9 July - 20 August 2022
Hylton Nel

STEVENSON is pleased to present Bowls, an overview exhibition of ceramics by artist-potter Hylton Nel, who has considered the form and decoration of bowls for the past 60 years. As he notes:

It’s a shape that makes sense. Historically the form of the bowl has emerged and evolved universally, so there are an infinite array of references from cultures in China to Europe to Africa to the Middle East to bring into one’s own bowls. I like to make things that are just simple, ordinary, easy to use. Bowls themselves are versatile, they can be held with one hand, their contents scooped up with the other. The bowl’s foot is there to prevent hot liquid burning your hands, the heat transfers to the foot, so you can hold it, but the foot can also be used for a little wire to wrap around, to hang it up, for use and display.
I need a starting idea that fascinates me in some way, and I want to see what it would look like if I did that and that and that. It has to interest me enough to want to pursue; at the same time one tries to be practical. It’s a lot of things and it’s the whole thing. What kind of shape am I using ­– a bowl shape, a basic shape. It can be useful, it’s a basic useable shape. And the colour? And what do I do with the edge, so that it feels easy? The weight of it, the shape of it. And then the outside of the bowl, which if it’s hung on a wall wouldn’t be visible, but somehow for the bowl to be complete it needs something on the outside, but what? The glaze inspires me.
These funny little things are in the head while you are working, and respond to the immediate stuff you are working with. It could be green paint off the brush, which otherwise you might twist and turn to make it into a tree with leaves, but just that green, as it were, strives to exist in its own right. How could it best manifest itself? I suppose I’m trying to make things that just exist, as if they’ve always existed, and a reluctance to say ‘these hands totally made that’. Or, in other words, calling something into existence without actually being there for every little something of its manifestation. To have something come into being without, as it were, totally controlling it.

Bowls is wholly drawn from Nel’s own archive collection that he has set aside over the years, and includes works spanning 50 years of deeply personal exploration. For him,

When you look at the variety of things made over time, sometimes they are made around the same time but look very different from one another; other times things are separated by time, but look very similar. As far as I am concerned they are the same, but in fact there are variations and changes. Things are ‘of a time’, there are flows, and sometimes they shift abruptly. I only see them clearly after a while, because at the time of making it you’re sort of in the middle of it. Time gives it distance. After a long time I can look at my things and think, that’s nice, but in that moment of making it, one is too close. You need time to see them.

The exhibition opens Saturday 9 July, 10am to 1pm.