Once Removed | Daniel Nel

Sat, February 9, 2019 to Sat, March 9, 2019

Daniel Nel brings a captivating body of work to SMITH with Once Removed, a collection paintings that act as moodscapes dealing with distraction, degrees of distance and the underlying tensions inherent in ordinary scenes.

Once Removed follows Nel’s inclusion in two group shows at SMITH in 2018 - Close Encounters and the year-ending Rendezvous - and marks his second solo exhibition after residencies in Antwerp and Berlin culminated in 2018’s Spell of Another at 99 Loop.

Nel’s works are orchestrators of mood and draw on unlikely choices of source material, remarkable in their understatedness. Using snapshot angles, and scenes which to him are quotidian, the works give a nod to Impressionism but nearly two centuries on feel more anxious and mistrustful about the world they portray. With a limited palette and by diluting the paint with liberal doses of turpentine on soft brushes, Nel’s shimmering, otherworldly works bring a magical, haunting quality to otherwise mundane moments.

With Once Removed, Nel’s focus has shifted from atmospheric landscapes, which were by and large architectural and unpeopled, toward portraiture. Using reference imagery partly sourced via Google, Instagram or Youtube, Nel played the role of voyeur and ghost, both witness to and participant in the dubious intimacies that arose.

“I find it interesting that if the audience did not know how I came upon a particular image, they could think that I was right there. This was only true in some cases. I am removed from my subject matter in that they are not always aware of me, and they in turn are removed from me. I can see their body but I cannot see where their thoughts are - so we are simultaneously yet differently removed from each other,” says Nel.

Nel’s fascination with absence and presence extends to addressing the idea that by being preoccupied, distant or distracted, one’s location in time and space becomes unclear. This is particularly relevant in our interactions with devices - whether a smartphone or tablet - and many of Nel’s figures are involved with such gadgetry in the paintings. This echos Nel’s own process of capturing the reference images in the first place - often via an abstract space accessed through a device, and not the location where the chosen photograph was taken.

“Many of the characters in my paintings are removed from themselves somehow; their bodies are in one place and their minds somewhere else. I feel that the way I have come across - as well as painted - these images echoes the not-fully-here quality of the subjects, so there is a relationship between the process and the subject matter.”

With so many deeply personal images on the internet that, having been uploaded, become less personal and open to public use, Nel was mindful of the possibility that there may be those who would take issue with their image being used as reference material, raising as this does an interesting point on consent. By sourcing his material in such a way Nel confronts the inherent voyeurism in this tactic. He clearly alludes to it in such works as Surgical Spirits, Neighbours and Foyer, thereby volunteering insight into his process.

“To me, a painting of an image is fundamentally different to that image, which is a whole other can of worms and something I hope to expand on in future shows.”

There is an element of preservation at play in Nel’s choices of imagery. By salvaging images deemed unremarkable from forgotten corners of the internet - some of these pictures came from ancient posts from blogs with two followers and were only found through browsing Google for hours - Nel resuscitates said images and provides them with new life and meaning.

Once Removed opens on 9 February, 2019 at 11h00 and will run until 9 March. For further enquiries or to set up and interview with the artist, please contact Jana Terblanche at jana@smithstudio.co.za