50 Years of Ceramics: Bowls by Hylton Nel

WORDS Cheri Morris


STEVENSON Johannesburg presents Bowls, an overview exhibition that follows artist-potter Hylton Nel‘s 50+ year relationship with the form and decoration of bowls.

Bowls is a retrospective exploration – an exhibition drawn from Hylton’s own archive collection, one developed over his entire career.

He says, “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. […] 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. […] You need time to see them.”

For Hylton, the bowl is a shape that makes sense – a historically universal form whose wonder lies in its unassuming typicality. “I like to make things that are just simple, ordinary, easy to use. Bowls themselves are versatile,” says Hylton. Inspired by the will of the glaze, the weight and shape of the bowl, unintentional brush strokes, he allows his forms to guide his process, always asking “what do I do with this, so that it feels easy?”

Hylton Nel

In this way, his process is one that asks his forms to manifest themselves. “I suppose I’m trying to make things that just exist, as if they’ve always existed; 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,” he concludes.


Bowls is on show at STEVENSON Johannesburg until 13 August 2022. For more information, visit stevenson.com.

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