Ronél de Jager is an award-winning South African visual artist. Born in Johannesburg (1985), she has lived and worked in the city for much of her life. De Jager is a multidisciplinary artist, working in painting, video, sculpture and installation.
She deals with the concept of time, with environmental concerns and with personal narratives as microcosms of broader social issues.
Her entrée onto the professional contemporary art scene in South Africa was with 2014/2015’s ‘AM: After Midnight’, a trio of multimedia exhibitions. In 2017, she was awarded the KANNA Award for the best exhibition at that year’s KKNK Arts Festival. This was for her show ‘Broeigrond: Fertile Ground for Golden Regrets’. Additionally, she has participated in numerous curated group shows, in the important collaborative show ‘MYOPIA’ with Mandy Coppes-Martin, and in the critically acclaimed group show ‘Sacred & Profane’, both in 2017. She has been a regular finalist in National Art Competitions; ABSA L’Atelier (2008, 2013 and 2015), Sasol New Signatures (in 2008, 2010 and 2014) and the Thami Mnyele Fine Arts Awards (in 2011 to 2016).
De Jager is also a recipient of the MTN Foundation Award (2003). Her work has been presented at the at Cape Town Art Fair (2015) as well as the Turbine Art Fair (2013 – 2019). In January 2020, she concluded a four-month residency at Bag Factory Artist’s Studios in Newtown, Johannesburg.
Her works are included in a significant number of public and private collections, locally and abroad, including ABSA, First Rand Limited, Hollard SA & Australia, Rand Merchant Rank, Sasol, Telkom, Spier Arts Trust, Nando’s International and the permanent collection of the South African National Library.
Permanent installations of her ‘Citizen of Glass’ sculpture series have been commissioned by First Rand Limited, (housed at Merchant Place, Sandton) and Hollard (housed at The Pines, Parktown, Johannesburg). She has also completed recent public commissions for Nando’s UK and Edgars & VMLYR for their 2020 winter campaign.
De Jager’s work shifts between painting, sculpture and installation. She deals with concepts of time, environmental concerns and with personal narratives as microcosms of broader social issues. In De Jager’s oeuvre, transience is the constant, change the leitmotif, both conceptually and formally. Her works demonstrate the continuous transformation to which every form is subjected and reflect on the eternal processes of becoming and of passing away. In this, she resonates with philosopher and sociologist Georg Simmel: “By ‘nature’, we mean the endless connection of things, the uninterrupted production and negation of forms, the flowing unity of occurrence that is expressed in the continuity of temporal and spatial existence. Matter, every kind of material, is constantly in a process of transformation.”
De Jager says, “I’m continuously fascinated with time on a grand scale, through ideas of evolution of the world around us, geological time and the antiquity of the earth. But I also want these histories to speak of a contemporary moment and show the response from the earth to our presence.” In her paintings, De Jager’s abiding interest in translating photographic and video imagery into ambiguous, suggestive paint marks enables her to explore liminal states. Blurry paintings imply movement, as if to explore a kind of spatial liminality: unclear landscapes suggest rapid movement. The disturbance created by this is unsettling, as the details of the landscape resist our grasp. In the place of a full understanding, the viewer is left with a mere sensation, an intense yet transient impression of the scenes De Jager explores.
A similar transience is to be detected in her working process: De Jager continually shifts her practice and evolves her interests. Her forays into the 3-dimensional have moved her practice into creating environments for her work, as seen in her 2017 exhibition ‘Broeigrond: Fertile Ground for Golden Regrets’. This installation, which secured her the KANNA Award for the best exhibition at the KKNK Arts Festival of that year, delved into concepts of existence, evolution and life’s fragility. Using electroplating to grow quasi-organic shapes onto Karoo flora, De Jager showed individual sculptures, as specimens, in handblown glass vessels. Their fragility heightened by their suspension in mid-air, the works spoke of ecological concerns; along with the overwhelmingly red paintings that accompanied them, the installation had a sense of urgency in speaking about our species’ impact on our environment.