An introduction by Isaac Benigson.
Growing up, my parents would make an annual pilgrimage from London to Calitzdorp to visit their beloved friend and ceramic artist – Hylton Nel. Situated in the Klein Karoo, Hylton’s home was always cool, a welcome respite from the African sun, and is one that I have grown to love over the many years of visiting him. Filled with objects, paintings, students, books and artefacts, the house becomes a metaphor, or an intimate portrait of Hylton as artist, collector and in the later part of his career – tutor.
A master of the ceramic tradition himself, the subjects of Hylton’s ceramic work know no bounds. His passion for the manipulation of clay has extended not just around the world to find themselves in important collections, but this spirit has also been handed down, and encouraged, in a small circle of local artists who live in his dusty, arid town. Melvin, Basie, Jacobus, Mexicano and Reuben have become members of the unofficial ‘School of Nel” where each artist has channeled and transferred the bold beauty of Hylton’s work into their own vision and interpretation. It is worth remembering the late Nico Masemola who too was instructed by Nel in his studio, and who went on to have enormous success as an artist in his own right.
As an artist myself, I too am one of many who have been influenced by Hylton’s work and his extensive and varied points of visual and artistic reference. The examples are endless: a 19th century Staffordshire figure, a transitional Ming blue and white vase, the 2020 Presidential elections or a poem by Stevie Smith. These references, which Hylton himself borrowed are now passed down to a new generation of artists who interpret his forms and glazes in a new and fresh spirit. Although created by different artists, the work exhibited speaks in the same language. They all seem to be united by a certain vagabondish elegance and reveal a continued conversation between historical examples of the past, Hylton’s contemporary work and the future pieces made by his students.
Imeldo "Melvin" Wagenaar
Hannes "Basie" Gerhadus
Mexicano Da Pointers