Hylton Nel

South Africa

Artist-potter Hylton Nel was born in Zambia in 1941 and grew up on the family farm in the Northern Cape, South Africa. He studied fine art and painting at Rhodes University, Grahamstown between 1961 and 1965, and it was there that Nel began exploring ceramics. He went on to study painting and ceramics at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp for two years, before moving to England in 1969, where he ran an antiques shop.

Nel returned to South Africa in the 1970s, teaching pottery at the Port Elizabeth Technikon from 1974 to 1987. During the 1980s, he began producing painted plates. In 1987, he moved to Cape Town and taught drawing at Michaelis School of Fine Art for three years, followed by a year of teaching (again, drawing) at Stellenbosch University in the Western Cape. All the while, Nel continued to work on his own art; in 1991, he began to dedicate all his time to making ceramics and moved that same year to rural Bethulie in the east. In 2002 he relocated to the outskirts of the village of Calitzdorp on the edge of the Karoo, where he continues to live and work.

Nel’s idiosyncratic ceramics include plates, vases, bowls, plaques, figurines, and small sculptures, many decorated with line drawings and script referencing decorative arts, literature, art history, erotica, and social and political issues. His witty imagery ranges from cats to angels, presidents to the Madonna.

Nel’s work is included in many collections in South Africa, including those of the Durban Art Gallery; King George VI Art Gallery, Port Elizabeth; South African National Gallery, Cape Town; Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermaritzburg; William Humphreys Art Gallery,Kimberley; and the Corobrik Collection in the Pretoria Art Museum. His work has been exhibited widely; shows include 2006’s To Hold, Farmleigh Gallery, Dublin; 2001’s major retrospective, touring multiple South African museums; 2000’s Seduced by Colour: The New Maiolica, Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art, Toronto; 1997’s New Ceramics by Hylton Nel and 1996’s A Prayer for Good Governance, both at the Fine Art Society, London; and the 1985 Cape Town Triennial. Nel was the Festival Artist at the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees in Oudtshoorn in 2009.