Catalogue Contemporary Fine Art Exhibition Jaco Roux
“What is the stuff of art?
For Roux I’d say colour itself, colour thrust upon an arid land, colour imported, pasted, blocked,
thin and thick, lined, quivered, rich.”
Ashraf JamalWildtuin I, Oil on canvas, 35 x 35 cm (detail)
JACO ROUX - LANDSCAPE PAINTER
Jaco Roux’s work cannot simply be inserted within an existing tradition for to do so
would, wittingly or unwittingly, refuse to recognise that while Roux has absorbed that
tradition he has done so the better to bind it to its inevitable transformation. How so?
Roux’s paintings, while they can be relished individually, are first and foremost studies which form a suite.
Each painting echoes the next. As translations of space into a practiced place, Roux’s landscapes become
both objective representations and insertions of a subjective relationship within that represented world. We
see the Limpopo landscape receding into the distance and watch as it breaks in the middle ground, while, in
the foreground, the perspective flattens, drops, is suddenly foreshortened by blocks and planes of bold colour.
Here we are witnessing the superimposition of two very distinct painterly traditions, naturalism and abstraction.
Itis ofcourse the tension between these markedlydifferenttraditionswhich gives Roux’s paintings theirsignature.
It is all the more intriguing that Roux’s overlay of naturalism and abstraction continues, uncannily, to echo
the picturesque tradition which, as J.M. Coetzee notes, generates ‘a foreground characterised by “force and
richness”, by “roughness of texture”, in contrast to the tenderness of the middle and foreground’. However for
Roux the force, richness, roughness, stems from the deformation and abstraction of the world. Roux, quite
literally, imposes the techniques and style of ‘hard’ abstraction and fauvism onto the landscape. That he does
so without cancelling the aesthetic regime of picturesque representation is truly remarkable. His coulisse is the
broad, blunt incursion of Modernism. In effect, what Roux has achieved is a merger of two seemingly mutually
exclusive traditions, or, it can be said that he has thrust together the discordant tectonic plates of naturalism
and abstraction. What makes the achievement uncanny is the effortlessness of the merger, and that in the
doing he has in no way contaminated the core principles of the picturesque. Rather, his is a strange new and
utterly plausible cohabitation and embrace of two strikingly dissimilar yet serendipitously paired traditions.
In Jaco Roux’s landscape painting the neoclassical and picturesque blithely segues into the cool rupture
that is modernism. It is a masterful endeavour which also proves to be the artist’s tell, abstraction and
naturalism, the alien and the natural, for Roux we exist in a contrapuntal, dissonant, yet inclusive world. It
is this revisionist insight which could, psychically, imaginatively, humanly, allow for differences to coexist.
Jaco Roux allows these different cultural and aesthetic forms to coexist in a non-provocative, non-violent way .
Because what is markedly striking about Roux’s paintings is that they are soothing, consoling,
easing. The paintings emerge without parenthesis, qualification, doubt, or contention: they are
not difficult or intractable works. Their job – if a painting can be said to have a function – is
precisely to convey ‘that spiritual and physical oneness we all share with this common homeland’.
It is as if, with Jaco Roux, we have moved full circle: we have embraced the discordances and ruptures of our
colonial history – a history which, through painting, has forced the fantasy of lack-and-plenty, the better to
impose an alien value system – and a new and evolving future-history – in which all ruptures and discordances
are, aesthetically at least, resolved. If this is indeed the case, if my take on Roux’s paintings as blessings in an
on-going aggravated historical moment has any purchase, then we are dealing with an artist-as-idealist.
Historicallythe picturesque as an aestheticwas also aboutthe imposition ofavalue system. In Roux’s case he is not
imposing a European tradition from some extraneousvantage point but recognising its placewithin SouthAfrica
Ours is a hyper-connected world; a world shaped by global familiarity in the very instant in which each
place on this earth declaims its singularity. Therein lies the paradox of the contemporary moment.
In splicing naturalism and abstraction Jaco Roux has sought to reconcile the particular and the vast, the
constraints of the familiar and the horizon of the unfamiliar. It was J.H. Pierneef who in the 1930s could
be regarded as the early pioneer of the conflation of naturalism and abstraction, though as Wilhelm van
Rensburg has justly pointed out, there are many other aesthetic strings to Pierneef’s bow – Impressionism,
Post-Impressionism, Pointillism, quasi-Cubism. In the case of Jaco Roux, however, we find no attempt to distil
or fuse the divergent influence – namely, a picturesque naturalism and abstraction. Rather, he confronts
these starkly divergent movements head-on. The effect is surreal, if one understands the term as meaning
the superimposition of one reality upon another. Unlike surrealism, however, the effect is never discordant
or violent, but, bizarrely, and fortuitously, soothing. There is even a Hockney-esque quality to the paintings
because of the relish they display forvivid colour and geometry. In the South African context abstraction had its
boom in the 1960s and 1970s. An exemplary figure in this regard is Trevor Coleman, a master of ‘hard painting’.
Abstraction, of course, has many facets and modes of expression, and here one could also include the
works of Walter Battiss and Cecil Skotnes. My point, however, is how to best position, or account for
the positions which Jaco Roux has adopted? The artists decision to reject a singular, pure, approach
is what I find particularly telling. And yet, neither is he contaminating one form with another. Instead
what we find is a cool re-alignment of genres and styles which allows for history to play its part
while, in the same instant, allowing for a primordial celebration of landscape and colour. The root
of this seductive and heartening approach lies, I believe, in the spirit of the man himself. Unmoved
by pure abstraction as he is unmoved by the fetish of the picturesque, Roux gives us parallel and
parallax viewpoints. All importantly, his paintings are never complacent or self-aware commentaries
to or possessing the world he sees, Roux seeks to remind us of our provisional place on this earth.
He is no master of all he surveys, no latter-day colonial adventurer in search of some misbegotten
mirror of himself, but a creature at one with his partial sense of self – caught at some remove. It is
therefore the blocks and planes of abstraction, and, on occasion, the fauvistic rubs of bold colour
at the base of the paintings, which broach the greater question: what is the stuff of art? What is the
stuff of being? For Roux I’d say colour itself, colour thrust upon an arid land, colour imported, pasted,
blocked, thin and thick, lined, quivered, rich. Unlike William Burchell, Jaco Roux does not search ‘in
vain for those mellow beautiful tints with which the sun dyes the forests of England’. What cannot
be reproduced he must create. But not seeking to fancifully doctor his universe – the Limpopo
landscape before and within him – he chooses rather to supplement that world with a parallel world.
Now to supplement is to add to, but also to substitute. Abstraction, therefore, is also a
subtraction. So that what we get is not a singular vision but a twinned and bi-focal one.
This, perhaps, is Jaco Roux’s answer to William Burchell’s disappointment; this his reply to an age-old frustration
of Europeans in Africa, a continent which has all too often proved the hapless victim of disappointed souls.
The lesson Roux provides – if art should have a lesson – is that it is better to embrace and then transform the
difficulty experienced. As W.J.T. Mitchell reminds us, ‘landscape is a dynamic medium, in which we “live and
move and have our being”, but also a medium that is itself in motion from one place ortime to another’. Knowing
this, one becomes wary of framing a painter too prescriptively. While each and every artist experiences
what Harold Bloom terms the ‘anxiety of influence’, be it aesthetic, political, or cultural, one must, in a more
inclusive world, allow for both a profound break from that anxious influence and a more enabling mash-up
and re-mix thereof. I believe that to best understand and embrace Roux’s landscapes one must acknowledge
not only the influences and the breakages, but also the artist’s ability to trump a conflicted tradition.
If landscape painting allows for the ‘formation of identity’ in Roux’s case, identity is conceived in a minor key.
The Ideal, the Heroic, the Pastoral, the Beautiful, the Sublime. None ofthese qualities are the artist’s driving force.
And yet the works are compelling. Perhaps it is because he has conflated the grand and the ordinary, the
‘ideal estate’ and the ‘real estate’. Or perhaps it is because, without illusion, and with great affirmative
ease, Jaco Roux has, finally, embraced ‘the body of Africa’ – a creature as real as it is abstract.
upon landscaping and abstraction, simply quiet and soothing insertions in an embattled
history. So being, Roux has thereby by-passed the traps which history has set for us.
In the light of Jaco Roux’s painting the South African landscape need no longer be what Miriam
Aronowicz has termed a ‘transitional object … a landscape of transactions between metropolitan
conventions and colonial conditions’. Today city and country interpenetrate, as do colonial history and
the contemporary morph that is the metropolitan condition. In Jaco Roux’s art we see this interface
quite literally in the overlay of naturalism and abstraction. It is however all the more striking that these
distinctive elements coexist rather than blur, for what interests Roux is a concatenated, rough, rich,
and raw suturing of non-abrasive differences of form, colour, and history. This rub signals the spirit
and mood of the artist – there is something clinical about Roux’s idealism. Roux, I’d venture, is no
Romantic; his paintings reveal no sturm und drang, no angst or fraught will to engineer the new. Rather,
without fanfare, we encounter the smooth realignment of an age-old rupture of forms and cultures.
Body of Africa
‘I had a farm in Africa … [where] the views were immensely wide. Everything that you saw
made for greatness and freedom, and unequally nobility … you woke up in the morning and
thought: Here I am, where I ought to be’. So begins Isak Dinesen’s 1937 novel Out of Africa. If I
conclude this essay with Dinesen’s opening words it is because they tell us something true about
the ease that can come after so much human restlessness…. Here I am, where I ought to be.
Jaco Roux is also a farmer of subtropical plants in Limpopo. His world, therefore, is also largely shaped by
that very emotion which Dinesen conjures. His paintings, fixed upon a distant horizon, a great sky, and a
rich scrubland between, is one which, I imagine, he has moved through in his dreams, stumbled upon daily
in his walks, caught askance, lingered upon, supped and drunk through the infinite portals of his lone being.
Always, however, it is the greater view beyond that has compelled him, a view, caught
at a distance, which, curiously, he has chosen to subtract in the paintings’ foreground.
in Roux’s paintings we find no ‘dark coulisse on one side shadowing the foreground’, no desire to
position the viewer at the fore or middle ground, the better to ensure that perfect fusion of the viewer
and the world perceived. And so, in splitting the view, resisting the moment so typical in the picturesque
neoclassical tradition of allowing the one who sees a fullness of vision that could make them whole, Roux
has chosen to withdraw both himself and the viewer from a full immersion in the world he sees. If this
is so, I’d venture to say that it is because, being no Romantic, possessing no sense of wholly belonging