VASE: Function Reviewed
The invitation to visit VASE: Function Reviewed at the National Craft Gallery, Kilkenny,
Ireland was opportunity to see some beautiful vases, or it is vessels?
A cursory glance through the historiography of ceramics reminds us that, throughout its
complex history, the language surrounding objects of containment has frequently been revised
and revisited; in ancient European and Asian dynasties, the vase predominated while in the
nineteenth century, the Arts and Crafts Movement’s preference for simple, organic forms,
resulted in the elevation of the art pot. In the twentieth century, the growth of the studio
pottery movement in Britain, along with the increasingly conceptual approach taken by
makers, led to the use of the, by now widely used word, vessel, as a medium of expression. In
the latter half of the twentieth century, in a further evolution of this expression, vessels, when
formed into groupings of objects, became installations.
The modern dictionary definition of vase suggests functionality, a container used to display
flowers. However in VASE: Function Reviewed, curator Brian Kennedy’s first major ceramics
exhibition at the National Craft Gallery, Kilkenny, Ireland function, seen through the lens of a
number of leading ceramic artists who work in this increasingly fragmented field, is imbued
with multiple meaning. For Northern Ireland based maker, Derek Wilson, the expression of
communality and sociability take center stage, whether the work is intended to be used or not.
However it is also about minimalism and simplicity of form and while the notion of
containment is ever present, its’ meaning is ambiguous, yet familiar and reassuring. Just
beyond this, Andrew Wicks exploration of a symmetrical, odd numbered, grouping of objects,
historically referred to as garnitures, provide an interesting juxtaposition of forms, which may
be described as vases or vessels. Contrast this with a striking installation of five slip-cast
porcelain vessels in pink, blue, white, cream and platinum by Natasha Daintry. Colour is
central to Daintry’s practice and this bold grouping sees modern, lighter milky tones reacting
to, and resisting, stronger colours.
For Anne Marie Laureys, who lives and works in Belgium, throwing a classic, symmetrical
pot is just the beginning of her journey, a journey in which she takes time to find the true
shape of a vessel. The result is unexpected, visceral and even uncomfortable at times, as her
objects become a repository for emotions, feelings and life experiences. Jonathan Wade’s
exploration of material permanence and impermanence also challenges the viewer while on
the other hand, Agalis Manessi’s earthenware vases, appear gentle and comforting in soft
pastel shades of blue, green and pink. Inspired by figures and animal studies from museum
collections, they communicate easily.
Selecting ceramic artists from different backgrounds, cultures and experiences for this show
has not only allowed for a wider investigation of a complex theme, it has also enabled the
viewer to consider ceramics in many ways including the material culture of an object,
historical context, process and material, consumer culture, as well as social signifier. We
contrast the superb skill of Hwang Kap Sun’s minimalist cylindrical vases with Hitomo
Hosono’s detailed forms. We see works that reference issues of identity, culture and class;
Carol McNicoll’s work inhabits the safe environment of domesticity while commenting on
excessive consumerism and politics. South African born Ruan Hoffmann also draws on
familiar objects however the intent here is to comment, confront and provoke, his collection
of containers, vases and jugs presented in this exhibition providing unedited observations on
life’s experiences. The translation of stories into ceramic art, and especially the vase form, is
one that has existed since ancient Greece. Helen Doherty, also born in South Africa but now
living in Ireland, continues that tradition in her work. Combining decoration and form, her
work explores the relationship between identity and place, gender and culture and while this
narrative has also been played out on plates and sculptural ceramics, this exhibition sees the
artist present a series of traditional vase forms and interesting half moon shapes inspired by
both the Irish currach (traditional Irish wooden boat) and Dutch tulipier in a nod to the artist’s
For Irish audiences, this show places Irish ceramic artists alongside leading exponents of both
modern and contemporary practice. VASE: Function Reviewed includes work by important
names such as Alison Britton, Janice Tchalenko and Kate Malone however, the contribution
of Irish makers to this exhibition is significant, most notably in Sara Flynn’s superbly
confident Esker vessel installation, Alison Kay’s considered forms and Grainne Watts’ rotund
VASE: Function Reviewed, which formed part of the 2016 Kilkenny Arts Festival programme
and is presented by the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland, can be seen at the National
Craft Gallery, Kilkenny, Ireland until November 6th 2016 and Farmleigh Gallery, Dublin,
Ireland from January 19th to February 26th 2017.
© Frances McDonald for CFile – August 2016
LA REVUE DE LA CÉRAMIQUE ET DU VERRE
MARS-AVRIL 2014 / RCV NO 195
Ruan Hoffmann appartient à cette catégorie d ‘artistes de plus en plus nombreux qui font de notre planète leur territoire, et de la culture un vaste terrain de jeux combinant passé et présent .Et, à l’instar de nombres de ses homologues, il fait, avec une fascination non dissimulée, de la céramique l’un de ses supports préférés, et peut être même fétiches…
Cette mondialisation est source de richesse, de renouvellement, de questionnement et d’émotions multiples. Loin de s’enfermer dans un métissage stérile ou dans un relativisme générateur d’absolutisme, il fait jaillir de la société postmoderne des étincelles à même de bâtir un nouvel humanisme, ou du moins de rétablir l’homme dans le concert du monde. Echappant à une société par trop formaliste et gestionnaire, il retrouve le goût de l’épopée, des horizons lointains et des expériences personnelles parfois limites.
L’œuvre de Ruan Hoffmann est en fait autobiographique. Elle nous raconte l’histoire et les enthousiasmes d’un sud - africain passionné par le vaste réservoir formel des traditions céramiques. Celles - ci sont pour lui le moyen de créer un univers narratif qui tire ses tensions de la confrontation d’héritages figuratifs ou abstraits. Ces tensions se retrouvent également dans son travail de déconstruction/reconstruction de formes traditionnelles, qui sont peut - être avant tout le produit de sa sensibilité et de son incontestable probité intellectuelle. Son art traduit les inquiétudes que suscitent les grands bouleversements d’aujourd’hui : il se place aux côtés de ceux qui n’ont pas abandonné l’être humain et ses possibilités de rémanences.
A la fois fragile et solide, complexe et déterminé, Ruan fait partie de ces artistes héroïques qui se servent de la richesse du monde pour bâtir le futur dans sa nécessaire complexité.
Ruan Hoffmann est né en 1971 en Afrique du Sud. Sa première exposition a eu lieux à Johannesburg dans le cadre de la galerie Franchise en 2005. Le succès rencontré lui ouvre les portes de nombreuses galeries et institutions à New York, Amsterdam, Londres…
Il est par ailleurs invité à des séjours en résidence dans des centres culturels liés à la céramique en Allemagne, en Belgique, aux Pays-Bas et aux États-Unis. Il entend faire partager son univers et ses engagements au public français grâce à cette première exposition parisienne.
Exposition Ruan Hoffmann Galerie A rebours du 12 Mars au 12 Avril 2014
Keramisch magazine Klei,Netherlands/Belgium 2013-1
The artist Ruan Hoffmann has practiced his ceramic art for the last 20 years, sparked
by an interest in the transformative powers involved in ceramics and how the
elements combine to create this fragile magic.
Since the popularization of oriental ceramics in the seventeenth century, it has
remained strongly rooted in classical form and decoration. Hoffmann often references
from the vast reservoir of neo-classical and oriental ceramic traditions, utilizing their
visual context to bring about a tension in his work. The traditional harmony gets
transformed and deconstructed with vase and bowl shapes turned into irregular
vessels. His ceramic work comprises complicated imagery on ceramic tiles, plates and
vases. Early examples of amorphous coiled vases can be seen in the Source exhibition
at the Everard Read in Johannesburg later this year; paired with recent coil work
vases as counterpoint in another manipulation of the tension that remains integral to
The auto-biographical journey of the artist is documented through his voluminous
body of ceramic work.. The rare opportunity to acknowledge the growth and
development of skill, style and sentiment of the artist only exists through a
retrospective overview of these works in a chronological form. Like episodes
unfolding, the work reveals a sensitive and perceptive consciousness.
His vases, exhibited for the first time in 2005 at Franchise Gallery in Johannesburg
formed a crucial moment in his career where his skills and talents culminated in a
protracted form. They are a conclusive example of the complex narrative that bridges
the ornamental and the intellectual components of his work. The advantage being the
vivid dimension given to the piece in as much as the sculptural and painterly elements
The medium of clay contributes a texture to his poignant exclamations and
contemplations, while simultaneously adding a layered richness to his painterly
images and decorative line sketches. Ceramics hold a revered place for the artist Ruan
Hoffmann. His appreciation for the process of creating ceramics is a pre-curser to the
evolution of his work.
Although generally monochromatic, most works only featuring blue under glazes; in
some pieces a colored slip or pronounced over glaze is incorporated. Large areas of
color would often be used to define an important detail such as a date or a word The
use of photographic transfers in more recent work have brought about a transition in
the otherwise exclusively graphic quality of his work and softens the author’s voice to
portray more tender and heartfelt experiences. Working with low-resolution pictures
from his phone Hoffmann brings a grainy quality to these works in the common
metaphor of fading memories. Luster is used more regularly in later works; applied in
a confident way that not only enforces a decorative aspect but allows it to become
central to the imagery.
The themes of surprise and control are in constant opposition and accounts for a
great amount of conflicting or duplicitous components; The carefully fine lined and
concentric circles or intersecting lines that bend with the surface of the clay is
distorted at times by the glazes and the shapes that carry them. Aside from the
controlled line there is also a distinct leaning towards a repetition of certain motifs
such as the ambiguous use of the tear or leaf on faces or branches.
For Hoffmann the medium’s fascination lies with the element of surprise and
uncertainty. Admittedly not interested in the practical and technical aspects of
ceramics, Hoffmann allows the process to complete itself. Letting go of the need to
control it, becomes a fitting metaphor for the work. The process of firing eventually
brings about a change in the work that the artist himself could not predict; reminicent
of Francis Bacon’s need for paint to create a painting by throwing it at the canvas and
wanting it to become a painting.
‘Tempered transformation’ would not aptly describe his work. His social reflections
on current concerns and his interpretation are expressed in an energetic fashion and
succeed in interacting with the viewer through commonality and meaning. Colloquial
politicized commentary is accurately and often naively translated within their current
context. Individual interpretations may re-occur in different works but the sentiment
seldom changes. Inspired by literature, Hoffmann directly communicates In a simple
roman font that echoes with authority despite it’s crude calligraphy. Some extractions
from everyday conversations, some sayings or quotations in French or Latin and even
some text messages from his phone.
The intellectualized serving of personal fact and fantasy in is combined in a subtle
and layered way invoking an uncertain removed empathy from the viewer. The
experience is one of faraway closeness. The size and fragile nature of the works
further invites the viewer to investigate closer creating an intimacy with the work.
Intensifying the identification and interaction leading to a greater familiarity with the
work and the artist’s expression.
The connections with his personal aspects are more subliminal but the universal and
sentimental concepts of fear, love and abandonment are often conveyed with twisted
and bitter humorous texts. This relief is the intent of the artist who prefers to diffuse
the serious nature of a topic, while at the same time articulating his frustration with it.
Especially in his early work Hoffmann’s figurative imagery remained deliberately
and sexually ambiguous. The interpretations of the misshaped or imperfect beings are
perhaps rooted in the artist’s critical acumen. The animation of everyday objects play
on the metamorphic and uncertainty towards change. Momento mori surfaces in many
works and points to the artist’s constant battle as loosely translated from Cocteau;
“Each day in the mirror I watch death at work.” Hoffmann’s concerns and preoccupation
with fragility and the transient nature of life is made abundantly clear.
Decorative elements are often reworked to become extensions of a narrative that may
or may not include a resolution in the work. Often incomplete or distorted flower and
foliage would allude to an unsettling harmony or conflict with comments on
communication and technology, contemplations of human nature portraying an
ecological off-balance which mimics the irregularities in the ceramic piece and
associates itself with the imperfections of humanity.
Abstraction is created through images of fluidity, which remains a vivid theme, the
artist almost predictably gravitates toward it. Streams and strings are sometimes used
to encircle or contain text, while apparently arbitrary lines would sometimes create
patterns or figurative definition. The centrifugal forces at work on a circular bowl is
used as a canvas that resonates with it, be it pools of water or radiating streams. A
strange zen-like comfort gets derived from some of the powerful works that
incorporate only the use of glass and oxides.
His self-portraits are generally expressionless and points to the contemplative nature
in which the artist views himself.
Continuous experimenting and involvement in commercial ventures, fuels the artist’s
abundant curiosity. His recent exhibition in New York, ‘Much Love Me’, formed the
catalyst for his involvement with artisan tile manufacturer in the US. His inspiration
and research follows traveling and absorbing the museum or gallery pieces first hand;
working abroad is made possible through the various residencies he has been selected
for and has given the artist an opportunity to examine both contemporary and
traditional ceramics in context. Delft in the Netherlands and Iznik in Turkey are
examples of how the ceramic language finds expression in the cultural and historic
landscape and in the case of Hoffmann’s work the same methodology applies;
reflecting his own state of being and sense of place in a sincere and sensitive manner.
De Zuid-Afrikaanse kunstenaar Ruan Hoffmann
werkt al twintig jaar als keramisch kunstenaar
vanuit een fascinatie voor de transformerende
krachten waarmee het keramisch proces
gepaard gaat én voor de wijze waarop uit
gewelddadige elementen iets heel fragiels en
magisch kan ontstaan. Door Louis Boshoff
Sinds oosterse keramiek in de zeventiende eeuw in de
westerse wereld populair werd, is dit kunstambacht
stevig verankerd gebleven in klassieke vormen en decoraties.
De Zuid-Afrikaanse keramist Ruan Hoffmann refereert in zijn
werk vaak aan dit enorme reservoir aan neo-classicistische en
oosterse keramiektradities, daarbij gebruik makend van hun
visuele context om spanning in zijn werk te brengen. Vaas- en
komvormen zijn bij hem verworden tot onregelmatige containervormen,
waardoor er een nieuw begrip ontstaat van wat
van oudsher als harmonieus wordt gezien.
Zijn keramisch oeuvre omvat een gecompliceerde beeldtaal op keramische
tegels, borden en vazen.
Vroege voorbeelden van Hoffmanns – uit rollen opgebouw-
de – amorfe vazen waren in 2012 te zien in de tentoonstelling
Source in de Everard Read Gallery in Johannesburg. Door
de gelijktijdige presentatie van en confrontatie met meer
recent werk – eveneens uit rollen opgebouwde vazen – kreeg
de spanning die voor zijn werk zo kenmerkend is, een extra
lading. Hoffmanns omvangrijke keramisch oeuvre is een verslaglegging
van de autobiografische reis die de kunstenaar
heeft gemaakt. Een retrospectief en chronologisch overzicht
van deze werken is een van de zeldzame gelegenheden om
nader kennis te maken met groei en ontwikkeling in vaardigheden,
stijl en gevoelswereld van de kunstenaar. Als
een verhaal dat zich langzaam, hoofdstuk voor hoofdstuk,
ontvouwt, zo openbaart het werk een gevoelig
en invoelend bewustzijn.
Hoffmanns vazen, voor het eerst tentoongesteld
in 2005 in de Franchise Gallery in Johannesburg,
betekenden een keerpunt in zijn
carrière: al zijn vaardigheden en talenten
kwamen samen in deze langgerekte
vormen. Hun gelaagde verhalenstructuur
slaat een brug tussen de kunstzinnige
en de intellectuele kanten
van zijn werk. Het samenvloeien
van vorm en beeld verleent het
werk bovendien een grote leven-
digheid. Het gebruik van klei als expressiemedium biedt
Hoffmann een drager voor zijn indringende aanklachten en
zelfbeschouwingen, en geeft tegelijkertijd een extra dimensie
aan zijn schilderachtige beeldtaal en decoratieve lijnstructuren.
Keramiek neemt bij Ruan Hoffmann een speciale plaats in: zijn
waardering voor het werken met dit materiaal is richtingbepalend
geweest voor de ontwikkeling die zijn werk heeft doorgemaakt.
Hoewel hij meestal slechts één kleur gebruikt – de
meeste objecten zijn met blauw onderglazuur afgewerkt – is
er soms ook een gekleurd slib of een opvallend opglazuur aangebracht,
waarmee een belangrijk detail, zoals een datum of
een woord, wordt benadrukt.
In recent werk zijn fototransfers te vinden, een vervolg op de
voorheen vooral grafische kwaliteiten van zijn werk. Ze halen
de scherpe kantjes van zijn werk er wat af, waardoor er meer
plaats is voor subtielere gevoelens en meer persoonlijke ervaringen.
Door te werken met lage-resolutie foto’s vanaf zijn mobiele
telefoon, krijgen zijn transfers een grofkorrelige kwaliteit
die als het ware een metafoor is voor vervagende herinneringen.
Ook luster komt veelvuldiger voor bij later werk, toegepast
met een vanzelfsprekendheid die niet alleen het decoratieve
effect ondersteunt, maar zelfs alle aandacht naar zich
Verrassing en beheersing staan voortdurend met elkaar op
gespannen voet en bevatten nogal eens conflictueuze of zelfs
verraderlijke elementen. Zo kunnen dunne lijnen, zorgvuldig
aangebracht in concentrische cirkels of nauwgezet de bolling
van het oppervlak volgend, later in het proces worden verstoord
door bijvoorbeeld het glazuur. Behalve een zorgvuldige lijnvoering
vertoont Hoffmann ook een neiging naar het steeds
herhalen van bepaalde motieven zoals het wat dubbelzinnige
gebruik van tranen of blaadjes op gezichten en boomtakken,
die de emotionele onrust in het culturele en sociale landschap
Hoffmanns fascinatie met het medium klei gaat juist over die
elementen van verrassing en onzekerheid. Volgens eigen zeggen
is hij niet geïnteresseerd in de praktische en technische
aspecten van keramiek, en daarom laat hij het proces op een
gegeven moment zijn eigen gang gaan. Zonder de drang tot
totale beheersing wordt het proces een passende metafoor voor
zijn werk. De transformatie die het werk ondergaat gedurende
de stook is onmogelijk te sturen door de kunstenaar en doet
denken aan de techniek van Francis Bacon die de verf zelf het
schilderij liet creëren, door verf te smijten tegen een canvas
tot er een schilderij in te ontdekken viel.
‘Ingetogen transformatie’ zou niet een adequate typering zijn
van zijn werk. Zijn sociale betrokkenheid bij actuele topics en
zijn interpretaties vinden op stormachtige wijze een uitweg
en gaan met de toeschouwer een dialoog aan via gemeenplaatsen
en betekenisgeving. Zijn politieke commentaren zijn raak
en hebben vaak iets naïefs binnen hun eigen context.
Een unheimisch gevoel van harmonie
Ook al gaat het om persoonlijke ervaringen die telkens weer
hun vertolking vinden in allerlei werken, het basisgevoel dat
eraan ten grondslag ligt, verandert zelden. Geïnspireerd door
literatuur, houdt Hoffmann ervan te communiceren in een
eenvoudig Roman lettertype dat autoriteit suggereert, ondanks
de wat ruwe uitwerking. Het zijn fragmenten van toevallige
gesprekken, gezegden of citaten in Frans of Latijn en zelfs
tekstberichtjes vanaf zijn mobiele telefoon.
De intellectualistische weergave van persoonlijke ervaringen
en fictie is op subtiele wijze vermengd en wordt gekenmerkt
door meerdere lagen, wat bij de toeschouwer gemengde gevoelens
oproept. Een gevoel van een afstand toe te kijken en
toch ergens bij betrokken te zijn. De geringe omvang en het
fragiele karakter van het werk nodigt de toeschouwer uit dichterbij
te komen, waardoor een bepaalde intimiteit ontstaat.
Zo vereenzelvigt de toeschouwer zich makkelijker met het
werk en met de bedoelingen van de kunstenaar en ontstaat
eerder een band. De relatie met onderliggende persoonlijke
motieven is meer onbewust, maar universele gevoelsthema’s
als angst, liefde en afwijzing worden vaak vertolkt via verwrongen
en cynische teksten. Een luchtigheid die de kunstenaar
met opzet hanteert, om zware onderwerpen wat lichter te
maken, terwijl hij tegelijkertijd zijn eigen frustraties erover
Met name in zijn vroege werken werd Hoffmanns figuratieve
beeldtaal gekenmerkt door opzettelijke en vaak seksueel
getinte dubbelzinnigheden. De weergaves van mismaakte of
onvolkomen schepsels komen mogelijk voort uit de uiterst
kritische geest van de kunstenaar. En het gebruik van alledaagse
voorwerpen speelt met het idee dat alles voortdurend
aan verandering onderhevig is, nooit zeker welke richting
het uit zal gaan. Vaak zijn er verwijzingen te vinden naar de
sterfelijkheid van de mens, refererend aan de constante strijd
die in de kunstenaar woedt, vrij gezegd naar Cocteau: ‘Elke
dag zie ik in de spiegel de dood aan het werk.’ Hoffmann is
overduidelijk geobsedeerd door de kwetsbaarheid en de vluchtigheid
van het bestaan. Decoratieve elementen zijn vaak gebruikt
om een verhaal te ondersteunen, al dan niet als onderdeel
van dat verhaal. Bloemen en bladeren zijn vaak onvolledig
of verwrongen, zinspelend op een ‘unheimisch gevoel van
harmonie’, of juist in tegenspraak met zijn kritische opmerkingen
over communicatie en technologie. Maar ook om een
ecologische onbalans te suggereren, analoog aan de onregelmatigheden
in het keramisch werk en associaties oproepend
met de onvolmaaktheid van de mensheid: een bezinning op
de menselijke natuur.
Een grenzeloze nieuwsgierigheid
Abstractie weet hij te bewerkstelligen door gebruik te maken
van vloeiende lijnen, een thema dat steeds terugkomt; Hoffmanns
neiging ertoe is haast voorspelbaar, als een steeds
terugkerend natuurverschijnsel. Golvende lijnen en snoeren
worden soms gebruikt om een tekst te omcirkelen of te bevatten,
terwijl andere, schijnbaar willekeurige lijnen patronen
of figuratieve vormen opleveren. De middelpuntvliedende
krachten op het oppervlak van een ronde kom wekken de suggestie
van een waterpoel of een wervelende stroom. Sommige
krachtige vormen, waarin glas en oxides zijn verwerkt, roepen
een vreemd, zen-achtig gevoel van vrede op. Zijn zelfportretten
zijn gewoonlijk emotieloos en drukken zo de contemplatieve
aard uit die de kunstenaar zichzelf toedicht.
Door voortdurend te experimenteren en ook door deel te
nemen aan commerciële samenwerkingsverbanden, wordt
de grenzeloze nieuwsgierigheid van de kunstenaar gevoed.
Zo leidde zijn recente tentoonstelling in New York – Much Love
Me – tot betrokkenheid bij een ambachtelijke tegelfabriek in
de VS. Hoffmann haalt zijn inspiratie en thema’s voor verder
onderzoek uit zijn reizen, en uit de atmosfeer van een museum
of galerie. Hij is in staat geweest overal ter wereld te werken,
dankzij artist-in-residency programma’s waarvoor hij werd
geselecteerd. Daardoor kreeg hij de kans zowel hedendaagse
als traditionele keramiek in hun eigen context te bestuderen.
Keramieksteden als Delft en Iznik in Turkije zijn voorbeelden
van de manier waarop keramische beeldtaal zijn eigen uitdrukking
vindt in het culturele en historische landschap. Bij
Hoffmann werkt dit op vergelijkbare
wijze, doordat hij zich
op een oprechte en gevoelige wijze bezint op zijn eigen bestaan
en op zijn eigen plaats in deze wereld.
Werk van Ruan Hoffmann is te zien bij Guus Röell Kunst & Antiquiteiten,
Tongersestraat 2, 6211 LN Maastricht, 06 53211649, email@example.com,
‘Even in Beckett, there’s no lack of events, but they’re constantly in the process of contesting themselves: the same sentence may contain an observation and its immediate negation. It’s now not the anecdote that’s lacking – only its character of certainty, its tranquility, its innocence.’
David Shields, Reality Hunger
Dysfunctional domestic objects
Although he works in the medium of ceramics, Ruan Hoffmann has never really thought of himself as a ceramicist. This might seem like an oxymoron if you’re not familiar with his work, but once you come to know his exquisitely irreverent ceramic plates it starts to make a peculiar kind of sense. Working in delicate earthenware paper clay, Hoffmann eschews the perfection of the expected sphere to craft plates that are willfully irregular – misshapen and rough around the edges.
These broken spheres are the canvases on which he memorialises passing moments of thought that punctuate the highs and lows of his existence, so his plates take on a function that has surprisingly little to do with their form. You might think of them as a diary of impressions in which he sets down, in brief pointillist form, the details of a world in constant flux and motion. The plates come to stand in for clauses and phrases, establishing a form of syntax that is visual and textual at once. Seen in clusters, they come to constitute paragraphs, even noisy chapters of thought.
One of the world’s oldest and most fundamental art forms, ceramics is considered a medium in which art meets function, frequently occupying the rustic centre of the home. But none of Hoffmann’s objects are intended to be functional – they are forms hi-jacked from the homey environs of the domestic sphere for the purposes of unfettered, spasmodic expressivity and quick stabs of stinging social commentary. Poetically confrontational turns of phrase undercut the ornamental decorativeness of their initial impact.
‘Fuck ’em!’ reads one.
‘Begging for it.’
‘What to do this evening…’
‘In heaven everything should be fine.’
His imagery ranges from loose portraits of himself and his lover, to city maps and Gothic buildings, trees, enlarged fingerprints, swirls of water, skulls, classical foliage, bright birds, angelic putti, memento mori, mystic praying mantises and abstract splotches, all unified by his distinctive ease of line and bold use of color. From sex, love, emotional drama and political anger to cities, plants, creatures and fragments of historical inheritance, the matters that crop up on the surfaces of his plates seem to encompass the whole of life. But we receive this wholeness not in one vast volume, like the coherent narrative reality conveyed to us in a 19th century novel, but across a dispersed multiplicity of differentiated surfaces. Like Facebook status updates, you don’t get to see them all. But when you log in and scroll down, you start to catch the drift. Experiences come through in fits and starts, from the banal to the fiercely felt. Moods develop across unexpected congruencies of sentiment and observation. ‘There are too many accumulative influences on my work to single out a few or singular primary influences,’ says Hoffmann.
Formally, the accumulated affect of seeing and knowing many of the plates that Hoffmann has created over the years recalls for me the experience of reading Denis Hirson’s I Remember King Kong (The Boxer), a small book that is vast in its social scope and range of feeling. An anthology of reminiscences, each line of Hirson’s text begins with the words ‘I remember…’, taking the reader on a peripatetic journey of memory that encompasses a huge range of human experiences; some personal, some public. Hirson drew his inspiration from Georges Perec’s Je me souviens (I Remember), which comprises 480 brief numbered entries, most of them collected within a 15-year period after 1946. ‘This was the year when Perec came back to Paris at the age of ten, having spent three years in the “free zone” to avoid capture by the Nazis,’ writes Hirson. ‘Je me souviens is in many ways a celebration of the return to normality of the city; it is filled with references to jazz and cinema, fashion, sport, radio programmes and bistros. But it is also a book which, on closer inspection, pays a price for this celebration: though concerned with memory, it barely touches on the Second World War, during which Perec lost most of his immediate family’ (Hirson, 2004: 133–134).
‘But they are not books,’ declares Hoffmann. ‘The imperfections of language are part of them.’
Is it just me, or can you also hear the ghost of Samuel Beckett chuckling grimly in the wings?
Just one time
Master of the Dorothy Parker-style aphorism, the cheeky quip or the fleeting gem of street wisdom, Hoffmann adorns the surfaces of his plates with an array of images and text that is frequently frank, rude, improper or politically confrontational, fusing the contemporary criticality of art with the wantonly sensual aesthetics of making. Wantonness plays a leading a role in this opera. As do churlishness and pique – fierce emotions quickly expressed before moving on to the next thing, thought, image or feeling. ‘I paint them very fast and very rarely go back to them before they are fired,’ he tells me.
All his plates are hand-thrown. ‘I literally take a ball of clay and throw it at an angle on a canvas- covered slab until it is thin and relatively even, then drape it over a Plaster-of-Paris mould,’ he says. ‘The next day, when the piece has dried a bit, I take it off the mould and it’s ready to fire to a bisque temperature, which enables me to handle the piece easily while painting it. The work is then re-fired and, at this stage, I usually paint on the lustres or apply decals’, which feature images extracted from books relating to places he has visited and things he finds of interest, or snapshots taken on his cell phone. He works in a studio in a grand, but empty old house in the leafy suburb of Houghton and travels through to Pretoria at least twice a week to have fresh pieces fired at a ceramics studio there.
Hoffmann is a self-taught ceramicist, who grew up surrounded by jacaranda blossoms and studied art at the University of Pretoria in the early Nineties when talents like Anton Karstel, Jacques Coetzer and Walter Meyer, were emerging from the city’s art schools. He has been working with the medium for about 20 years, knowingly engaging with the decorative surfaces of plates, tiles, vases, sculptures and bowls as ‘canvases’ to explore his own frenetic consciousness.
‘My career in ceramics happened by default. You could say I got sidetracked by the possibilities,’ he says. ‘I’m really curious and impatient, and with ceramics you never know exactly what to expect – but this medium does respond well to me.’
His first significant solo, which took place at Johannesburg’s Franchise Gallery in 2005, was described as ‘the first major solo show of fine art ceramics on this scale in South Africa’. In 2005, he had an exhibition at Franchise gallery at which he only showed a fraction of the 5 500 ceramic pieces he’d made in the three-year period prior to that show, which he spent in Hermanus working in complete isolation. ‘It was impossible to show everything,’ he says, ‘But all 5 500 pieces were documented.’
His Franchise show was followed up with a series of lithographs produced during a residency in at the Frans Masereel Centre in Kasterlee, Belgium, and editioned in a collaboration with master printmaker Zhané Warren at Warren Editions in Cape Town. Then, following his 2008 show at Stellenbosch University, multinational computer giant Apple scooped up a trove of his one-off pieces for its Johannesburg offices.
During a three-month residency at the Thami Mnyele Foundation in Amsterdam at the start of 2010, he set out to create a record of the city that charted his stay there day by day. ‘I made ceramic transfers from images taken on my cell phone while I was there,’ he says. ‘I also sourced images from books relating to places I visited and things I found interesting.’
Almost all of the 100 pieces that were exhibited at Brundyn + Gonsalves Gallery in Cape Town in July/August 2011 were directly influenced by his three-month sojourn in Amsterdam. ‘I painted some trees in the Vondelpark, for instance, because we used to cycle through the park daily,’ he says, with a boyish charm that hovers just beneath the archness of his wit.
He recalls the strange absence of birdsong on his first morning in the city, being used to a full dawn chorus in Johannesburg – which is home to the largest manmade forest in the world with over ten million trees. So one of the plates in the series is adorned with bright-coloured birds… Also featured are the 2010 eruptions of Eyafjallajokull in Iceland, which caused enormous disruptions to air travel across western and northern Europe during his time there.
In June and July 2011, his installation, Much Love Me, a solo exhibition at the Anthropologie Gallery in New York curated by gallery director Keith Johnson. One hundred plates were clustered together on thin poles rising up out of the darkness of a dramatically black room like an explosion of long-stemmed flowers in the spring time, or lotus lily pads floating on the surface of a deep, dark pond.
One year later, his work was showcased at the Pulchri Studio in The Hague, as part of Next Generation, a selection of work by 20 contemporary artists from South Africa who have worked as artists-in-residence at the Thami Mnyele Foundation in Amsterdam.
A perennial vein of darkness pulsed again when his work was aptly featured as part of a group show called Outsider, curated by Eben Keun and Francois de Villiers. Featuring some of South Africa’s most vital underground voices, the show included works by Steven Cohen, Belinda Blignaut, Reney Warrington, Hannalie Coetzee, Steven Bosch, Catherine Dickerson and MJ Turpin. The show took place at Millpark’s Media Mill as a Fringe event to the Johannesburg Art Fair in September 2012.
Later in 2012, he headed north, as the first African artist to take up a residency at the Zentrum für Keramik-Berlin.
Viva la quirk
Winsome, wistful, and unsettlingly witty, for me his works recall the deadbeat humour and perennial quirkiness of Wes Anderson’s films. Using a deliberate, methodical cinematography, with a rich bright colour palette, Anderson’s films combine dry humor with poignant portrayals of flawed characters – often a mix of the wealthy and the working class brought together by outlandish, and irrevocable circumstances. The recurring patterns that crop up across Hoffmann’s plates are not unlike Anderson’s use of many of the same actors, crew members and other collaborators across several of his films. I can easily imagine a collection of Hoffmann’s distinctive ceramic spheres being quite at home in the mansion occupied by The Royal Tennenbaums or cropping up on one of the elaborately absurdist sets that featured in The Darjeeling Limited, Anderson’s tribute to legendary Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray.
Although the socio-political nuances in Hoffmann’s work are far from reductive or polemical, growing up and living a country as tumultuous as South Africa has undoubtedly had an influence on the content of his work, contributing to the somewhat jaded, satirical tone of his musings.
The plate that flatly announces ‘You Racist’ springs to mind, or the simple black-on-white lettering that recalls a newspaper headline and declares, ‘Protection of Information Age’, or the chilling truism, ‘Millions of people can be wrong’.
The words ‘Stupid Fucks’ are encapsulated in direct diamond shapes accentuated by angular lines. It’s an expression of rage that might equally apply to his next-door neighbours as to the contestants of the umpteenth series of Survivor or to the leaders of the Limpopo Education Department. Take your pick. He leaves the details to the imagination of the viewer, but there is something distinctly cathartic about the familiarity of the phrase.
‘I was at high school in the Eighties during [PW] Botha’s many States of Emergency [the National Party’s fevered attempts to maintain power during the dying days of apartheid],’ he says. ‘This country has always been a highly charged and volatile environment to grow up and live in, and I think that makes for interesting art. Some of the references are not that obvious to pick up, but then there is the work that regularly shows my disdain for the ‘politician’ – the ever-present vermin that plague us so. They are, of course, a worldwide phenomenon, but here they are a plague of biblical proportions.’ It is clear from his tone that the demagogues of the post-apartheid regime have failed to win his favour any more than the nationalists who went before them.
Perhaps you have to have lived in South Africa to get the full barbed impact of the words: ‘Blame it on colonialism’. You would probably have had to have endured the countless SAfm talk shows and SABC panel discussion programmes with smug adherents of the new regime routinely shrugging off any inkling of responsibility for their spectacular delivery failures by blaming every possible social wrong on previous regimes in order to fully get the embedded sarcasm of this plain-spoken admonition.
As one dire story after the next surfaces in the headlines uncovering mindboggling levels of scandalous corruption and misrule by the ANC government and its leader, Hoffmann’s satire has grown steadily more acid. It’s not the kind of sentiment that gets voiced on public radio and television, but there is a growing tide of resistance to the excesses of the current regime as the country’s hard-won democracy steadily unravels. Several of Hoffmann’s recent works are in direct response to the current political climate in South Africa. We take our freedoms where we can.
‘Viva etc fucking viva etc.’
‘Hooray for the private jet of JZuma.’
‘Ideological dogmatism (until Jesus comes).’ This one is a riff on a controversial prediction made by the president himself that the ANC will be in power until the return of Christ.
‘Dear South Africans, Zuma wants a private jet ZAR 1.6 billion, so fuck you again.’
Moves to acquire a super-bling jet for President Jacob Zuma appear to have taken a nosedive, but in the meantime his homestead, KwaNxamalala in Nkandla, has undergone an extensive revamp, which reportedly cost the taxpayer R203-million. The government is planning a new R2-billion town a few kilometres from Zuma’s home.
In as much as some of his works have been triggered by the currency of contemporary debates, there are also the pieces that hark back to previous eras, resuscitating bygone styles and retooling old genres with a mash-up punk sensibility that toys with the idea of ceramics being one of the world’s oldest and fundamental art forms.
‘His desirable plates look first like pottery pieces found on an excavation site due to their misshapen forms, battered looking edges and antique roman inspired fonts, writes Ufuk Çelik in his blog, A Tie for Sunday. ‘Beyond looking like beautiful leftovers from another time, his works fulfill the function of “archaeological” fragments, giving us information about his personality, his thoughts about identity and sexuality.’
The images on the surfaces of Hoffmann’s plates differ from sketchy to precise, ranging from photographic images, to drawings, to cut-up elements that seem to have been extracted from old book volumes, to a metallic gold-plated effect. Challenging the censorial spirit of mannered high society in the dining room context with which we have come to associate plates, his decorative interventions combine classical canonical imagery (Roman lettering, grand European architecture, classical hues) with off-the-cuff turns of phrase, phallic or sexual imagery and swearwords.
A piece called New Wedgewood features a transfer from an old book on English ceramics. ‘It could as easily have been Portmeiron, but I got to Wedgwood first!’ says Hoffmann, in a spirit of irreverence that shows no particular loyalty to one aesthetic club or another. ‘I loved the image and hand-painted concentric circles around it – for me, an improvement on the original. My work is very removed from what this company did and is doing.’
His appropriation of these canonical styles has more in common with Vivienne Westwood’s use of traditional elements of Scottish design, such as tartan fabric, or historical 17th and 18th century cloth cutting principles, in her punk and new wave designs. Or Andy Warhol’s equalizing pop attitude, which compelled him to accord the same treatment to a can of Campbell’s soup as to Mao Tse Tung, cancelling out ordained hierarchies of sentiment. In this sense, Hoffmann’s archival tendencies are undercut by a distinctly postmodern sensibility.
This radical spirit of creative revisionism strikes a chord with shifting paradigms in contemporary ceramic practice. The curatorial strategy of inviting contemporary ceramic artists to engage with historic collections has been gaining ground in recent years. Successful examples have included Grayson Perry’s trailblazing exhibition, Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman, at the British Museum in 2010, Edmund de Waal at Waddesdon Manor, and Dutch artist and conservator Bouke de Vries’s engagement with a collection of 300 pieces of Bow porcelain (1747–1776) at Gallant House in Chichester (2012). Each of these shows featured a daring juxtaposition of contemporary and historic elements that questioned received notions of value. One can’t help fantasising about the kinds of creations Hoffmann would bring to life given such institutional carte blanche.
Honesty, Friendship, Death, Love…
‘The aphorism is one of the earliest literary forms – the residue of complex thoughts filtered down to a single metaphor,’ writes David Shields in Reality Hunger, a manifesto in favour of a particular kind of genre bending that occurs across a wild range of forms from television to film, performance art, rap, graffiti, prose poems and collage novels.
By the second millennium b.c., in Sumer, aphorisms appeared together in anthologies, collections of sayings that were copied for noblemen, priests and kings. These lists were then catalogued by theme: “Honesty”, “Friendship”, “Death”.
‘When read together, these collections of sayings could be said to make a general argument on their common themes, or at least shed some light somewhere, or maybe simply obsess about a topic until a little dent has been made in the huge idea they all pondered. “Love.” Via editing and collage, the form germinated into longer, more complex, more sustained, and more sophisticated essayings. The Hebrew wisdom of Eccliastes is essentially a collection of aphorisms, as is Confucius’s religious musing, Heraclitus’s philosophy, Ben Franklin’s almanac.’ (Shields, 2010: 8)
If some of Hoffmann’s plates are politically provocative, others are more lyrical in mood, capturing a more inward, self-reflexive sensibility – a sense of woundedness or vulnerability. His tone is often introspective, subverting the privacy of the journal entry by displaying his intimate musings in the public sphere of the salon.
‘I must get out’, reads one.
Another features myriad liquid blue lines in concentric circles swirling in around a single word: ‘Panic.’
‘Guilt’ is aptly engulfed in complex tangle of spaghetti-like swirls.
The words ‘you were not the perfect parent’ adorn a plate in mournful purple with irregular patches of darker colour that inhabit the same bruised energy as a Philip Larkin poem.
‘Piece of shit artist’ testifies to those dark, but often unavoidable, bouts of self-loathing. What would an artist be without doubt?
‘Give it a rest’ is that much needed breath of fresh air – an uplifting red plate with a classic floral blue design.
With a tone of delicious black humour, he layers the surfaces of his plates with autobiographical musings on his personal life and sexuality. Reading the truncated phrases and fleeting reflections that crop up across an anthology of his plates, one has a sense of being the voyeur for a moment – peeping through the keyhole of his life and liaisons.
‘Hope I’m okay.’
‘It might not work out, my sweetie.’
There is that fleeting, vicarious sense of impetuous Elizabeth Taylor-style ruptures and tender reconciliations, but you’re never quite able to stitch together a coherent narrative or a happy ending.
We’re strictly in the territory of the collage cut-up or the cover version remix, where only a titillating echo of the originating moment prevails.
The titles of his works occupy that gloriously overblown territory where romance meets tragedy in a swirl of molten mascara. One can’t but be touched by the wistfulness of ‘camelia japonica in a shot glass’ or the melodrama of ‘goodbye everybody’, the desperation of ‘I must get out’, or the plain bleakness ‘life is terrible’. With the solemnity of a jilted drag queen or the jarring directness of Sylvia Plath, Hoffmann’s words appeal to the desperate romantic in us, while graphic swirls, golden teardrops and painterly swoons lend a suitably operatic quality to his aesthetic. The fragility of his medium could not be more apt.
What do a French luxury house, a South African artist, a Swiss architecture office and a Chinese survivor have in common ? They share their love for leftovers.
Let´s be honest. Recycling is not new. Actually the earth is an expert at it. Trees push off their leaves in autumn and the leaves decompose into nutrients which travel back up through the trees and come out as new leaves in spring. Humans have been recycling from the beginning of our time on earth. The Romans turned broken pottery into floor tiles. In the 19th century they recycled wood ash into building bricks in London. And everything new carried the spirit of what had been before.
With its creative laboratory petit h the French luxury house Hermès is following a similar method. The name is based on the h of Hermès and shows the affinity to the house and its high artisan aspiration. Designers and Artisans turn leftover materials as leather, silk, porcelain or crystal which have been left back in the traditional workshops into new design objects, without any particular functions in many cases. Small pieces of leather, originally used for bags, embellish an Origami bear, leftovers of silk Carrès form a desk lamp or a Kelly bag with minimal flaws is turned into a cuckoo clock. Founder of the concept is Pascale Mussard, a 6th generation descendant of the Hermès family who calls them “UPSs” unknown poetic objects. Since 2009 petit h travels around the world and shows art pieces as unicums or in limited editions yearly in three different Hermès boutiques. Today is the last day of the annual Designers Day in Paris when the doors to the atelier of “petit h” are open to the public.
Johannesburg based, South African Artist Ruan Hoffmann is going another way. Well known for his ceramic works for more than 20 years, he doesn´t only reuse what has been his own material before. Next to tiles, fragile vases, his desirable plates look first like pottery pieces found on an excavation site due to their misshapen forms, battered looking edges and antique roman inspired fonts. Beyond looking like beautiful leftovers from another time, his works fulfill the function of “archaeological” fragments, giving us information about his personality, his thoughts about identity and sexuality. He carries the idea of leftovers also on a different level when he integrates image details from other art works into his pieces and reuses things which belonged to others. For the work “New Wedgwood” he just hand painted circles around an image of a Wedgwood china tableware which he had found in an old book on English ceramics. His works can be seen in the exhibition “Next Generation” in the Pulchri gallery in Den Haag until June 24th.
Chinese concept artist Ai WeiWei uses antique objects too. By remembering the past he puts them into a new context and criticises the violations against human rights, economic exploitation and environmental pollution in his home country. Remembering is also a main theme which drives his current work for which he joined Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron to design the Serpentine Gallery pavilion in London. It´s part of an annual summer series and was opened last weekend. Instead of building just another fully-fledged new object, the trio deals with the local resources. The plot is turned into an excavation site. It exposes in an archaeological way the foundations of the former eleven pavilions. Together they create a stepped landscape with little platforms which invite the visitors to sit down or just to hang around. The whole surface is covered in cork, reminding the brown soil, enhancing the space´s acoustics and giving a warm haptic quality to it. In addition to that it´s also an ecologically sustainable material. 1.40m above the excavation 12 columns, one for each year, support a large circular roof which holds a shallow pool of rainwater to reflect the sky and the surrounding landscape. The pavilion can be read as an homage to the Serpentine´s whole Pavilion program, inviting the crowds to discover the formerly hidden leftovers in a temporary building and think about impermanence and sustainability. The pavilion will be open until October 24th.
by Örjan Nordling
My wife Carin is a potter and is subscribed to a few art magazines. In a number I saw the work of a thrilling South African artist Ruan Hoffmann, who works with graphics and lettering on the clay. The style is very similar to the graphics as Ben Shahn did in 1950 - and 60’s. Shahn’s playful, paper clip-like characters and painterly style is totally wiped out today - until I saw Hoffmann’s work.
Ben Shahn was born in Lithuania, but spent most of his life in New York working as a photographer and painter in the socialist realism style. The letters and texts were an integral part of his works. The book ‘Love and Joy about Letters’ shows his range as an artist.
There is something pushy with the hand-drawn and crude letter shapes that the forty-year-old Hoffmann shows now, fifty years later. They are far from the orderly, systematic,typographic design, we are so accustomed to. Their quirky content adds something more than merely a decoration on ceramics. There is also something native of the messages in the rough glazed clay. As a greeting from the Roman potsherds, ‘remember that we already communicated back then, with (a) similar characters and signs’.
Who dares to enter this exciting design language in today’s visual communication?
Våga lita på handen
av Örjan Nordling
Min fru Carin som är keramiker prenumererar på några konsthantverkstidningar. I ett nummer såg jag en spännande sydafrikansk keramiker, Ruan Hoffmann, som arbetar med grafik och bokstäver på leran. Stilen påminner mycket om den grafik som Ben Shahn gjorde på 1950- och 60-talen. Shahns lekfulla, pappersklippliknande bokstäver och måleriska manér är helt utraderat i dag – ända tills jag såg Hoffmanns arbete.
Ben Shahn som föddes i Litauen, men tillbringade större delen av sitt liv i New York var fotograf och målare i den socialrealistiska stilen. Bokstäverna och texterna var en integrerad del i hans arbeten. Boken ’Love and Joy about Letters’ visar hans bredd som konstnär.
Det finns något påträngande med de handtecknade och grovhuggna bokstavsformerna som den fyrtioåriga Hoffmann visar nu, femtio år senare. De är fjärran från den ordnade, systematiska typografiska design vi är så vana vid. Deras underfundiga innehåll tillför också något mer än endast som dekor på keramiken. Det finns också något ursprungligt i budskapen på grov glaserad lera. Som en hälsning från de romerska krukskärvorna, ’kom ihåg att vi kommunicerade redan då, med likartade tecken’.
Vem vågar föra in detta spännande formspråk i dagens visuella kommunikation
Ceramic Review ( UK ) September/October 2011
Alexandra Dodd looks into the politically confrontational work of South African artist Ruan Hoffmann.
Master of the Dorothy Parker-style aphorism, the cheeky quip, or the fleeting gem of street wisdom, Johannesburg-based artist Ruan Hoffmann has been raising eyebrows in New York, Cape Town, and Amsterdam with his exquisitely irreverent ceramic plates. Working in delicate earthenware paper clay, Hoffmann eschews the perfection of the expected circle, to craft plates that are willfully irregular – misshapen and rough around the edges. He adorns their surfaces with an array of images and text that is frequently frank, rude, improper, or politically confrontational, fusing the contemporary criticality of art with the sensual aesthetics of craft.
INSTALLATIONS Following a residency at the Thami Mnyele Foundation in Amsterdam, Hoffmann’s striking ceramic works were on exhibition at iArt Gallery in Cape Town in July/August, and at the Anthropologie Gallery in New York over June and July 2011 as part of an exhibition curated by gallery director Keith Johnson. For the Anthropologie installation, characteristically entitled Much Love Me, a selection of about 100 plates were clustered together on thin poles rising up out of the darkness of a dramatically black room like an explosion of long-stemmed flowers in the spring time, or lotus lily pads floating on the surface of a deep, dark pond.
Almost all of the 100 pieces that he showed in Cape Town were directly influenced by his three-month sojourn in Amsterdam: ‘I painted some trees in the Vondelpark, for instance, because we used to cycle through the park daily,’ he says, with a boyish charm that hovers just beneath the archness of his wit.
He recalls the strange absence of birdsong on his first morning in the city, being used to a full dawn chorus in Johannesburg, which is home to the largest manmade forest in the world with over ten million trees. So one of the plates in the series is adorned with bright-coloured birds. Also featured are the 2010 eruptions of Eyafjallajokull in Iceland, which caused enormous disruptions to air travel across western and northern Europe during his time there.
GETTING STARTED Hoffmann is a self-taught ceramist, who has been working in the medium for about eighteen years, knowingly engaging with the decorative surfaces of plates, tiles, vases, sculptures, and bowls as ‘canvases’ to explore his own frenetic consciousness. His first significant solo, which took place at Johannesburg’s Franchise Gallery in 2005, was described as ‘the first major solo show of fine art ceramics on this scale in South Africa’. Then, following his 2008 show at Stellenbosch University, multinational computer giant Apple scooped up a trove of his one-off pieces for their Johannesburg offices, giving him the freedom to paint again. Hoffmann exhibits his moodily surreal oil paintings and his ceramic works interchangeably. Currently working towards an exhibition of paintings for 2012, he commutes between his studio in a grand old house in the leafy Johannesburg suburb of Houghton Estate, where he paints and draws, and a studio in Pretoria, where his ceramics are fired.
All his plates are hand-thrown: ‘I literally take a ball of clay and throw it at an angle on a canvas-covered slab until it is thin and relatively even, then drape it over a Plaster of Paris mould,’ he says. ‘The next day, when the piece has dried a bit, I take it off the mould and it’s ready to fire to a bisque temperature, which enables me to handle the piece easily while painting it. The work is then re-fired and, at this stage, I usually paint on the lustres or apply decals’, which feature images extracted from books relating to places he has visited and things he finds of interest, or snapshots taken on his cell phone.
None of his objects are intended to be functional – they are forms hi-jacked from the homey environs of the domestic sphere for the purposes of unfettered, spasmodic expressivity and quick stabs of stinging social commentary. The plate that flatly announces ‘You Racist’ springs to mind, or the simple black-on-white lettering that recalls a newspaper headline and declares, ‘Protection of Information Age’, or the chilling truism, ‘Millions of people can be wrong’.
THE POLITICAL ENVIRONMENT Although the socio-political nuances in his work are far from polemical, growing up and living in a country as tumultuous as South Africa has had some influence on the content of his work, contributing, perhaps, to the somewhat jaded, satirical tone of his musings: ‘I was at high school in the 80s during [PW] Botha’s many States of Emergency [the National Party’s fevered attempts to maintain power during the dying days of apartheid],’ he says. ‘This country has always been a highly charged and volatile environment to grow up and live in, and I think that makes for interesting art. Some of the references are not that obvious to pick up, but then there is the work that regularly shows my disdain for the “politician” – the ever-present vermin that plague us so. They are, of course, a worldwide phenomenon, but here they are a plague of biblical proportions.’ It is clear from his tone that the demagogues of the post-apartheid regime have failed to win his favour any more than the nationalists who went before them.
His lushly-hued plates adorn the lounge and dining room walls of the Monarch Hotel, Johannesburg’s most elegantly avant-garde hotel. In keeping with the vein of quiet irreverence in the hotel’s décor, the poetically confrontational turns of phrase undercut the ornamental decorativeness of the plates’ initial impact. ‘Fuck ‘em!’ reads one. ‘Begging for it’, ‘What to do this evening’ and ‘In heaven everything should be fine’, read a few others. Challenging the censorial spirit of mannered high society in the dining room context with which we have come to associate plates, his decorative interventions combine canonical imagery – Roman lettering, grand European architecture, classical hues – with off-the-cuff turns of phrase, phallic, or sexual imagery and swear-words.
MINING PRIVATE LIFE But his tone is often introspective, subverting the privacy of the journal entry by displaying his intimate musings in the public sphere of the salon. With a tone of delicious black humour, he layers the surfaces of his plates with autobiographical musings on his personal life and sexuality. Reading the truncated phrases and fleeting reflections that crop up across an anthology of his plates, one has a sense of being the voyeur for a moment – peeping through the keyhole of his life and liaisons. There is that fleeting, vicarious sense of impetuous Elizabeth Taylor-style ruptures and tender reconciliations, but you’re never quite able to stitch together a coherent narrative or a happy ending. We’re strictly in the territory of the collage cut-up or the cover version remix, where only a titillating echo of the originating moment prevails.
The titles of his works occupy that gloriously overblown territory where romance meets tragedy in a swirl of molten mascara. One can’t but be touched by the wistfulness of ‘Camellia japonica in a shot glass’ or the melodrama of ‘Goodbye everybody’, the desperation of ‘I must get out’, or the plain bleakness ‘Life is terrible’. With the solemnity of a jilted drag queen or the jarring directness of Sylvia Plath, Hoffmann’s words appeal to the desperate romantic in us, while graphic swirls, golden teardrops, and painterly swoons lend a suitably operatic quality to his aesthetic. The fragility of his medium could not be more apt.
Alexandra Dodd is a Cape Town-based independent arts writer and a PhD fellow with the Archive and Public Culture research initiative at the University of Cape Town
Hand/Eye Magazine,New York,May 31,2012
Ruan Hoffman’s paper clay plates
Johannesburg-based artist Ruan Hoffmann is capturing imaginations at home and abroad with his delicate paper clay plates adorned with frank musings and lush imagery.
Some plates are just so glorious it would be a crime to eat off of them. Take, for example, Ruan Hoffmann’s striking earthenware paper clay creations: delicate and thin to the touch, they are also rough around the edges – much the like the autobiographical musings and Truman Capote-style aphorisms that adorn their glossy surfaces.
It’s a particular strain of humor that runs through his ceramic creations. Sweet-and-sour and often quite endearingly wistful, the phrases that are whisked from the stream of his consciousness and immortalized on his ceramic surfaces could as easily be found tucked away on the intimate pages of a personal journal. Which makes it all the more risqué to discover them on the adorned surfaces of plates—domestic objects, which we tend to associate with the mannered sociality of dining.
Hoffmann also uses the surfaces of bowls, tile panels and small sculptures as canvases for his lush images, which combine captivating line drawings—sometime jagged, sometimes sensually organic—with graphic typography. His imagery ranges from loose portraits of himself and his lover, to city maps and Gothic buildings, trees, enlarged fingerprints, swirls of water, classical foliage, bright birds, angelic putti, mystic praying mantises and abstract splotches, all unified by his distinctive ease of line and bold use of color.
Realizing that they’d be even better savored as a feast of multiples, the luxuriant Monarch Hotel in Johannesburg invested in about 80 of these willfully irregular ceramic disks to adorn the walls of its elegant dining room, and the artist readily admits that it’s the best place to get a total sense of his signature style.
He has had four major solo exhibitions in his home country—most recently at Gonzalves + Brundyn Gallery in Cape Town in 2011. But Hoffmann’s work is quickly becoming a hit in salons and sitting rooms across the globe. Over June and July last year, one hundred of his plates were exhibited at the Anthropologie Gallery in New York, as part of an exhibition curated by Gallery Director Keith Johnson.
A recent phone call found the artist laconically “babysitting a swimming pool renovation” at his mother’s home in Pretoria. Usually quite understated and not easily ruffled, he did, uncharacteristically, admit to being “rather excited” about a range of hand-painted limestone tiles that he recently created for the Sausalito-based Cle tile ( http://cletile.com/ ), which were launched on April 1, 20012 as part of a series of bespoke artist-designed tiles.
Later this year, he will be heading north to take up a residency at the Zentrum für Keramik-Berlin. “As far as I know, I’m the first African artist to be selected,” he says, adding how thrilling it will be to have so much time in a city with as many impressive galleries as Berlin. Hoffmann is an urbane traveler who keeps himself well informed about key shows unfolding on the European circuit. His upcoming Berlin residency follows three months at the Thami Mnyele Foundation in Amsterdam in 2010, where he made some strikingly lyrical pieces, including a covetable ivory-colored plate featuring a linear black tree with shimmering gold leaves, based on one that caught his eye in Vondelpark.
Although he studied at the University of Pretoria, he has had no formal training in ceramics, but has been honing his medium over the past 15 years. “I enjoy playing with clay,” he says matter of factly. “It’s a versatile medium and I’m curious.”
Ruan Hoffmann is represented by Deon Viljoen Fine Art (www.deonviljoen.com), which recently opened a spacious new shop in the centre of Stellenbosch in the Western Cape. To see more of his delicious creations, visit his website at: www.ruanhoffmann.com.
BUSINESS DAY WANTED MAGAZINE JULY 2011
Artist Ruan Hoffmann claims he tends to “bore easily” – but his works are capturing imaginations around the globe.
Ruan Hoffmann is best known for his ceramic work – provocative, delicate, curious and unpredictable paintings, stencils, words, fired onto bowls, vases and tiles – but he’s at pains to point out that he’s an artist rather than a ceramicist. Hoffmann is currently focused on painting, preparing for a show that will open in Cape Town early next year. “I don’t do ceramics day in, day out,” he laughs. “Actually, it’s my own fault. I should show my other work more often.”
The reason Hoffmann’s ceramics works are so compelling, though, is perhaps because he treats the clay as a canvas. In June, a selection of Hoffmann’s ceramic pieces will go on display at the Anthropologie Gallery on Rockefeller Plaza in New York, in a show curated by Anthropologie art and antique buyer Keith Johnson.
“They’ve chosen quite safe works,” Hoffmann comments [the items on the show were selected from previous works Hoffmann had made], “but I feel incredibly lucky. Trevyn [McGowan, the design consultant whose clients include Anthropologie and the Conran Shops] has been so supportive of my art.”
Hoffmann says that he doesn’t see South African elements in his own work but “other people do. They find my work quite exotic. I think South Africa is something you just assimilate.”
Hoffmann created the pieces that will be shown at Anthropologie shortly after completing a residency in the Netherlands; some of the works feature transfers created from photographs Hoffmann took on his iPhone – then emailed to a colleague in Utrecht, who created the transfers. “I like the effect, almost like photostats on the ceramics. I also used a lot of lustres. The gold is such a contrast to the matte imagery you get with the decals; it’s almost sickeningly shiny. It’s the same when I use glass. It adds depth; the glass melts into blue ponds.
Hoffmann says that what he likes about ceramics is the surprise element. “I don’t know what will happen at the end. It’s exciting to see what happened, when it comes back from being fired.” For the past two years, he has worked exclusively with paper clay – an earthenware base with added paper cellulose, creating clay that’s very light. “It’s not for domestic use,” he explains. “You can’t eat off it or put it in a dishwasher. It’s porous.”
Certainly, his works have an absorbing quality to them.
The Thami Mnyele Foundation and the CBK Zuidoost are pleased to invite you to the opening of the exhibition 20 Years Thami Mnyele Foundation
20 Years Foundation Thami Mnyele
a selection of 26 contemporary artists from all over Africa
March 12 t/m April 29 2011 in CBK Zuidoost
Opening Saturday March 12 at 15 h:
Opening Speech: Guusje ter Horst, former Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations. She is also the chairman of HBO-Raad and a member of the Board of Trustees for the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.
Kunstcafé Thursday April 14 from 17 to 19 h:
Annet Zondervan, CBK director, in discussion with the organizers and artists: Bert Holvast, Samson Kambalu, Moshekwa Langa, Rutger Pontzen and Ina van Zyl.
Twenty years ago, inspired by the South African patriot and artist Thami Mnyele (1948-1985), a group of Amsterdam based artists and concerned citizens, set up an artists-in-residence program, enabling artists from Africa the opportunity to live and work in Amsterdam for a period of three months. The atelier, that the Thami Mnyele Foundation made available, continues to be a vibrant meeting place for artists from Africa and artists from the Netherlands.
The Thami Mnyele Foundation together with the CBK has selected the work of 26 artists out of the 68 artists that have been working in the studio over the last twenty years. This choice gives a glimpse into the diversity of contemporary art practices coming out of Africa. The exhibited works were made by the artists and donated to the Thami Mnyele Foundation during their stay in Amsterdam.
With the works of: Akintunde Akinleye (Nigeria), Akirash (Ghana), Dineo Seshee Bopape (Zuid-Afrika), Clifford Charles (Zuid-Afrika), Victor Ekpuk (Nigeria/USA), Hadia Gana (Libië), Assefa Gebrekidan (Ethiopië), Ruan Hoffmann (Zuid-Afrika), Samson Kambalu (Malawi), Krishna Luchoomun (Mauritius), Senzeni Marasela (Zuid-Afrika), Mustafa Maluka (Zuid-Afrika), Zaneli Muholi (Zuid-Afrika), John Murray (Zuid-Afrika), Progress Matubako (Zuid-Afrika), Sheppard Mtyshelwa (Zuid-Afrika), Ndikhumbule Ngqinambi (Zuid-Afrika), Odili Donald Odita (Nigeria/USA), Thulani Songwe (Zuid-Afrika), Michael Tsegaye (Ethiopië), James Iroha Uchechukwu (Nigeria), Adriaan de Villiers (Zuid-Afrika), Guy Wouete (Kameroen), Dominique Zinkpé (Benin),Tito Zungu (Zuid-Afrika) and Ina van Zyl (Zuid-Afrika).
Anton de Komplein 120
1102 DR Amsterdam
by Frederik Eksteen (Frederik is a practicing artist, arts writer and a lecturer at UNISA)
Not one to force pressing philosophical agendas when talking about his work, Ruan Hofmann’s use of ceramic as a medium might sound a lot like a quirky technical choice. In my own correspondence with the artist he has also emphatically downplayed a “conceptual reading” of his materials, which makes the body of work he has assembled over the past three years a rather odd, and dare I say, confusingly aesthetic thing. Yet as a backdrop for his sometimes offbeat and often disconcerting narratives, ceramic is not quite a neutral platform.
The involuntary picture that comes to mind when we think about ceramic and its history is mostly that of a “warm and nostalgic trip through glaze discoveries, quaint old pottery studios, accompanied by a picture gallery of charming, non-threatening pots that one can take home to mother”. Hofmann’s rather unsettling brand of ceramic art fails to do justice to this wholesome template. His painted tiles, bowls and vases, which have recently found a crossover appeal penetrating both fine art and design circuits, are probably some of the more curious decorative objects being produced locally.
Ceramic’s “easy” appeal, or its “high unseriousness” as a notable art critic has put it, has made it possible for Hoffman to insert some peculiarly visceral and macabre images into viewing circuits that artists are generally excluded from. Whether knowingly or not, he has - in a way that reminds of Turner Prize-winner Grayson Perry’s equally improper, semi-autobiographical pots - turned the innocuous intimations of the medium into an advantage. Like Perry, who has said that he wants to “make something that lives with the eye as a beautiful piece of art, but on closer inspection a polemic or ideology will come out of it”, Hofmann’s tactic is an inconspicuous seduction. So much so that collectors of his work might only be slightly perturbed by the sometimes scatological subject matter that stares out from their walls and display cabinets.
It is this invisibility of ceramic as an art medium that has made the unlikely transfer of “dangerous” content into more sociable surroundings possible. It seems no matter what images are fired onto, and sealed into its surface - a process that is sometimes repeated up to five times in Hofmann’s case - the ceramic object will always be a domesticated thing that could harbour no ill intent. Even more so if it is that most docile of objects: a “vessel” (read: bowl, vase, pot).
As much as I would like to avoid getting into the pangs of the fine art versus applied art row that informs much writing on ceramics, it is an unavoidable sub text that needs to be contended with. Ceramic has had a treacherously close alliance with the so-called decorative arts. And it is probably “anxieties about the value of the decorative” that might have caused it to be thought of as a sterile, inchoate craft medium that simply offers too many possibilities for manipulation to be constrained within a distinct area of competence. Or so the backlash against the crafts by the likes of American art critic Clement Greenberg contended at mid-century.
For the sceptics the process of shaping with clay seems dangerously, and aimlessly, unstable. Maybe because, as writer and ceramic artist Edmund de Waal explains, the aim of decoration - the offence of which ceramic along with other crafts stand accused - has less to do with creating the pure and elevated forms which modernist critics spoke of, than with disguising them behind effects. But a lot has happened since this kind of talk had any real significance.
One cannot be ignorant of the fact that ceramic, and also the notion of the decorative, has in more recent art, been charged with an unexpected potency. And often with clearly political overtones. Ornamental surfaces are not always a mute veneer as those hostile to the so-called crafts have found out. In a number of noteworthy examples of feminist art, with Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party (1979) being the most prominent prototype, decoration is thought to have become the voice of the formerly voiceless. In Chicago’s collaborative installation, various crafts, among them ceramic or china painting, have produced something that is meant to speak about concerns affecting the marginalised.
The rejuvenation of craft as a persuasive vehicle for addressing gender issues and power relations is however not the only association that could saturate Hofmann’s use of ceramics with surplus value, and neither is it the aspect that is most apparent or interesting. As a case study it might be worthwhile to investigate the significance of male artists appropriating traditionally female skills for their own purposes, but what is more important to take from this discussion is the idea that ornament can be approached in terms of the challenges it presents. Hofmann, like a number of likeminded artists who engage with decoration, to borrow a phrase from Laura Hoptman, “embrace it cheerfully but wield it knowingly”.
Hofmann, as we would expect from a ceramicist, paints on tiles, vases and bowls. The compositions he fires onto their surfaces are often also decorative, but a strange metaphorical relationship between these most homely of supports and what covers their shapes reveals itself. A plate is not just a plate and a pot not always a pot; firstly not in a strictly utilitarian sense. The artist is very quick to point out that none of his objects are meant to be functional. The plates are often covered in thick clay textures making them clearly unpractical as serving bowls, and the vases, replete with unsealed imperfections, will not hold any liquid. From what I gather, the artist sees their dysfunction as a sign of autonomy.
But secondly, and more significantly, for Hofmann a bowl is sometimes also a cosmic field, an area of confinement, a vast region of emptiness, and a vase can be a throbbing, mutating mass upon which an array of characters and words swell and churn. Decorative impressions aside, the artist appears to have inhabited his simulated domestic objects with a cast of diverse creatures and sentiments that engage in introspective and transcendental acts, or phrased in Hofmann’s sweeping words, grapple with “the transient nature of everything”. In what might appear to be predictable decorative conventions, dark, cynical, sometimes funny, yet often poignant subject matter causes an uneasy stirring.
One also gets the distinct impression that his formats are sometimes measured, tested or challenged. It happens with the formal dissection of their planes by decorative divisions and linear elements, and more obviously, with threads and figures that seem to be searching for a way out as they circle and confront the edge of the format. In two recent bowls for example, a male figure in front of a red background is contorted to fit within the confines of his circular world. He appears to be performing some kind of overzealous yoga posture with his body bent backward and his feet resting on his head. Except for the shape’s referencing the edge of the bowl, with the body becoming a loop within a circle, the figure’s acrobatics seem to cause distress, with no bliss or transcendence accompanying the effort. His contortion can be interpreted as an attempt at escaping from the constraints of the format, but instead of reaching out, his body turns back in on itself and becomes what it would like to transcend. There is a strange resignation about the figure, and like many others in Hofmann’s work, it seems to have some awareness of being a comment on the metaphors implicit in the format as much as being a decoration of sorts.
In another series of bowls, concentric contour lines trace their topography, only leaving a small, blank, circular gap at the centre of each. The words “I DRAW, WALK, SLEEP, THINK, EAT I READ, I THINK ABOUT WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN TO ME, I WORRY MYSELF, THEN I”, are closely cropped by the vibrating mass of lines that frame the middle of one bowl. In the accompanying pieces, the blurbs are “GO AWAY” and “IT MIGHT NOT WORK OUT MY SWEETIE”. What is interesting about these examples is how the viewer is set up for inevitable disappointment.
As objects, the bowls resemble mandalas, focussing devices used in meditation. Symbolically, they are supposed to be simplified maps of the cosmos and the psyche, where the mystic is supposed to identify with its centre (bindu), “the symbolic seed of the manifested universe and the threshold to the transcendental Reality”. In Hofmann’s reinvention of the motif, however, the negative sentiments in the text at the centre of the bowls returns the viewer to the cynical lowercase realities of daily life. After being drawn in by the optical illusion, it is especially the phrase “GO AWAY” that causes the biggest jolt. It is a revealing example of how the viewer is seduced by the decorative effect of the work, only to be rudely awakened once comfortable. I consider these examples as signifying an emblematic tactic in Hofmann’s work. The formula or pattern that emerges shows that transcendence and release is never attained, but remains a constant preoccupation as the many figures shown in meditation-like activities would suggest.
Although Hofmann’s subject matter engages with a kind of cynical mysticism in many of the objects, with the mandala motif recurring in various guises - even becoming an emblem that is sometimes signified in its absence - some of the pieces can hardly be called esoteric. Many engage with everyday happenings that are encoded within the decorative constraints of the medium and the format. It is equally significant that a number of objects contain stylistic references to the history and status of ceramic as an art form. These clues seem to suggest that he is in the process of compiling an eclectic ceramic workbook where the technical promise of the medium, along with its legacy, becomes a sub text to what is happening in his own life. But the format challenge I have spoken of is almost always apparent. With the utmost linear economy, and barely dependent upon illusionist tricks, Hofmann creates idiosyncratic spaces and contexts of confinement. His compositions, like his characters, are trapped within the bounds of a circular world where things seem to be caught in a perpetual loop.
As with much art being produced at the moment, setting parameters is an important component in Hofmann’s work. By isolating options within preset boundaries, he has created a range of alternative propositions that not only speak about those limitations but sometimes turn them inside out. Bound by the format and the legacy of his medium, he has negotiated a range of surprising and potent compromises.
Chicago, J. 1975. Through the flower: my struggle as a woman artist. Introduction by A Nin. London: The Women’s Press.
Clark, G. 1998. Between a toilet and a hard place: is the ceramic avant-garde a contradiction in terms? Available at: http://ceramicsmuseum.alfred.edu/perkins_lect_series/clark/clarktalk.html. Accessed 15 July 2005.
De Waal, E. 2002. High unseriousness: artists and clay, in A secret history of clay: from Gauguin to Gormley, edited by S Groom. Liverpool: Tate Liverpool: 37-65.
Feuerstein, G. 1998. The yoga tradition: its history, philosophy and practice. Prescott: Arizona.
Greenberg, C. 1961. Art and culture: critical essays. Boston: Beacon.
Grunenberg, C. 2002. Director’s foreword, in A secret history of clay: from Gauguin to Gormley, edited by S Groom. Liverpool: Tate Liverpool: 9.
Groom, S (ed). A secret history of clay: from Gauguin to Gormley. Foreword by C Grunenberg. Liverpool: Tate Liverpool.
Hoptman, L. 2002. Drawing now: eight propositions. New York: The Museum of Modern Art.
Jeffries, S. 2003. Top of the pots. Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0.3604.1089933.00.html. Accessed 3 July 2004.
From Garth Clark’s (1998) Dorothy Wilson Perkins Lecture ‘Between a toilet and a hard place: Is the ceramic avant-garde a contradiction in terms?’, presented at the International Museum of Ceramic Art at Alfred University. Hilton Kramer’s reservations about ceramic art are expressed in Christoph Grunenberg’s (2004:9) foreword to the Secret History of Clay: from Gauguin to Gormley catalogue, an exhibition presented at the Tate Liverpool in 2004. Grayson Perry is quoted in Jeffries (2003). From Edmund de Waal’s (1998:38) essay, titled ‘High unseriousness: artists and clay”, taken up in the Secret History of Clay catalogue, an exhibition presented at the Tate Liverpool in 2004. Greenberg (1961:23) De Waal (1998:50) Chicago (1975:208-210) I am quoting Laura Hoptman (2002:31) with reference to decorative approaches in drawing. The context from which the phrase was borrowed deals with the art of Laura Owens, Chris Ofili and Richard Wright. Feuerstein (1998:176)
PRETORIA NEWS / CITY SCENE
Ruan Hoffmann is a young, Johannesburg-based artist who is rapidly gaining a reputation for his highly individual pieces. It seems a fitting time to showcase his work, as the artist has just returned from a residency at the Frans Masereel Centre in Kasterlee, Belgium, and he was also recently awarded a prestigious residency at the European Ceramic Work Centre (ECWC) in sg’Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands in 200700.
Two important pieces of his were shown at this year’s Absa L’atelier Award Exhibition in Johannesburg, and the artist is currently working towards a major solo exhibition at the University of Stellenbosch in 2008.
There is much emphasis on ceramics in general right now, as September ‘06 is also the month of the Clay Festival, being held at the new University of Johannesburg’s Cottesloe Campus. This significant event will be closely followed by the National Ceramics Exhibition, scheduled to take place at Artscape in Cape Town during October.
Ruan Hoffmann has been working with ceramics for some fifteen years. What sets him apart, however, is that he has never regarded himself as a ‘potter’ or a ceramicist, but as an artist. He uses the three-dimensional surfaces of vases, plates, bowls, tile panels and small sculptures as ‘canvases’ for his icon-like images; and his art is often infused with personal concerns about identity and sexuality, as well as mythical and mystical allusions. In this respect, his work can be favourably compared with that of famed London ceramic artist, Grayson Perry, winner of the prestigious Turner Prize in 2003. Perry’s vases typically depict controversial topics, such as sex and child abuse, yet they are aesthetically exquisite. In his statement on accepting his award, Perry declared: ‘I want to make something that lives with the eye as a beautiful piece of art, but, on closer inspection, a polemic or an ideology will come out of it’. This is a statement that could apply as well to the work of Ruan Hoffmann. Ceramics’ popularly thought-of status as a craft - rather than a contemporary form of art production - is an issue that Hoffmann readily subverts. By focusing on the medium’s fragility, combined with a discriminating eye for details and painstaking craftsmanship, he finds a sympathetic vehicle for expressing concerns that span both the present and the past. Unlike some other art forms, ceramic art often forces the artist to negotiate with the built-in idiosyncrasies of the medium. Thus, in Hoffmann’s work, casual and accidental elements frequently interrupt the process and induce surprising results. These spontaneous mishaps are part of the ceramic medium itself, and serve to make his work particularly exciting. Hoffmann’s first important solo exhibition at Franchise Gallery in Johannesburg: in September 2005 was the culmination of three years of working and exploring every possible aspect of the clay medium. With a total of some 30 vases/urns and some 500 circular paintings on plates, the exhibition could be described as the first major solo show of fine art ceramics on this scale in South Africa. A few months later - in February 2006 - he had a private viewing of his plates in Pretoria. Their caustic, tongue-in-cheek wit was hailed by Pretoria News art reviewer, Miranthe Staden-Garbett, who wrote: ‘With their dry wit, cantankerous edges and poisonous glazes, they would be hard to swallow, were they, or anything, served on them, meant for human consumption. Unpalatable though they may be, as a feast for the eyes, they are spot-on’. ’Simply seen as paintings on plates, they are aesthetically pleasing, desirable objets d’art’, she continues. ‘With their explosive reds, strong oranges, concertina corners, concentric circles and quirky cameos, they are abstract and symbolic, highly personalised and playful, recalling Hundertwasser and our own Robert Hodgins.’ ’As craft, which, in form, it ostensibly purports to be, it’s missing one crucial ingredient - its function. Historically, ceramics maintain a modest reputation: domestic, rustic, useful, humble: while hanging plates on the wall smacks of bourgeois kitsch, Hoffmann defies these stereotypes with an idiosyncratic blend of the mystic, caustic and wry.’ ’The succinct choice of format - target/mandala/cosmic circle disguised as innocuous saucer - draws in the unsuspecting viewer. Fully utilising the magnetic pull of a circle’s centre, labyrinthine vortexes harbour rude dismissals and shadows of doubt …While the messages may be disconcerting, the medium definitely is not. The result is an intimate exchange.’
Glazed Expressions / The Magazine of TACS,the Tiles and Architectural Ceramics Society / Issue No.75 2015
Hans van Lemmen
Ruan Hoffmann – Ceramic Artist
The South African artist Ruan Hoffmann was born and educated in Pretoria and now maintains two studio one in South Africa and one in Amsterdam. He became interested in ceramics when at high school in Pretoria and then studied Fine Art at the University of Pretoria, graduating in 1990. He is first and foremost a painter, and works with a variety of media like canvas, paper and of course ceramics. He is widely known, having had solo exhibitions in Cape Town, New York, London and Paris. He has also held various Artist in Residence positions around the world of which the latest was at the Clay Studio, Philadelphia, USA, in 2014.
Although he is a professionally trained artist, ceramics was not part of his Fine Art studies and his interest in that medium developed after university so he regards himself very much as self-taught in ceramics. His fascination in working with ceramics is related to the transformative powers involved in it, summed up by what he says of the production of ceramic ware; “I don’t know what will happen at the end. It’s exciting to see what happened when it comes back from being fired.” His ceramic output consists of such things as hand-thrown plates, vases and tiles which are not made to be used but are works of art to be displayed or hung on the wall. They are painted with human figures, human faces, and sometimes plant forms, fruit, birds and abstract patterns.
Some of his tile work is decorated with textual references comprising of single words or short statements. They are written in Roman capital letters which gives the messages a certain boldness that engages the viewer directly. The sources for these messages are clips from everyday conversations, quotations or phrases that reflect his concerns about current social or political situations. There are also tiles that merely carry his initials and the date on which the tile was made thus making them into autographic statements showing the power of the artist’s signature.
Some of his most interesting tiles depict the human form which is freely conceived in simplified and semi abstract ways. There are echoes here of painters like Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Francis Bacon, artists whom Ruan admires and who have influenced him at different times in his life. Other sources derive from indigenous South African culture – hardly surprising for an artist brought up in South Africa. Of particular interest here are tiles showing bulbous shaped vases on which the human figure has been drawn with striking primitive directness. Tiles with human faces often seem to be ‘self-portraits’ because although not intentionally created as such, they often look very like him.
If Hoffmann’s tiles are in the first instance created as ‘free standing’ art objects, they have also found commercial applications via the innovative New York design firm Clé. One intriguing series of tiles they market is called Postcards from Myself. These are encaustic cement tiles with lithographically printed decorations. The images on the tiles are abstract shapes and forms, and bird and leaf motifs. They were initially painted on 6” x 6” ‘postcards and are intended to evoke memories from Hoffmann’s life (past travels, favourite places, lovers etc.). They are hand lithographed on 8” square encaustic cement tiles and each tile is compressed, cured and then printed in a process that replicates Hoffmann’s original brushstrokes. Lithography is an excellent medium to capture the spirit of the artist’s hand and can convey the energy and movement of original brushwork. Hoffmann’s tiles are an indispensable part of his total ceramic output and add an important and very individualistic slant to contemporary tile making.
Hans van Lemmen
PRETORIA NEWS / THURSDAY / FEBRUARY 16 2006
Ruan Hoffmann’s plates resemble jagged little pills. With their dry wit, cantankerous edges and poisonous glazes, they would be hard to swallow, were they, or anything served on them, meant for human consumption.
Unpalatable though they may be, as a feast for the eyes they are spot-on.
Simply seen as paintings on plates they are aesthetically pleasing, desirable objets d’art.
With their explosive reds, strong oranges, concertina corners, concentric circles and quirky cameos, they are abstract and symbolic, highly personalised and playful, recalling Hundertwasser and our own Robert Hodgins.
As craft, which in form it ostensibly purports to be, it’s missing one crucial ingredient - its function.
Historically, ceramics maintain a modest reputation: domestic, rustic, useful, humble; while hanging plates on the wall smack of bourgeois kitsch. Hoffmann defies these stereotypes with an idiosyncratic blend of the mystic, caustic and wry.
The succinct choice of format-target/mandala/cosmic circle disguised as innocuous saucer - draws in the unsuspecting viewer.
Fully utilizing the magnetic pull of a circle’s center, labyrinthine vortexes harbour rude dismissals and shadows of doubt - go away!
While the messages may be disconcerting, the medium definitely is not.
The result is an intimate exchange.
You have to come really close to decipher the tiny cryptic messages and having meandered the intricate contours to the center, I felt slightly triumphant upon decoding the disjointed “it might not work out my sweetie” message. I’m not quite sure why.
I don’t share one critic’s sense of thwarted disappointment, as I found myself thoroughly delighted by this tongue-in-cheek spread.
As souvenirs of some one else’s bizarre adventures, they promise much vicarious pleasure.
BUSINESS DAY WANTED MAGAZINE APRIL 2010
In the week prior to the bright lights, big city whirl of the Joburg Art Fair, artist Ruan Hoffmann hosted three private evening viewings of a new series of paintings at the Monarch Hotel. Unlike the public orientation of the Art Fair and the gallery circuit in general, these salon-style viewings generated an aura of off-circuit mystique, recalling the Left Bank spirit of Paris in the early 20th century.
‘I like the idea of people being able to spend some time with the work in an intimate, quiet atmosphere without a whole lot of people around them,’ says Hoffmann. Exhibiting paintings in the company of a grand piano, orchids, champagne and antique gold-leafed furniture changes the way in which they are received, stepping outside of the contemporary white cube model to bring back the blurred line between atelier and salon.
The ephemerality of the three-day viewing period also recalled the phenomenon of the pop-up event, which has become a something of a trend in unexpected urban locations around Europe in recent years. The life of these happenings is short lived so as to generate a sense of value around the mortality of the moment.
This format was ideally suited to Hoffmann’s work, which does not attempt to be part of any particular movement or social zeitgeist, and refers to no particular contemporary South African markers of place or identity. His dark, dreamy paintings inhabit an otherworldly dream life, where figures mutate into birds or morph into psychic creatures or an inchoate swamp of melancholia. Skulls or memento mori (from the Latin phrase: ‘remember you must die’) featured prominently in the show, counterpoised by an unexpected pop palette of salmon pinks and acid yellows. It may come as no surprise then that one of Hoffman’s ghoulish works is entitled ‘Michael Jackson’.
‘A lot of the pictures are about the alternate space of dreams, sleep and not being in your body, but always having to return to the limitations of your body because you’re bound to it,’ says Hoffmann. ‘The first painting was the portrait of [German Surrealist painter] Max Ernst. I applied this dirty sap-green and Van Dyck-brown wash to the canvas, then I started with a nose, which developed into a face and I thought: “That looks like Max Ernst”, so I painted in the wings and left it at that.’ (Ernst, whose fascination with birds took the form of his painterly alter-ego, a bird called Loplop, suggested that the creature was an extension of himself.)
Painting is a fresh direction for Hoffmann, who grew up in Pretoria and studied art in the early Nineties when talents like Anton Karstel, Jacques Coetzer and Walter Meyer, were emerging from the city’s art schools. A self-taught ceramicist, his exquisite textual pieces adorn the lounge and dining room walls of the Monarch Hotel, which has quickly established itself as Johannesburg’s most elegantly avant-garde hotel.
In keeping with the vein of quiet irreverence in the hotel’s décor, the poetically confrontational turns of phrase on his lushly hued ceramic plates undercut the ornamental decorativeness of their initial impact. ‘Fuck ‘em!’ reads the surface of one delicate plate made from paper clay. ‘Run for your life’, ‘Begging for it’, ‘What to do this evening’, ‘I had enough’, ‘In heaven everything should be fine’, ‘All hope is lost’, read a few others. With a tone of delicious black humour, he layers the surfaces of plates, bowls, tiles and vases with autobiographical musings on his personal life and sexuality.
In 2005, he had an exhibition at Franchise gallery at which he only showed a fraction of the 5500 ceramic pieces he’d made in the three-year period prior to that show, which he spent working in Hermanus in complete isolation. ‘It was impossible to show everything!’ he says ‘But the amazing thing is that all 5 500 pieces are documented.’
His Franchise show was followed up with a series of lithographs produced during a residency in at the Frans Masereel Centre in Kasterlee, Belgium, and editioned in a collaboration with master printmaker Zhané Warren at Warren Editions in Cape Town.
His next show was at the University of Stellenbosch in 2008 and, a year later, he made a huge sale of his Stellenbosch ceramics to Trevyn McGowan (who sources local design for international outlets like the Conran Shop in the UK and Anthropologie in the US) for Apple’s Joburg offices, giving him the freedom to paint again.
He has spent the past six months in his studio culminating in his recent vernissage at the Monarch, and last week (unlike the birds with stunted wings in his paintings) he flew off to Europe to take up a residency at the Thami Mnyele Foundation in Amsterdam, where he wants to create a large ceramic atlas of the city that charts his stay there day by day.
Touching down in Europe for the spring, he plans to immediately catch a train to visit the Frida Kahlo exhibition currently on at the Bozar and the El Greco show also on at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, then on to Paris for the Lucian Freud show at the Pompidou and Turner and his Masters at the Grand Palais… ‘There are so many incredible shows on, I can’t wait,’ he says with the boyish charm that hovers just beneath the archness of his cheeky quips in delicate ceramic.