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Ruan Hoffman’s clay plates

Johannesburg-based artist Ruan Hoffmann is capturing imaginations at home and abroad with his delicate 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 Los Angeles-based Tilevera, 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.

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