a lifetime finding form in a unique body of sculptures. Earlier works by Bruce Arnott reflect trance related imagery in San and Celtic art. They link with the ambiguity and sleight of hand in this last series (Gurney, 2012).

The Conjuria series under the same title Conjuria was exhibited at the Iona wine farm in 2012. A further exhibition, Paradox & Metaphrase, a retrospective exhibition of key smaller works and a few new sculptures was exhibited at Iona in 2013.