Jonker works and exhibits prolifically. He is a regular at the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival, where he has exhibited his own work together with other contemporary artists. He has also exhibited throughout the rest of South Africa in galleries and at festivals. From 2004, Jonker embarked on a full time career as an artist, focusing on oil painting. From here he has established a cohesive body of oil paintings in various genres, and has also produced some very fine smaller bronze sculptures. His oil paintings include landscapes, portraits and still lifes. In all of these, the compositions reflect the artist's intuitive choice of subject matter, bringing to life quirky and sometimes idiosyncratic scenes. He is equally at home within the landscape of a human body, or the jovial reflection of light in everyday colloquial objects, or the expanse of a traditional landscape.
Portfolio (past favourites)
In his landscape paintings, Jonker chooses to paint "plein air". The paint-bag always at hand, landscape studies are made on the hoof. From here he is able to transpose natural tone, form and light with assured technique, capturing the soul, spirit and atmosphere of his native land.
With still life studies, the artist is always in pursuit of light, using it to deliver studies of penetrating stillness. Often choosing simple, almost naive subject matter such as the contents of his kitchen cupboard, he brings them to life through observing the play of light within and around an object. He is able to treat even the simplest object with the greatest respect and sense of wonder. Capturing contemporary interiors that celebrate the seemingly ordinary, intimacy and stillness are explored and found in the most unexpected places - behind the bedroom door, or right in the centre of the kitchen table. The small canvases which hold these still lifes translate into an objet d´arts in themselves, revealing the eye of the sculptor within the painter.
Fluent in figurative studies, Jonker delivers canvasses and bronze sculptures as emotive renditions which resonate with presence and stature. Portraiture in the oil painting format remains an irreplaceable means of capturing the sitter´s essential character as no other media can. With oil painting, the artist has the tools to go way beyond the advanced technology of the digital image and documentary photography, capturing within the image an insight into the human condition. Jonker´s sitters are known intimately, resulting in portraits which are not solely a representation of the subjects likeness, but rather a visual exploration of elements which resonate universally.
In his art, he has always been more convinced by old school techniques than by the fanfares of contemporary artistic dialogue. Following in the footsteps of many great artists he has been inspired by them to respect the formal elements of painting: composition, tone, colour, form and line. Leaving behind the heady subject matter of student days, he has recaptured the tradition set up by the great masters: Corot, Reisdahl and Sargent, and the South Africans Hugo Naude, Frans Oerder and Ryno Swart. Jonker considers himself to be the eternal pupil, learning from the masters and from all around him, he delivers unassuming yet penetrating images.
"Observing Niël Jonker´s work is engaging with art which is made by a person who can see, and a painter who can paint." [Carin Goodwin: February 2008]
To engage with art is to enter into a cycle of energy and light which comes from and returns to the creative universe. We can see light which comes from the universe illuminating the ever changing landscapes within which we live. This same light can be seen in the objects of our everyday experience. And it is this same light, this creative energy which enters the soul of the artist to be moulded and sculpted into various art forms. A work of art which holds this light becomes a symbol of our experience of the universe. It is through the viewer engaging with art that this energy is released back to the universe to complete the creative cycle. Whether as artist or viewer, we can encounter here one of the greatest experiences of being human - an intimate connectedness to the creative universe.
The artist Neil Jonker is surrounded in his everyday life by the abundant light and creativity of the rural landscape. The small hamlet of Baardskeerdersbos where he lives, lies in the Overberg area of the Western Cape, South Africa. It lies amongst rolling hills and mountains which stretch beneath open skies to the coast-line of Walker Bay. There is a whole lot in the air which smacks of the creative marriage of nature and human endeavour as can be experienced in Provence or Tuscany - from the extraordinary natural light playing across the landscape, to the celebration of country values in the communal life of a rural village. Here ideas are given time and warmth to rise like the yeast in a good farm bread or plaasbrood. This bread, baked also by Jonker himself, is best shared warm and steaming with a good glass of wine and robust company, sitting on a wide voor-stoep or verandah taking in the view and the country air. Even as terroir enters the soul of a good bottle of wine, so too in the soul of the artist. Within the cycle of creativity, to engage with Jonker's art is to experience something of this sensual country lifestyle (without having to brave the veld-fires and muddy roads and mosquitoes for yourself!).
Growing up in ostrich-farming community of Oudtshoorn, Niel Jonker is the son of an ostrich farmer and school teacher. From his youth, he has always shied away from the attention provoked by his talent, seeking solace in the endless wonders contained in nature.