CASE STUDY 2: LOCAL DESIGNER (CERAMIST)
Hennie Meyer was born in Cape Town in 1965 and matriculated in 1983 at Grey College in Bloemfontein. He was introduced to ceramics as a medium by pure chance. He was on a Rotary Youth Exchange Programme in Australia in 1984 where the school apparently refused to accept white South Africans. He then applied at the Bendigo College of TAFE where he studied ceramics for a year and received a Certificate of Applied Arts (Ceramics). He trained as a production potter creating functional ceramic ware. He furthered his studies in South Africa and graduated from the University of Stellenbosch in 1989. He became a ceramics and textile teacher shortly thereafter.
He now runs a ceramic studio from home in Durbanville, creating decorative handmade earthenware and simultaneously teaches his skills to keen learners.
Hennie Meyer has won several awards since 1993 such as Highly Commended Awards and Contemporary Design to name but a few from APSA Western Cape Ceramic and many others and has won numerous Merit Awards. Due to his astounding success, he was promoted to a selector and a judge at ceramic exhibitions. Hennie Meyer exhibits extensively locally and internationally at the Sasol Muzeum in Stellenbosch and at the Design Idaba. His work has been included in various permanent collections and has been selected for international publications by Lark Books in three ceramic books; 500 bowls, 500 pitchers and 500 teapots. Internationally, he has exhibited in Shanghai, Australia, at the World Ceramic Biennale in Korea and at the Ceramic Art London.
Hennie Meyer produces individual decorative, yet functional ceramic pieces. He mainly works in earthenware and experiments with the expressive qualities of glaze and clay. He passionately takes on challenge of using composite shapes from which he produces a unique balance of bold forms of highly detailed surfaces which creates exquisitely beautiful ceramics in his recognizable signature style.
“What really attracts me to ceramics is the tactility of the clay and its immediate response to forming. Unlike painting, where the brush is between the artist and the canvas, you work directly into the clay.” –Hennie Meyer
His work is inspired by the richness and vibrant diversity of Africa’s beauty. The subtle touches in his distinctive pieces are a true reflection of his African surroundings. One can pick them up through his detailed textures and more specifically in his use of dynamic colours reminiscent of Africa without making it appear typically ethnic.
“My work somehow does reflect Africa. I think living and working in Africa is so different from anywhere else that it would be quite hard not to have the sun, colour and edge we have here, not reflect in my work.” –Hennie Meyer
The characteristic beauty of his ceramics are uniquely functional and simultaneously stands as a fantastic art piece in its own right. He has a distinctive way of interpreting texture and form that creates characteristically playful and quirky elements that makes his work so remarkable.
He incorporates bold shapes with simple curves to create the unique forms found in all his pieces and adds fine horizontal and vertical lines that create a wonderful decorative texture. Sometimes check patterns and X patterns are used that add a geometrical feel to the piece. The interesting handles resemble ruffled fabric and the hint of gold studs and lining further enhances the designs.
Cool colours are a dominant feature in most of his ranges. He uses neutral colours such as grey and blue- green tones, which is contrasted with an off-white hue that either gives it a rustic appearance or simply a sense of bold glamour. With other ranges that portray more of a South African feel displays more earthy tones such as brown, orange and red that’s contrasted with cream. This can be seen in a few of his teapots that in my opinion are a bit exaggerated. However these colours are used more subtlety in his tiles that display a sense of serenity that portray South African life. His end product is partly matt finished and glazed that gives great contrast to the piece.
A dominant feature that appears in most of his work is the subtle hint of metallic luster in the form of studs or simply a sliver of an outline that give it a touch of glamour and sparkle. The geometrical form and especially the spouts that resemble the beak of a toucan are Hennie Meyer’s signature style. Leaves are the main subject matter used as patterns and embellishments. The organic patterns are sometimes contrasted with the use of geometric lines, and are then balanced by the simple form of the piece.
He creates ranges with a similar feel and shape, with subtle changes of pattern on each piece. This can be seen especially in his range of teapots that actually appear to be dancing that create a sense of movement. The personification in his work is reminiscent of an elegant woman, one ‘arm’ curved and the other outstretched and looks as if it’s about to burst out in song and dance. He cleverly uses the handle, the spout and the body as a way of expressing a theatrical pose that give it a sense a humour and a touch of magic. A set of two or more of these teapots could create a wonderful theatrical scene. It kind of reminds me of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast characters.
The composition of the teapots suggests a human form and qualities. In quite a few of them the pattern work at the bottom half is displayed in a way that suggests a skirt. The handle of the lid is reminiscent of a headpiece or crown hence the metallic rendering.
I especially admire his quirky wall vases which are a great alternative to the usual standing vases. As a group they make a wonderful composition in a large or small space, inside or outside to display flowers.
His style of design is what appeals most to me. I admire the way he interprets South African elements so subtly. The bold and animated shapes and colours certainly capture the essence of South African heritage. His use of clean bold forms and subtle embellishments is what made me fall in love with his work. I also deliberately use South African elements when designing jewellery.
His award-winning status has earned him high praise as an artist and he has earned international appeal as well. He is one of the artists that makes you feel proudly South African and gives us hope as young designers that hard work, passion and determination can take one far in life.
Colourful ceramic jugs
Ceramic tiles, plates, vases
Wall Hanging Ceramic Vases
Photograghs by Fatima Kader at Design Indaba 2011