Ruan Hoffmann (born in 1971 in South Africa) is working with ceramics over the past 14 years. He uses the three-dimensional surfaces of plates, bowls, tile panels and small sculptures as canvases for his icon-like images. Ceramic's popularly thought of status as a craft - rather than a contemporary form of art production - is an issue Hoffmann eagerly subverts. By focusing on the medium's fragility, combined with a discriminating eye for detail and painstaking craftsmanship, the artist finds a sympathetic vehicle for expressing concerns that span both the present and the past. His art is often infused with personal concerns about identity and sexuality, as well as mythical and mystical allusions.
Ruan Hoffmann is staying in the Thami Mnyele studio during the period April-June 2010 and August- September 2013.
Louis Boshoff in 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 his expression. 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 collide. 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.
keramisch magazine Klei, Louis Boshoff ,Netherlands/Belgium 2013-1