There’s something rotton in the state of Ronnie. Melbourne artist Ronnie van Hout is a master of slapstick existentialism. His tragicomic works mash up Sartre and Beckett with The Two Ronnies and The Nutty Professor. Often bearing his own features, van Hout’s figurative sculptures beg to be read as doppelgangers, mini-mes, and brothers from another planet. In Sick Child 2 he presents himself child scale, in his PJs, one arm in a sling, the other hand down his pants—his adult face scowling. What would Hetty Johnston make of this image? Do we read it as an adult with childish features or as a child with adult features; as sick child or childish sicko? If this work is hideously abject, the iconic Failed Robot leans the other way. Apertures in its metallic-grey geometric-block body reveal fleshy human eyeballs and human-gums-and-teeth—vestiges of the organic. The frailty of the organic body is also a theme in Van Hout’s cryptic installation Hold that Thought. In a clinical-white room, we find a desicated corpse in PJs scrunched up in a bathroom cupboard—like it died and dried there. Next to casts of six ripe potatoes are wrinkly casts of the same potatoes gone to seed. Alongside a molecule-like sculpture made of spheres is another of a picturesque male head breaking out in warts. In this contemporary vanitas, the viewer is left to join the dots.
Ronnie van Hout is represented by Ivan Anthony, Auckland; Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington; and Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney
“It would be foolish to become an artist expecting awards. The practice of being an artist can be an attempt to balance the highs and lows of experience. It’s interesting to me that being made a Laureate has helped in achieving that balance.”
Ronnie van Hout was born in Christchurch in 1962. He attended the School of Fine Arts at Canterbury University between 1980 and 1982, where he majored in film. In 1999 in received a Masters of Fine Arts from RMIT University, Melbourne.
Since 1981 Ronnie has exhibited regularly in New Zealand and Australia, and his work has featured in solo and group shows in the USA, Netherlands, Austria and Germany. In 2003 his work was the subject of a major survey show, I’ve Abandoned Me, an initiative of Dunedin Public Art Gallery. The show toured throughout 2003 and 2004 to the Auckland Public Art Gallery, Auckland; City Gallery, Wellington; and Te Manawa, Palmerston North.
Ronnie has been artist in residence at the ELBA Art Foundation in Nijmegen, the Netherlands (1994); Govett-Brewster Art Gallery and Taranaki Polytechnic in New Plymouth, New Zealand (1996); the International Studio Program at PS1 in New York City, USA (1999); and Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin, Germany (2004 – 2005). In 2004, he was a finalist in the Walters Prize Art Award.
Ronnie works with a wide variety of media including sculpture, video, painting, photography, embroidery and sound recordings. In recent years his work has focused on images of self, the artist portrayed in different guises, as a monkey that paints, a dog that sculpts, and a mystic long-haired vision of the artist holding two talking birds in the palm of his hand. The work is often autobiographical, containing many images and documents of the artist himself.
Self-effacement and humour, so often a feature of the work, shifts what could be seen as a celebration of egoism into something more accessible, and possibly entertaining. His interest in the self as the subject of his work continues.
In November 2007 Ronnie van Hout and author Tessa Duder travelled to Antarctica as part of the Artists to Antarctica programme and in 2008 he had a solo show at Artspace in Sydney titled BED/SIT. He was also the feature artist of the first episode of the Artland series on TVNZ digital.