Editing and design by Brenton Maart
Copy-editing by Lara Jacob
First published in 2021 by Nel Art (ISBN:978-0-620-93435-0)

Luan Nel (Malta Bella) is an insightful look into the work of artist Luan Nel. Known for his paintings of the natural world as well as his performance work as Donatella Visagie amongst others. The book broadly covers all three decades of this artists output. Nel subscribes to an art practice that consistently catches the audience unawares with its poetry as well as with an attention to detail and timing. It is no ordinary monograph with essays by leading art writers and interviews with artists and activists covering areas of identity, our South African context and the queer archive.
Striking that this is not the unfolding of one academic reading of an artist’s work. It includes an insightful and touching collection of essays by authors – Alexandra Dodd, Brenton Maart, Wilhelm van Rensburg, Robin Sassen and interviews with artists, Moshekwa Langa, Ilya Rabinovich, and Social Justice lawyer and activist Keval Harie.

Luan Nel. City Bowl. 2020. Oil on canvas. 90x140cm

Adding to the multiple voices, this publication finds itself not looking at an artist whose practice is centered around one theme, but rather at an oeuvre that explores various themes executed in many different mediums like painting, installation, photography and performance.

Despite branding being the ultimate measure for much that is considered cultural production today, Nel’s diverse output holds together without the need to endlessly repeat. It is refreshing to find such diversity all by the same artist. Nel’s agility to jump medium and work on various themes at the same time is beautifully illustrated throughout the book. What binds the different works is Nel’s ability to create work that teases meaning and surprises.

ONTHOU-VERGEET. Installation. Tillburg. The Netherlands. 2000. Fundament Foundation

Alexandra Dodd says it well: “Principally, Nel is a painter who revels in creating installations. Often the two come together. But his genius lies in variation, multiplicity, recombination, and the evolution of his own private set of codes. Privacy and expressiveness might seem paradoxical impulses, but in Nel’s work they are intrinsically related.”

We gain a better understanding of the artist and his work by looking at it through many lenses. In the end we are left with an impression of a whole person with many interests and much to speak about. Luan Nel’s book consists of a multitude of different stories and points of view, each explored in depth and with finesse.

“When the child was a child, it was the time of these questions: Why am I me, and why not you? Why am I here, and why not there? When did time begin, and where does space end? Isn’t life under the sun just a dream?” – From Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire (1987) – quoted from Peter Handke’s Song of childhood.

LUAN NEL (Malta Bella) is available through Nel Gallery at admin@nelart.co.za
It is priced at R400 a copy, shipped anywhere within South Africa.

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