Karel Nel
In the Presence of Leaves
13 September - 13 October 2005


In the Presence of Leaves, constitutes a wonderful 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.

Karel 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 South Africa to become the very substance of his investigations into nature and the ecological conundrums of our time.

The new drawings evoke the simple life on North Island, a beautiful uninhabited island in the Seychelles where over the past four 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 Silvio Reich, he scoured the great palm forests of the island observing plants, birds, fruits and hundred year old tortoises.

These extraordinary Coco de Mer palms grow exclusively in a tiny eco-sphere within the chain of islands. 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. Transformed into works for this exhibition, and into one commissioned work which will return to North Island to be installed in the library, the new series of large drawings 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.

Karel Nel is one of South Africa's most distinguished and internationally respected artists. A contemporary of William Kentridge and Marlene Dumas, he is Associate Professor of Fine Art at the University of the Witwatersrand, and follows a private path, moving internationally as a 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 every museum and public collection in South Africa, the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art, Washington DC, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. His work has also been collected by major private collectors in Europe.