Professor Colin Richards (59) of the Michaelis School of Fine Art was an internationally renowned writer on contemporary South African art - a field he was instrumental in shaping - and also an acclaimed artist and curator and a highly respected art educator.
Richards, who died recently, was widely regarded as an authority on conceptual art in South Africa, and his theorisations on 'critical' humanism in relation to the contemporary art of Africa are also considered significant contributions to the history of art.
Deputy vice-chancellor Professor Danie Visser described Richards as "an original thinker, distinctive in how he combined both scholarly and creative work to reflect on the social and philosophical questions that concern us today. His incisive scholarly work constitutes a lasting contribution to the study of South African art within an international context".
Richards was born in Cape Town and studied at the University of South Africa, Goldsmiths' College (University of London) and the University of the Witwatersrand, where he was awarded his PhD in 1995. He served as a medical illustrator at the Wits' Faculty of Medicine from 1977 until 1985 when he joined the Wits Fine Arts department, where he attained full professorship in 2002.
During his period of service at Wits, Richards played a leading role in the restructuring of the Fine Art Master's programme, as well as in initiating the teaching of Art Criticism to undergraduate students. It was during this time that he established an international reputation for rigorous scholarship and for confronting fundamental questions about the disciplines of Fine Art and History of Art.
His strong interest in psychoanalysis led him to more overtly healing forms of intervention. "A registered art therapist in both South Africa and the United Kingdom, he played a pivotal role in the development of professional art therapy in South Africa," Visser said. Together with Mamatlakeng Makhoana he established an art therapy service in Orlando, Soweto, and was also actively involved in professional bodies in art therapy. Richards joined the Michaelis School of Fine Art in 2010, where he quickly won the deep respect and affection of his colleagues.
In addition to teaching the history and discourse of art, he managed the reintegration of the Art History programme with the Fine Art programme.
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