Important South African and International Art

Johannesburg  |  2:00pm Mon 13 Nov 2017


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Karel Nel; Inventory
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Lot 385

South African 1955-
signed, dated 1996-97
mixed media on paper
100 by 180cm excluding frame

Sold for R 400 000
Including Buyer's Premium and VAT R 454 720

Estimate R 300 000 - 400 000

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A bird’s eye view of a complex group of objects are scattered across a surface transparently underscored and structured by a series of coloured squares. The work challenges traditional notions of still life painting usually set on a horizontal table surface. Nel’s interest in the complex nature, the origins and ‘lives’ of objects is central to the making and reading of this piece. Titled, Inventory, it alludes to a drawing and engagement with many objects collected on various of his travels. For him seems to become a way of engaging the object by drawing it and creating a visual lexicon, an inventory, of significant objects. Rich and radiant colour exudes from the many series of unusual and modest objects, at times defining their very nature while at others obscuring them by the ambiguity of the intensity of the colour fields. The horizontality of the surface is constantly challenged, a small blue and white Ming bowl tips precariously in the center of the work while a flattened Chinese Pi-disk with its dark center punches a hole in the middle of the drawing. Next to it leans a pointed green Thai tile, collected from the restoration of the roof of the great Royal Palace in Bangkok. Two small skull-like terracotta forms in the bottom right hand corner, one elevated on a small transparent plexi slab, are archaic Italian whistles collected many years before in Rome. A wooden conical spindle found near the hill site of the Oracle in Delphi in Greece abuts the small Ming bowl. The series of seemingly disconnected objects together create a tracery of connections of Nel’s itinerant and searching life. Ghostly green leaves, a leitmotif of many of his works, are scattered casually across the surface of this mysterious and complex still life.


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