Ruan Hoffmann: a clé artist collaboration

by clé tile | published: Mar 30, 2023

at clé, art doesn’t just inspire what we do. it runs through everything we do—as it has from the start. in fact, our fascination with the connection between art and tile preceded the formal beginnings of clé, reaching all the way back to clé founder Deborah Osburn’s genre-defining blog, Tile Envy.

from day one, clé’s mission has been to push the boundaries of how we create, view, and use tiles. this vision was the genesis of our artist collaborations, and the very first artist we turned to was Ruan Hoffmann.

why art + tile?

clé founder Deborah Osburn—a trained artist with a background in sculpture—has always seen tile as a platform for unbridled creativity.

she saw that throughout history and around the world—from the mosaics of ancient Rome and the dazzling pattern play of Morocco to the lyrical hand-painted imagery of blue and white delft tile and the azulejos of Portugal—tile had transcended its role as a functional surface material and shone as an artistic medium in its own right.

over time, she also came to realize that tile was a perfect medium through which artists could showcase and extend their work—that tile could help bring their work to a wider audience and in a different, more approachable context… and thus the idea for artist collaborations was born.

Ruan Hoffmann + clé

Osburn had long been a fan of Hoffman, an internationally renowned ceramic artist, and even before she started clé, Osburn covered Hoffmann in Tile Envy the blog (and before that, Daily Tile on facebook)—which then became a book of the same name. she’d been drawn to Hoffmann's work, and in particular his poetic distortions of classical forms such as plates and vessels, layered with imagery and commentary that ranged from the personal to the pithy.

for Osburn, Hoffmann’s work wove a deep love of history and humanity with a rebellious punk energy that was electrifying—and which resonated deeply with her. the pair bonded over their mutual appreciation of art and tile, and over the course of multiple exchanges, they resolved to embark on a collaboration.

using Hoffmann’s artwork, Osburn worked with a lithographer to reproduce the images in high resolution on stone tiles, developing a fine arts printing process proprietary to clé.

two years after she and Hoffmann hatched their collaboration plans, the line launched with 12-inch limestone squares featuring Hoffmann’s drawings. what began as a limited-edition run, due to the extremely slow and expensive production process, has since scaled up to become an established clé collection titled, ‘much love me’. and from that first collection, clé has gone on to collaborate with other designers and artists from across the globe, curating a range of exclusive works we call maison clé.

the world of Ruan Hoffman

Hoffmann was born and raised in South Africa, where he studied at the University of Pretoria and took classes in clay. by his own admission he was never interested in working on the wheel or making coffee mugs and such, and certainly had no interest in all the technical details of the craft.

"I just enjoyed playing with clay,” he explained to Osburn. “it’s a versatile medium and I’m curious.” for Hoffmann, ceramics is art. "I’m not a purist,” he says. “I feel that anything that brings art closer to people I should like to explore.”

his work is dynamic, with a fluid, playful energy and sly, often irreverent humor. it seems to draw inspiration from every quarter all at once, mashing up classical letter forms and nature-based imagery with visual elements that bring to mind graffiti, shibori, delft tile, op art and more.

currently living in Amsterdam, he notes ”I love cities close to or on water—Venice, Istanbul, New York—and the very clear connection one has with nature and the fragile existence of the city and the humans in it.”

the drawings he created for clé reflect that connection, with glimpses of architecture, plants and flowers, swirls that conjure rivers and waves—a sort of postcard from Hoffman’s world, signed with fondness “much love me.”

transcendence on a platter

although clé’s collaboration with Hoffmann features limestone tiles, it is the everyday plate that has become his trademark “canvas.” (his work is available at the Spaceless Gallery and at Roman and Williams Guild.)

his brilliance lies in using ceramics, one of the oldest human inventions, and distorting its classic forms, embellishing them with imagery and prose to move them from the quotidian into the realm of art. he fills his hand-formed plates with poetically beautiful and often brutally honest musings on the social, political and personal, combined with painterly images and recurring motifs. “he really drills down into every facet of the human psyche, from joy to sadness,” says Osburn.

Hoffmann’s work is very much a study in contrasts: irregular ceramic forms with gilded surfaces. classical Roman lettering distorted. stinging social commentary juxtaposed with self-reflective insights. pathos and humor. and while each piece stands alone as a glimpse into the artist’s mind, taken together his body of work serves as an ongoing diary, documenting both his everyday life and his views of society as a whole.

South African writer Dr. Alexandra Dodd describes Hoffmann’s work best in her essay Portrait of the Artist as a Room Full of Plates, writing, “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.”

from the artist to you with ‘much love’

nearly a decade from those first conversations between Osburn and Hoffmann, ‘much love me’ is still one of the most powerful collections that has ever been offered by clé and is what put clé artist collaborations on the map. fusing art with function, this now-classic tile series has been pivotal in changing the way we all consider decorative tiles.

Hoffmann’s works are available in tile form featuring ten drawings created uniquely for clé. available in two colorways on natural limestone: delft blue, and charcoal, the tiles can be ordered with one design or can be mixed with other designs for a more eclectic look.