Karel Nel ‘Wayfarer, Mudif, Johannesburg’ Strauss & Co 13th November 2017 Auction

Much of my drawing and environmental artwork explore the external and internal phenomena we call reality and, in my work, I draw on both artistic and scientific ways of making the world.’ Karel Nel

Karel Nel, Wayfarer, Mudif, Johannesburg

Wayfarer, Mudif, Johannesburg, 2004, 2005, forms part of a series of drawings by Karel Nel shown on his 2005 London Exhibition titled, In the Presence of Leaves. This series of works constitute a breathtaking body of drawings that are elegies for our times: tributes to the beauty and symbolic value of trees and their threatened position through environmental exploitation.

Nel has travelled extensively to remote parts of the world, collecting some of the largest leaves in existence. From the famous Coco de Mer palms on the Seychelles to Baobab fibres found in Morandava in Madagascar, and the Pandanus leaves of Rabal, New Island, in Micronesia, these exquisite specimens have been taken to Nel’s studio in Johannesburg to become the very substance of his investigations into nature and the ecological conundrums of our time.

Nel says, ‘Leaves have always struck me as such remarkable structures. They have the ability to produce nutrition from sunlight, and their forms clearly reflect the radiant nature of their purely contained and diffuse energy fields. For they have been a model for me of the sacred, purposeful and non-wasteful life that continues quietly without partaking in the violent food chain of consumption upon consumption. They are nonetheless flamboyant, while transitory and cyclical, with transcendent inevitability in their life cycle.’

In Wayfarer, Mudif, Nel draws the vast leaf of the coco-de-mer palm of the Seychelles in his studio, Mudif, in Johannesburg. Two wooden stools of the Asante people of Ghana stand before the leaf as testament to the enforced exile of Asantehene (king) Prempe I to the Seychelles by the British in the late nineteenth century.

Wayfarer, Mudif, evokes the simple life on North Island, a beautiful until recently uninhabited island in the Seychelles where over the past years Nel has explored and had the opportunity to work for specific periods. With a lean-to made of a huge palm leaf for shelter, and later in the exquisitely designed structures by architect Silvio Rech, he scoured the great palm forests of the island observing plants, birds, fruits and hundred-year-old tortoises.

After complex negotiations with the Seychelles Ministry of Environment, Nel was able to harvest three vast coco de mer palm leaves to accompany him back to his studio. These were transformed into a magnificent series of large drawings that describes a natural luxuriance. The leaves are set in atmospheric, elemental architectural spaces. Reflected in the works is Nel’s meditative approach to the natural world: to its temporal dynamics and the lines, points and relations where art, science and biology meet.

Nel is one of South Africa’s most distinguished and internationally respected artists. He is Associate Professor of Fine Art at the University of the Witwatersrand, travels extensively and is a renowned collector and curator of traditional African artefacts. He is a former Fulbright scholar to the University of California, Berkeley and is the winner of numerous awards, commissions and residencies. His work may be found in most museums and public and private collections in South Africa, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, Washington DC, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and in the British Museum, London.


Cataloging Details:

signed, dated 2004/2005 and inscribed with the title on the reverse; inscribed with the artist’s name, title, date and medium on an Art First Contemporary Art label adhered to the reverse ; charcoal, pastel and sprayed pigment on bonded fibre fabric ; sheet size: 181 by 181cm

Website: https://www.straussart.co.za/

View the e-catalogue here: https://www.straussart.co.za/shared/auctions/087/catalogue/



Alexis Preller ‘Sea Amphora’ – Strauss & co 13th November 2017 Auction

This work, Sea Amphora, was exhibited as part of a series of four works by Alexis Preller titled, Sea Amphora, Sun Amphora, Earth Amphora and Winged Amphora, at the Pieter Wenning Gallery in 1962. This was an unexpected departure in concept and handling of a newly introduced classical Greek theme, a new dimension in Preller’s mythography.

He had long been fascinated by Grecian art, was widely read and very knowledgeable about the ancient culture, although his only previous use of Grecian subject matter in a major painting had been in Wounded Sculpture (1947). The new works projected an altogether different mood. In this painting, an amphora or vessel-like form floats rather flatly on an azure blue background. A stark tonal rendition of a bearded head of Poseidon, from a famous ancient Greek bronze, is imposed on the golden-ochre urn form.

Preller finally travelled to Greece and Turkey in 1968, seeing at firsthand the early Greek bronzes and marble Kouros figures, which further prompted the influence of ancient Greek art on the themes of his future work.

Sea Amphora was included on the 1972 Preller Retrospective at the Pretoria Art Museum. The long-term influence of this image of the Poseidon head only became apparent when it was eventually exhibited alongside his subsequent large intaglio mythical heads, made after his return from Greece. These intaglios were an unusual Preller innovation, in his use of a negative cast relief, a mould-like structure cast in resin and then painted to read in reverse.

Karel Nel


Sea Amphora


Cataloging Details:

signed and dated 62 ; oil on panel ; 51 by 38cm

Website: https://www.straussart.co.za/

View the e-catalogue here: https://www.straussart.co.za/shared/auctions/087/catalogue/

Posted in ART MARKET, ARTIST, COLLECTING ART, Johannesburg, Painter, SOUTH AFRICA | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Alexis Preller ‘Fleurs du Mal’ – Strauss & co 13th November 2017 Auction

Alexis Preller Fleurs du Mal, 1944, signed and dated 44 ; oil on canvas ; 48 by 116,5cm

This iconic work, Fleurs du Mal (1944), was often included in Esmé Berman’s public lectures when she was presenting and discussing Alexis Preller. While Berman and I were researching works for the Preller double volume publication, we were unable to track down and photograph this work, and were later informed that it was tragically lost in a fire. This necessitated our inclusion of an older, yellowed image of the work. The surprise of the recent emergence of Fleurs du Mal was thrilling and a relief that it had in fact not been destroyed. The revelation of its true colour again reinforces Preller’s reputation as a colourist.

Fleurs du Mal, painted in 1944 in direct response to his war experiences, is a striking record of his ability as an artist to process significant moments in a highly personalised manner. Preller had enlisted in 1940 to serve in the South African Medical Corps and had left for Egypt by boat, which travelled up the east African coast in April 1941. Preller chose not to be an active protagonist within the war but to serve and tend those injured in the cross-fire on the front lines. This saw him actively positioned with the medical corps as a stretcher-bearer in the north African campaign, positioned at the hotspots of Helwan, Mersa, Maltruh, El Alamein, Sidi Omar, Sidi Rezegh and Tobruk.

Preller was finally captured in June 1942 and sent as a prisoner of war to Italy. He was later moved to Egypt and finally returned to South Africa in1943 on a troop ship, again voyaging down the east coast of Africa.

This work Fleur du Mal painted a year later after his return reflects his seriousness as a painter and his need to re-engage with the interrupted life he had left behind.  His works eloquently embody his attempt to translate, integrate and transform his war experiences into a group of works which included Remembrance of Things Past and Prisoner of War, both painted in 1943. Both these works were included on his Johannesburg exhibition at the Gainsborough Gallery in June 1944.   The exhibition was opened by the poet, Uys Krige.

Esmé Berman, in recounting the genesis of Fleur du Mal, describes how his memories were very real. They encompassed images of brutally shattered bodies, but also included acts of huge compassion and the exercise of healing, to which he was a witness. The horror of pain was transformed by the transcended beauty of merciful repair. In his mind, the gauze swabs inserted into the shrapnel wounds took on the appearance of butterflies that had settled for a moment on the tortured flesh; and when he began to give artistic expression to wartime images that haunted him, he attempted to convey that paradox of beauty in the midst of horror.

Western convention tended to restrict portrayal of the male nude body to allegorical scenes of gods and history. Even so chaste an image of a nude young man may have appeared provocative. Thus, Alexis Preller avoided defining the gender of the androgynous figure. He transformed the gauze swabs of his memory into flowers scattered across the iodine-painted torso, and he borrowed French poet Charles Baudelaire’s literary title, Flowers of Evil.

Preller’s transformation of these painful wounds inflicted by the evils of war into poetic blooms represent a redemptive and healing act, both in his caring capacity as a medic in the tented operating theatres of the desert, and later in the solitary capacity as artist.

Spirit of the Dead watching Manao Tupapau, Paul Gauguin’s startling work of 1892, was inevitably the inspiration for Preller’s Fleurs du Mal. This painting is one of the earliest and most significant of his works to be influenced by Gauguin, who was to be an inspiration to Preller’s thinking and work over a lifetime.

In both the Preller and Gauguin works, the fluorescent flowers, decorative cloths and a figure set across the horizontal format, create an eerie and otherworldly quality. Both faces reflect a fear and vulnerability, and the paintings evoke an ethereal quality set off against the sheer physicality of the recumbent human form.

The fearful face engaging the viewer in Preller’s painting emerges from behind a broad shoulder. The startled almond-shaped eyes, broad forehead, straight nose and soft vermilion lips, cheekbone and ear are framed by the sharply pointed hair hanging down on one side. In contrast above a full body of hair echoes back, almost landscape-like, into the background. The undulating cloth upon which the young person’s body with the painfully swollen legs lies appears to transform, in the distance, into snowcapped mountains of the imagination or delirium, receding into the darkness.

The four corners of the work are painted bright yellows, red and black, alluding to the eroded edges of Gauguin’s famous work, Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (1897). These punctuating edges work like quotation marks alluding to the psychological and philosophical quests posed by Gauguin’s artistic pursuit and his sense of engaging extremity.

In this early powerfully poetic work, Fleurs du Mal, his tragic rendition of this damaged young man is a precursor to the leitmotif of the male nude in his oeuvre. The male nude plays out in many symbolic semblances: Adam, Apollo, David and Sebastian, all appear in different embodiments. These culminate in the empowered and transcendent male forms derived from the kouroi, the 5th century BC Greek marble sculptures. These heroic and iconic torsos are seen in Preller’s final triumphant Marathon works of the 1970s. On a profound level, they reflect a self-realisation for Preller himself, both as a man and an artist.

Metaphorically Preller seems to have engaged on a long journey, the vulnerable and damaged young man lying prone on the edge of the battlefield in Fleurs du Mal is a far cry from the transcendent Marathon images of his late works.

Karel Nel


Cataloging Details:

signed and dated 44 ; oil on canvas ; 48 by 116,5cm

Website: https://www.straussart.co.za/

View the e-catalogue here: https://www.straussart.co.za/shared/auctions/087/catalogue/

Posted in ARTIST, Johannesburg, Painter, SOUTH AFRICA, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Ernest Mancoba ‘Untitled’ – Strauss & co 13th November 2017 Auction

Ernest Mancoba dedicated this lithograph to his sister Edith Ntomtela (1910-2006), Diepkloof, Johannesburg.

Ernest Mancoba, Untitled 1989

signed, dated 89, numbered 119/120 and inscribed with the title in pencil ; colour lithograph ; image size: 39 by 28cm

One evening in 1990 Ernest Mancoba recalled the Mfingo ancestral history as told by Florence (born Mangwangwa) his mother. Their forebears were fleeing from Shaka’s tyranny in Zululand. Among their clan was an aged and weak granny. At a point she realised that she, being carried by the younger, more able members, was endangering their flight. She insisted and eventually persuaded them to leave her. This gave them a better chance to escape, and they bid her farewell.

The image of the lonely, fragile yet courageous lady that was conjured up in Mancoba’s mind on that evening stuck, and it became an icon. He merged this image with the time-honoured Kota figures of West Africa. The image of Untitled evolved from L’Anc être (1968-70), a major oil on canvas work, now in the Johannesburg Art Gallery. L’Anc être is based on that historic moment of the Mfingo flight.

Elza Miles


Cataloging Details:

1989 ; signed, dated 89, numbered 119/120 and inscribed with the title in pencil ; colour lithograph ; image size: 39 by 28cm

Website: https://www.straussart.co.za/

View the e-catalogue here: https://www.straussart.co.za/shared/auctions/087/catalogue/



Posted in ARTIST, Johannesburg, Lithograph, SOUTH AFRICAN CONTEMPORARY ART | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment


Joni Brenner has worked within and against the genre of portraiture since the early 1990s, making portraits in a range of media including oil on canvas, on wax slabs and on hard stone surfaces, and others made using clay and plasticine, sometimes cast in bronze and plaster.

Joni Brenner exhibits at Cape Town Art Fair 2015

Highly regarded artist, Joni Brenner exhibited six watercolours and five oils at the Cape Art Fair 2015. One of Brenner’s water colours here are investigations of the juvenile Taung skull, which pushed her understanding of lineage and belonging back some 2.5 million years. Her oil paintings presented at the Art Fair are all of Fred who arrived at the studio twice a week for a period lasting almost one year.

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Hovering at the point where art, science and biology intersect, renowned South African artist, Karel Nel’s approach to the natural world is meditative but also investigative. His long standing body of work entitled Elegies to the Forests, harbours a deep sense of lament as he grapples with the waning of the world’s great forests and the growing threat of their extinction. Yet his drawings inspire us to marvel at Nature’s gifts and to consider the compelling formal complexities of leaves themselves, alongside the tragic beauty they may come to represent.

Watch Karel Nel talk about his work – and the work of Joni Brenner

Karel Nel Parinirvana

Karel Nel at the Cape Town Art Fair talking about his work Parinirvana, 2013, pastel and pigment on fibre fabric, 181 X 181 cm.

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At the 2015 Cape Town Art Fair,  London based gallery, ART FIRST, presented Joni Brenner and Karel Nel, two prominent South African artists based in Johannesburg at the Wits School of Arts. Their influential teaching, curating and exhibiting have had a far-reaching impact locally and internationally. ART FIRST London is their principal gallery and further information, online catalogues and exhibition history can be found on the website: www.artfirst.co.uk

London based Art First's Clare Cooper and renowned South African artist, Karel Nel in front of his works at the 2015 Cape Town Art Fair.

London based Art First’s Clare Cooper and renowned South African artist, Karel Nel, at the 2015 Cape Town Art Fair.

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Marvellous Steven Cohen misdemeanour

A recurring nightmare of many an auction buyer must surely be successfully bidding on the wrong item. Well trust me, it can and does happen.

But first some back story. If memory serves me it was the early nineties when I first saw Steven Cohen’s work at the Johannesburg Art Gallery. It was an installation staged as a domestic setting using hand printed fabric to cover arm chairs, shown with exotic throws and chandeliers. I was intrigued by his splendidly colourful screen printed ‘uneasy chairs’, so flamboyantly gay, cheekily, cheerfully camp, shamelessly and shockingly erotic.

Steven Cohen work auctioned at Russell Kaplan last year

Steven Cohen work at Russell Kaplan (photograph courtesy RKA)

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ORLAN in front of Femme-girafe africaine Ndebelé souche nguni Zimbabwe et visage de femme Euro-parisienne, Self-Hybridation africane, 2000, Digital photograph, colour print, 155.5 x 124 cm  Saint Etienne, Musée d’Art Moderne de Saint-Etienne Métropole (photograph Cliff Shain, Standard Bank)

What a boon it was for contemporary art lovers to meet French born neo feminist artist ORLAN at the recent 20th Century Masters: The Human Figure exhibition, Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg, part of the French Season. Continue reading


Water, the [Delicate] Thread of Life

‘Water, the [Delicate] Thread of Life’, 29 July to 1 October 2011, sets out to navigate a course through the many wonders and complexities of water and to challenge the way we think about and respond to one of the most precious substances on earth.

Norman Catherine, Requiem, 1994. Oilstick on paper. 130 x 112 cm. Private Collection

Norman Catherine, Requiem, 1994. Oilstick on paper. 130 x 112 cm. Private Collection

The Standard Bank Gallery exhibition, curated by Marion Dixon, seeks to bring home just how fragile and tenuous life on earth would be without sustainable water resources.

[Publicity: http://www.businessday.co.za/articles/Content.aspx?id=151660]

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