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About the Artist

Margaret Nel is an artist working in Pretoria, South Africa, since 1974. Her early work was largely influenced by the late Pop movement, in particular Hard Edge, the Nouvelle Figuration group, and the British strain of the Movement - Hockney, Blake, and the disjointed figurative work of Ronald Kitaj and Francis Bacon being notable influences.

Nel's early themes focused on anatomically distorted groups of figures, typically occupying shaped canvases and frequently featuring athletes derived from newspaper clippings of runners captured mid-event. Hands and feet cropped, these figures became visceral and anonymous, and symbolic of the human instinct of pushing aside others for personal position.

Nel soon moved away from the Hard Edge tendency with her inclusion of, and eventually focus on, distorted facial features and hands, garnering her early critical acclaim. With the completion of Mrs A in 1974, it became evident that the figure would remain a primary vehicle for Nel to express themes of psychological distress and isolation.

In the late 1980s, Nel's work intuitively moved towards Postmodernism, with more complex compositions and an emphasis on iconoclasm and multiple readings of her work. The loss of individual control became a dominant theme during this decade. With the simultaneous sudden tide of emigration from South Africa, Nel's work focused on the theme of exodus and failed flight, and the notion of inadequate physical and emotional preparation. Global concerns regarding environmental abuse led Nel's work to explore the a lack of environmental sustenance, which for her also symbolised a lack of emotional sustenance.

Post-2000, Nel's work became increasingly concerned with the idea of loss of personal control in relation to random violence, which remains a psychological preoccupation in South Africa. The effects of such mental debilitation, and the resultant loss of identity, has led her to explore the figure in over life-size proportions, with a particular interest in exposed skin.

Nel's current work focuses on the notion of physical and emotional preservation and decay, with enlarged renderings of meat and more recently, highly processed confectionary, encased in plastic or styrofoam. The glace frosting and piped cream are highly visceral and sexual - both inviting and repulsive, inedible. In certain works, Nel explores the items before and after decay sets in, calling to mind the preoccupation with female identity via sexuality, the inevitable process of ageing and final exclusion of the aged individual from society.


  • 1974 S.A. Association of Arts Gallery, Pretoria
  • 1976 Gallery 82, Bloemfontein
  • 1980 S.A. Association of Arts Gallery, Pretoria
  • 1990 Potchefstroom Museum, Potchefstroom
  • 1990 S.A. Association of Arts Gallery, Pretoria
  • 1990 University of the Free State Gallery, Bloemfontein
  • 2000 Barriers, National Cultural History Museum, Pretoria [ Retrospective ]
  • 2009 Domestic Exposure, The Tina Skukan Gallery, Pretoria
  • 2017 Retrospective: 1970 - 2017, The Pretoria Art Museum


  • 1970 New Signatures / winner of New Signatures Painting Award
  • 1973 New Signatures / winner of New Signatures Painting Award
  • 1991 Cape Town Triennial, Cape Town
  • 1992 Kempton Park / Tembisa Fine Arts Award
  • 1993 Momentum Art Exhibition, Pretoria
  • 1993 Pretoria Painters and Sculptors 1963-1993, Pretoria Art Musuem, Pretoria
  • 1994 -1998 Kempton Park / Tembisa Fine Arts Award
  • 1995 We the People - United for the Global Environment, Pretoria Art Musuem, Pretoria
  • 1996 From Feather Duster to the Sublime - A Look at Women's Art in Pretoria, Open Window Contemporary Art Gallery, Pretoria
  • 1997 Executive Art, S.A. Association of Arts Gallery, Pretoria
  • 2000 - 2001 Kempton Park / Tembisa Fine Arts Award
  • 2003 - 2007 Kempton Park / Tembisa Fine Arts Award


  • University of Stellenbosch
  • University of the Free State
  • University of Pretoria
  • Oliewenhuis Art Museum, Bloemfontein
  • Pretoria Art Museum
  • The Gauteng Provincial Government (formerly Transvaal Provincial Administration)


  • SASOL Art Collection, Johannesburg
  • Telkom Art Collection, Johannesburg
  • ABSA Bank Art Collection, Johannesburg
  • Rand Merchant Bank Art Collection, Johannesburg

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