Peter Hoogeboom’s first US solo exhibition, “Greenware, Crockery, Chinaware” was recently on view at Gallery Loupe (www.galleryloupe.com) in Monclair, New Jersey. While the premise of the exhibition was originally conceived as a collaborative effort with the Taiwanese artist Shu-Lin Wu, this particular reincarnation of “Greenware, Crockery, Chinaware” focuses not only on jewelry that Hoogeboom made during his 2012 artist residency in Taiwan but also on other bodies of work, making this exhibition a retrospective of his career.
Hoogeboom attended the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, a fine arts school in Amsterdam, where he planned to study graphic design. Feeling unsure about his choice and inspired by a fellow student’s lecture on contemporary jewelry, Hoogeboom was prompted to look into the Academie’s jewelry department. He recognized jewelry’s versatility and the artists’ use of many materials, which led him to think of it as “the most free and autonomous area of all the design fields.”
Clay is Hoogeboom’s chosen medium, however he only started toying with it in 1994, two years post-graduation. “I like the way metal looks, but I dislike the rigidity. . . . Metal is hard, not pliable. I have always loved the look of ceramics, too: dishes, plates, cups, and sculptures made of clay. During my jewelry education, I had plans to try to turn ceramics into jewelry. It took me a few years after graduation to execute these plans. A work grant I received after leaving the art academy enabled me to buy my own kiln, tools, and other equipment to explore the world of clay. I took courses and fell in love with clay, its pliability and its plasticity, in complete contrast with working in metals.” With each new body of work, clay has remained the primary material throughout. Other than nylon string or some sort of metal (steel or silver) usually used for more practical rather than decorative purposes, there is very little intervention from other materials in his densely-strung neckpieces or cuffs.
To this day, Hoogeboom attends ceramics workshops to further his education. Currently he is studying how to use 3-D design programs, like Rhinoceros, so in the future he may incorporate 3-D printed ceramics in his work. Hoogeboom slip casts his pieces because it allows him to create more complex shapes that would be prohibitive to throw. Most importantly, the slip-cast pieces are hollow and thin walled, making the final jewelry piece comfortable to wear. One neckpiece, the Spanish Collar has as many as 170 small egg-shaped jugs strung together by 340 small silver chains; however, it is still lightweight.
Hoogeboom keeps all of his plaster molds; some are almost a decade old. “They have not lost any definition, even after casting hundreds of elements with them. Usually I make eight to twelve molds of the same shape, so I can speed up the casting process for a necklace, in which I may need around a hundred small slip-cast elements. I scratch numbers and letters in the two or three parts of my molds to see immediately which parts belong to one mold, instead of having to try to find the fitting halves when they get separated during the working process.”
An encyclopedic knowledge of ceramics informs and inspires Hoogeboom’s work; that and the influence of his extensive travels and research in both Europe and Asia have led to his work to be referred to as ethnographic. The Bearea Peninsula Neckpiece, is made of blue and green porcelain disks inspired by the blue sea and greens countryside of Ireland whereas the Happy Afternoon I Brooch, made of Chinese teapots and saucers, speaks to Hoogeboom’s love of Chinese crockery. Often, as in the Mokume Gane Taiwan Neckpiece, which is made from a very white porcelain that he discovered during his Taiwanese residency, Hoogeboom uses clay from other countries. His Dutch heritage, which in the 19th century gave us Delftware, has also played an important role in his oeuvre. The Red Lantern Neckpiece, also made of Taiwanese porcelain, is a nod to the red lanterns that hang in the windows of brothels in Amsterdam’s Red Light district. The Westlands Neckpiece, made of terra-cotta flower pots is very Dutch in its reference to the country’s flower industry.
Jewelry scholars and collectors are attracted to Hoogeboom’s work not only because of his technical skill and cultural references but because they invite interaction and are both visually and functionally successful.
As a closing thought to our conversation, Hoogeboom left me with this remark, “Clay is my medium: it is a plastic material with endless possibilities, innumerable ways to work and decorate with. . . . I started to realize how dependent we humans are on clay. Creation of man from clay is a theme in many religions: it is mentioned in Genesis in the Bible, the Quran, and in Egyptian, Greek, and Chinese mythology. It is the earth that not only provides us a place to live, but also air to breathe, water to drink, and crops to eat and to feed our livestock with. Ceramic jewelry is made from the same material that made us: earth. Living in a country built on clay we reclaimed from the sea made me realize I work with a material much more precious than gold or gems. And we have been using clay and fired ceramic to adorn ourselves with from the early dawn of man. It certainly is not something contemporary.”
the author Bella Neyman is a design historian and curator based in New York. Currently the director of the Gallery at Reinstein/Ross, an art jewelry gallery, she also curates exhibitions under the name Platforma. Her articles have appeared in The New York Times, Antiques magazine, and MODERN magazine. Her reflections on all things design can be found at www.objectsnotpaintings.com.