Hylton Nel

b. 1941, South Africa

South African ceramicist, born 1941

Hylton Nel is a conceptual artist. Perhaps not in the way contemporary art uses the phrase but in the sense that he is an artist who is interested in ideas. The ideas and debates that capture his imagination are idiosyncratic and touch on many spheres, ranging from the history of the decorative arts to literature, visual art and issues in our politicised world. Often the references may not be immediately apparent, especially if the debate on that day was about a particular blue glaze and its meaning in Chinese ceramics, the significance of pattern-and-design motifs on Islamic tiles, the symbolism and form of cats in Egyptian art, the stances in erotic painting on ancient Greek vases, the resonances of Buddhist sculpture or the expression on the face of an African figure, to mention but a few possibilities.

For Nel the medium of clay is a means to give his ideas form. The actual making of the form is seldom a challenge; his concern always remains with the idea or impulse that prompted him to realise the form. Over the course of more than 50 years working with clay and glazes, he has invented a visual language that is distinctly his own.