Michaelis remembers Bruce Arnott


Emeritus Professor Bruce Murray Arnott passed away in Cape Town on Friday 20 July, just short of his 80th birthday.

He was a formidable sculptor and academic, who taught at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, UCT between 1978 and his retirement in 2003, and continued his association as a postgraduate supervisor and examiner. He taught generations of sculptors, including Brett Murray, Charlayn von Solms, Berni Searle, Barend de Wet, Delise Reich, Kevin Brand, Angela Ferreira, Ed Young, Brendhan Dickerson, Zen Marie, Gerhard Marx, Vanessa Solomon, Margaret Chetwin, Jacki McInnes, Bonita Alice, Louise Linder and Eugene Hon.

He was born in 1938 in KwaZulu-Natal and matriculated from the Michaelhouse Diocesan College. He later graduated from the Michaelis School of Fine in 1960 with a BA Fine Art degree, and the Michaelis Prize, and later in 1961 with a MA Fine Art. His thesis was entitled The evolution of sculpture in South Africa.

Bruce was appointed at the South African National Gallery as curator of sculpture, prints and drawings, between 1962 and 1970, and during this time received a British Council Scholarship to research the influence of African art on Western sculpture at the Courtauld Institute. In 1970 he was promoted to Assistant Director of the SA National Gallery, and was responsible for the vast expansion of the African Art collections. He curated and wrote essays for the significant exhibitions African Weaving (1967), African Art in Metal (1970), and the Art of Rorke’s Drift (1972). He was also responsible for cataloguing Irma Stern’s private collection of art and artefacts and was the editor for the Catalogue of the collections of the Irma Stern Museum (1971).

In 1972 he moved to a farm at the foothills of the Drakensberg, where he continued to make sculpture modeled in the local clay and cast in lead.

A formidable sculptor and academic, he was simultaneously generous, loyal and fought doggedly for his students.

In 1978, Bruce took up a full-time teaching post in sculpture at the Michaelis School of Fine Art. He remained at the university until his retirement in 2003, first as lecturer in sculpture, and later as Director of the Michaelis School of Fine Art, Convener of Postgraduate studies and Professor of Fine Art.

Bruce played a critical role in having art practice recognized as an academic endeavour within the institution. He introduced the MFA degree and was the founding editor of Artworks in Progress: Journal of the Staff of the Michaelis School of Fine Art in 1989, a publication that saw creative practice as equal to the written word. During his long academic career he continued to work as a sculptor, participating in many group exhibitions, three solo exhibitions and making most of his large public commissions. In 1985 he was selected to exhibit in Images of Man alongside Brancusi, Daumier and Picasso. He produced numerous public commissions, including Sphinx (1977), Baxter Theatre; Numinous Beast (1979), SANG; Blacksmith (1986), Grahamstown Foundation Monument; Alma Mater (1996), UCT Middle Campus; Fountain (1989), UWC; and Oracle (1988), UCT. His work is also in most permanent art museum collections in South Africa.