Ronnie van Hout studied art in Christchurch, lived in Wellington for many years, then ended up teaching at Elam art school in Auckland, before decamping to Melbourne. He's been a key figure in New Zealand art since the early 1990s, and is becoming a big wheel in the Australian art scene. In the beginning, he was known for his engagement with trash themes and references (metal bands and aliens, Supermarionation and The Nutty Professor) and for giving himself over to external influence (he'd ape other artists, Philip Guston or Bruce Nauman one minute, Sigmar Polke or David Levinthal the next). Van Hout became increasingly involved in self portraiture, making mannequin and doll versions of himself as doppelgangers and alteregos. He often presents himself either as wilful (a naughty child, up to no good) or alienated (suffering from endless humiliating exercises in mutation and dysmorphia). With touches of Sartre, Kafka, and Beckett's black humour, his work could be characterised as slapstick existentialism. It's full of anxieties about identity and the body. His anxieties; everybody's.
Van Hout has had hundreds of shows. His work is in all the big public collections and is extensively essayed. He had a major touring retrospective, I've Abandoned Me, in 2003; was nominated for the Walters Prize in 2004; and became an Arts Foundation laureate in 2005. He's never been out of the limelight in New Zealand. But, right now, he's on a roll in Australia-enjoying a moment-with his current, critically lauded solo show No One Is Watching You at the new museum Buxton Contemporary in Melbourne, numerous public-sculpture commissions in train, and a big book on the way. It is a great time for Wellington to 'own' van Hout.