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Jo Roets really took wing as an artist on the cusp of her 40th birthday. In 2017, aged 38, and after 14 years as a senior lecturer in a multimedia film school, she stepped away from academic life to focus on her own art. A year later her work was selected for three prominent South African competitions, and she won the inaugural StateoftheART Gallery Award. More accolades quickly followed, resulting in her first solo exhibition at StateoftheART Gallery in 2019. By 2020, recognition for her delicately considered sculptures took her work internationally.

But it would be a mistake to think her success alighted effortlessly on an outstretched hand. It is the fruit of her education, talent, and an admirable work ethic rooted in “getting things done instead of intending to do things.” Before taking up her own full-time studio practice, she worked in an art department in the film industry while simultaneously holding down an academic lectureship. Meanwhile, on the home front she was a wife and mother. She also faced a health struggle with alcohol. Taking control of her wellness included joining a support group, which turned out to be a pivotal and deeply enriching experience during which she met a diverse range of people from all walks of life. It gifted her with a profound understanding of how “people’s circumstances may differ, but we all share a common humanity.” The celebration of this human connection has informed her art making since.

She works with air-drying clay, a medium not typically associated with Fine Art, but which in her hands is transformed into luminous pieces that challenge the physical limits of what the substance will tolerate. Using unusual sculpting tools, including toothpicks and needles, she scores the damp surface of the clay to pattern it with intricate indents and incisions. Taking the clay to breaking point she welcomes the ways it warps during the process to reveal its unique character. The results are exquisitely fine, paper thin pieces scored with delicate bass relief detail, forms as frail and resilient as bird bones. Her collections to date are Murg, Fragments of Royalty, Mʌn.tɹə Mãe, Inner Eden - each is beautifully photographed on her website.

In the video below, Jo generously answers some of my Proust-ish questions, and reveals the woman behind the artist. She tells of her early career fears around following her heart, shares her dream to one day build a sustainable earth-build home, who she wishes she could have met, and other things. You come away feeling warmed and encouraged by her essence; take a look.

JO ROETS by Bev Tucker

Bio: Jo Roets is a graduate of P.J. Olivier art school in Stellenbosch (South Africa) where she took sculpture and ceramics as main subjects. She holds a tertiary level Diploma in Art Direction for film and television, as well as an Advanced Diploma in Motion Picture Production Design. Sasol New Signatures, Pretoria Art Museum (finalist), Tollman Bouchard Finlayson Art Award), Barrel Head Exhibition, Hermanus (finalist), Vuleka, Art.B Gallery, Bellville (finalist).  SMAC, Stateofthe ART, Lizamore & Associates, Rust & Vrede, Art.B, GUS, Imibala, Nel, Art Afrique, Breytenbagh Gallery, No End Contemporary, Art@Africa, Johann van Heerden, Art on Avenues, Christo Coetzee Museum, Trent Gallery, KKNK, Hermanus FynArts Festival, US Woordfees, Tulbagh Arts Festival. In 2020 she held her first exhibition abroad at Galeria Begbie & Coll in Spain. Her second solo exhibition, Murg, was shown at Rust & Vrede Gallery in 2022.Her work is featured in the recent publication Clay Formes - A Survey of Contemporary Clay from South Africa dedicated to the contemporary clay and ceramics scene in South Africa, unique in its use of literature and visual art to highlight the work of 30 South African artists.

Images: Silver Dune Photography @silverdunephoto, Jo Roets @jo.roets

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