- Daniel Nel
“It is the task of the translator to release in their own language that pure language that is under the spell of another, to liberate the language imprisoned in a work in their re-creation of that work.”
- Walter Benjamin
“Spell of Another” continues Daniel Nel’s exploration of painting as a means of articulating his concerns with our relationship to space. Each painting in this show began with a charged encounter between himself and a real, imagined, remembered, but mostly photographed place. The encounters were charged because these places, through their structures or volume, carried visual or emotive attributes in which a number of Nel’s artistic concerns were symbolised. The act of then basing a painting on an encounter comes from such an effort to make the concerns in that set of spatial attributes more visible.
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For this show, the charge generated by one particular spatial concern ended up overriding the rest in the process of selecting the reference imagery, providing a starting point for the works. This was the interplay or tension evidenced within spaces which contain a demarcated frame of some kind – a stage, playing field, mirror or other framed image. These paintings display a move from open or outdoor environments to interior spaces.
Even in the works which show an outdoor space, there is some reference to a boundary, which brings Nel’s concerns with volume to the foreground. Paintings are themselves framed off from the space around them. For Nel, demarcated spaces seem to always be at odds with the spaces they exist in, because of the way they contain a different logic or set of laws to the space outside themselves. The inclusion of different kinds of frames also alludes to the central role the act of looking plays in painting.
The title of the show refers to the process of making these concerns visible, and comes from a passage by Walter Benjamin which speaks about the task of the translator being that of freeing the language which is locked in a text they are translating. Nel positions his paintings as an act of translation due to the central role which the photographic image plays in their creation. The moments which the paintings capture are ultimately mundane, but are cast in an uneasy, dreamlike light through the register of monochromatic washes. “For me,” he comments, “painting is an act of freeing or focusing on certain things which are locked up in the images I work from.”
Daniel Nel grew up in Durban and now lives in Cape Town. He studied painting at Rhodes and graduated in 2013. Working mostly from reference material, his paintings are characteristically flat, monochromatic, and ethereal. His painterly articulation of environments as arrangements of shimmers and disappearances invoke a psycho-geographical, phenomenological and physical reading of space.