Visual Arts: Shock of the Bushveld

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Indy Lifestyle Online
This is meant to be a visual arts column - which means painting and sculpture and, I suppose, any and every other art of a visual nature - but for some reason I never seem to get beyond painting and sculpture. This week, then, something a little different: an exhibition of new work by the ceramicist Hylton Nel.

Actually, it's about painting and sculpting again, for Nel does both in the course of making his wonderful clay creations. He lives and works in the tiny town of Bethulie in South Africa, but the things that he makes there seem to come from all over the ancient and modern world. As he puts it: "I take both East and West as my cultural heritage. I work as best I can with the past for inspiration".

Much of his work is made to be used: there are mugs and jugs and bowls and plates, especially plates, but there are also all sorts of sculpted figures, from men with bulging shorts, or no shorts at all, to grinning cats and all manner of mythical beasts.

Whatever the final shape or form, Nel's ceramics are always beautifully made, albeit with a deliberate clumsiness that recalls the work of earlier times.

The crucial element, however, is always the colour. Not so much in the paintings that decorate the surface, although these are well and often very wittily done, but the base colour. The simple glazes in yellow or green or blue or milky white give his work its unmistakable character. These are some of the most distinctive and most enjoyable ceramics around. Don't miss them.

Hylton Nel's ceramics are on show at the Fine Art Society, 148 New Bond Street, London W1 (0171-629 5116) from 22 Sept to 16 Oct