Top artist moulds budding talent


Top artist moulds budding talent

Renowned artist-potter Hylton Nel is incubating a new generation of protégés

Julia Freemantle

The importance of mentorship in the arts cannot be overstated. And while artists are, by and large, solitary creatures, the concept of art apprenticeships goes as far back as the Renaissance. Not only is it a vehicle to hand down skill, but it also serves to nurture the next creative generation.

Revered artist-potter Hylton Nel ( has, over the years, drawn together a collective of ceramicists in his home town of Calitzdorp. An entirely organic process, through which artists informally started to visit his studio and pick up a piece of clay to experiment with, it’s evolved into something of a community. “It came about by chance, out of the landscape,” he says. In his gentle guidance of Imeldo “Melvin” Wagenaar, Hannes “Basie” Gerhadus, Jacobus Frans, Mexicano Da Pointers and Reuben Manuel, who have become members of the unofficial “School of Nel”, the artist has assumed the role of teacher (not for the first time — those in the know will be familiar with the work of his former mentee, the late Nico Masemola, who went on to great success as an artist).

Nel’s work, which spans 50 years and is instantly recognisable for its distinctive but diverse visual language, encompasses figurines, small sculptures, plates and bowls, and touches on everything from political commentary (Barack Obama has various pieces dedicated to him) to art history and literature (often expressed via text). He’s known for his whimsical depictions of everyday life — cats are a recurring theme — and irreverent humour...

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