Sunday, 15 October 2017 at 11:00 for 11:30.
The Pretoria Art Museum and the Association of Arts Pretoria invite you to a retrospective exhibition of South African artist, Margaret Nel, featuring a selection of over 70 paintings, spanning a career of over four decades.
The exhibition will be opened by Warren Siebrits Renowned art historian, consultant and curator
These early works, completed between 1970 and 1976, are characterised by the use of the abstracted figure as a means to suggest the effects of societal isolation, emotional withdrawal and mental debilitation. These silent, nameless players are forever caught at the margins of relevance, in a no-man’s land of their own — and others’ — construction. In certain works, such as Two cups (1974) and Mrs A (1974), there is the inference of a social invitation, the terms of which are unclear or perhaps even threatening. With the 1970 New Signatures Prize for painting being awarded for Tea time I, and again in 1973 for Mr S, it became evident that figurative work would remain a primary vehicle for Nel to express themes of psychological distress and isolation.
Having won critical acclaim with selected early work, Nel’s output lapsed for nearly a decade — a hiatus that only ended in 1988 after viewing the work of Penny Siopis and Keith Dietrich at the Cape Town Triennial of that year. A period of great productivity followed, shaped by Postmodern tendencies towards compositional complexity, eclecticism and socio-politically charged commentary, with much of Nel’s work addressing marginalised feminist and environmental identities.
In works such as Regina of the famished land (1992), To you shall be given (1992) and Waiting for the Renaissance (1998), the barren landscape acts as the common stage upon which a recurring cast of players make bids at self-preservation: a makeshift shelter, a crudely demarcated claim to privacy, a futile attempt at escape. While these works can be read as a response to issues of displacement and power pertinent to the time, including South Africa’s uncertain democratic transition, the Burundian and Rwandan genocides of 1993 and 1994, and the first wave of global warming awareness, they bear equal relevance to current global concerns around statelessness and immigration.
Post-2000, Nel turned to the use of crockery as a still-life motif stereotypically associated with domesticity and feminine identity. While Nel’s early and Postmodern work frequently features the tea cup as a recurring symbolic device, these later renditions present these vessels as fractured, fragmented, overturned — suggestive of some earlier violence, either physically or psychologically inflicted. In Spill (2009) and Stain (2009), the spillage and subsequent stains resulting from this disturbance seem to imply a loss of control, or perhaps even that of blood. This inference is especially relevant in light of the national increase in, and normalisation of violent crime, especially that of sexual assault, since South Africa’s political transition in 1994.
Returning once more to figurative subject matter in the mid-2000s, Nel specifically focused on skin laid bare to the elements, as a metaphor for psycho-emotional or physical vulnerability. Exposed skin, and the trauma inflicted upon it by the effects of the sun or the cold, alludes to a lack of preparedness for existing, or perhaps forthcoming, adverse conditions. These inadequate attempts at self-preservation possibly point to a premature transition from an Arcadian age of innocence to a state of worldliness and disenchantment — whether sexual, political or emotional. In Exposed: Willem, 28 (2006), Nel presents a charged figurative study, the subject’s sunburnt skin echoing a sense of anxiety and unease.
Nel’s latest body of work is distinguished by three investigations of the same theme: cuts of meat, baked goods and fresh produce, all rendered on an oversized, visceral scale. Either encased (and therefore preserved) or breached (and thereby vulnerable to decay), these works represent a conflict between an outer and inner reality that immediately forces the subject matter out of the mould of “still life”.
In works such as Bleed I (2014) and Slab II (2015), her explorations of meat call to mind the carcasses of Rembrandt and Bacon; only here, blunt-force brutality is sanitised and commodified with plastic and polystyrene — alluding, perhaps, to the mythologisation of flesh and ritual apportioning of spoils. Her representations of processed confectionary, heavy with glazing and piped cream, such as Two buns I (2014) and Custard buns 6s (2015), inherently call to mind female sexual organs, either preserved from, or poised for, the processes of decay. This tension between the cleanliness and corruption of flesh is also demonstrated in Nel’s explorations of fresh produce, which too succumb to softening and eventual decomposition.
Nel’s work is housed in numerous public, private and corporate collections, including the Universities of Stellenbosch, Free State and Pretoria, and the collections of SASOL, Telkom, ABSA and Rand Merchant Bank.
More information is available at www.margaretnel.com.
The Pretoria Art Museum is located at the corner of Francis Baard and Wessels Street, Arcadia, Pretoria, and is open to the public from Tuesday to Sunday between 10:00 and 17:00.
Kelda van Heerden (artist representation): 073 1901 351 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Margaret Nel (artist): 083 489 7010 or email@example.com
Hannelie du Plessis (art museum): 012 358 6748 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Museum hours: 10:00 to 17:00 on Tuesdays to Sundays
Closed on Mondays and public holidays
Tel: 012 358 6750
Address: Cnr Francis Baard and Wessels Street, Arcadia Park, Arcadia
GPS coordinates: Latitude 25°44’53.63”S; Longitude 28°12’45.20”E