Important South African Art

Live Auction, 16 May 2011

Session Two
  • Karel Nel; Convergence, House of the Initiate

Lot Estimate
ZAR 350 000 - 500 000

About this Item

South African 1955-
Convergence, House of the Initiate

signed and dated 1992; inscribed with the title

pastel on bonded fibre
236 by 175cm excluding frame


Karel Nel is a respected collector of African, Asian and Oceanic art with a particular interest in the sacred and in the social values of art.

According to Nel:

Over many years, my interest has focused on sacred art and how the values of societies are encoded, consciously or unconsciously, in the art of various cultures. Sacred or hallowed values inform the construction of consensus realities, belief systems that underpin social action and economy. These inform different systems of value that enable trade and transactions in various places, ranging from stock exchanges and art auction houses to remote fishing villages of the world. It is these complex transactions and their varied manifestations and shifts across time, that continue to prompt and inspire both my inextricably linked art-making and collecting.i
His search for spiritual dimensions in art echoes that of Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian and Constantin Brancusi, artists whom he admires. Like Alexis Preller, whose recent monograph he co-authored, Nel is interested in traditional cultures and in where the convergences and commonalities between the traditional and the contemporary may be found. With obvious references in this work to indigenous cultures, such as that of the Venda and Lovedu, we may assume that he is exploring initiation and rites of passage as practiced amongst local groups. However, Nel’s interest lies primarily in gaining metaphysical insight. For Nel, says Rory Doepel, “the task of life is self-transformation and growth: works of art can facilitate such a process for both the creator and spectator, through the power of symbols of transformation”.ii Nel sees the house as a universal symbol associated with a nurturing environment and a space for the meeting of ideas. Like Henri Matisse, whom he also admires, Nel creates interiors filled with objects collected on exploratory journeys. Here the artist’s studio bedroom includes his bed covered in a dramatically striped Arabic cloth over his bed – the bed is at once a physical object and the locus of dreaming. The white bonded fibre fabric on which he transfers brilliant colour and dynamic marks radiates lightness as if illuminating ideas.
Karel Nel studied Fine Art at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, St Martin’s School of Art in London and the University of California, Berkeley on a Fulbright Placement from 1989 to 1991. He now lives and works in Johannesburg and is Associate Professor at the School of Arts, University of the Witwatersrand.
He has considerable expertise in southern African art and advises and consults with museums in South Africa, New York, London and Paris. He has also been part of curatorial teams for major international exhibitions on early Zulu, Tsonga and Shangaan art, and has contributed to numerous publications on this material. His substantial collection of both African and Oceanic traditional currencies is on loan to the Nedbank Headquarters in Sandton.
i Michael Smith, Karel Nel: Artbio,
ii Rory Doepel, Karel Nel: Transforming Symbols, no place, no date.

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