Circuit/Accelerator drawing with mixed media on acrylic bonded paper 230 x 180cm (90 9/16 x 70 7/8in).
PROVENANCE: Purchased circa 1991, Natalie Knight Gallery, Johannesburg Thence by descent to the current owner
LITERATURE: R. Doepel, Karel Nel: Transforming Symbols, (Johannesburg, 1993), illustrated fig.2
Born in 1955, Johannesburg-based Karel Nel began his career studying fine art at the University of the Witwatersrand and St Martins. Alongside winning numerous prestigious art awards, his works are included in several national and international collections, including the Smithsonian Institute National Museum of African Art. Nel's work is characterised by the pursuit of connectedness, exploring, as Esmé Berman articulates, the "incandescent moment when we are aware of the interlinkedness of everything", particularly the nexus of art and science.
Nel received a Fulbright Placement to the University of California at Berkeley in the late 1980s. Here he continued his investigation into contemporary physics, undertaking works such as the current lot, Circuit/Accelerator, which was completed between July 1988 and May 1989. His more recent inclusion as artist-in-residence in the COSMOS project (the cosmic evolution survey) develops similar concerns. Nel's works are stylistically typified by an additive process whereby form is gradually built through a layering of gestural marks, these marks being utilised, as Rory Doepel reveals, "as both code and pattern". For Nel, the artist is a conduit for intellectual and intuitive information from the outside world, from nuclear physics to esoteric mysticism, which combine with sensory and aesthetic qualities to transcend any particular context.
Circuit/Accelerator explores the wave and particle theory of light. The dots in the work are representations of particles. Many of the dots have tails, evoking the sense of wave and movement in particles. The work was strongly informed by Nel's interest in experiments attempting to accelerate particles beyond the speed of light. In addition, the dot pattern introduces an intentional ambiguity into Nel's works, where the dots could be read as hidden images revealed through "connecting" the dots. Recurring motifs in Nel's work reference chaos theories and the intersection of art and physics: these motifs manifest as circuit diagrams, rotating cones, electrical circuits and artificial intelligence coding systems. These forms defy gravity, emerging across the picture plane in chaotic order, such that the resulting picture has no singular viewpoint. Concerned with theories of perception, Nel acknowledges that the spectator takes on a vital role in constructing meaning in his works and that his works are incomplete without the participation of the viewer.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: E. Berman, Painting in South Africa, (Johannesburg, 1993), p.341 R. Doepel, Karel Nel: Transforming Symbols, (Johannesburg, 1993), p.2