Humour and craftsmanship go hand in hand in the work of ceramic artist Hans de Jong (1932-2011). With no concern for the possible functions of his objects, he modelled clay into fantastical creatures and playful figures with names like Crybaby, Flyfrog, Flatlander and His Transparency. Both his figurative objects and his vessels offer, as he himself put it, ‘the luxury of absolute superfluity’. You can do almost nothing with them except look at them – but the complexity of the skin and graphic details provides plenty to see. This is the first exhibition since the artist’s death to survey his entire oeuvre.
“I can only make things I like myself, without wanting to express any message or meaning, without even thinking what use should be made of them or where they are going.”
Like Lies Cosijn, Jan de Rooden, Johnny Rolf, Johan van Loon and Helly Oestreicher, Hans de Jong was a member of a generation of Dutch ceramicists who were not interested in producing functional pottery. The few such pieces he did turn out over the years were generally made to order and are the exceptions that prove the rule. The exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag comprises around 70 pieces from the period between 1959 and the end of 2001. The emphasis is on the 1960s and ’70s – a period when ceramics were securing a large measure of autonomy as an independent art form. It was a new era in Dutch ceramics, during which the potential of the material was being ever more ingeniously exploited and artists were playing with the balance between material and negative space, making their objects more expressive and closer to sculpture.
The objects in the exhibition are typical examples of Hans de Jong’s playful approach. He himself invariably referred to his figures as ‘poppen’ (‘puppets’ or ‘dolls’), reflecting his love of puppetry and theatre in general. In 1957 he had created a series of masks for the first production at Marijke and Sieto Hoving’s Cabaret Tingel-Tangel. In an interview published in the De Telegraaf newspaper in 1961, he said “During my student years, I spent a lot of time on a puppet theatre, for which I made all the puppets, and that was, I think, the starting point for the coloured sculpture I produce now…”.
The exhibition coincides with the appearance of the first ever book on Hans de Jong’s impressive oeuvre. Hans de Jong 1932 - 2011. Keramist is published by Waanders & de Kunst.