by City scene
(Pretoria News, February 16 2006)
Ruan Hoffmann is a young, Pretoria-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.'