Celebrated Mid-Century design merchant Rob Hofbauer shows his secret alter ego in new gallery

The by-appointment-only R. Gerard Gallery is stocked floor to ceiling with groupings of mod abstract paintings and sleek furnishings, including pieces Hofbauer made for films.

click to enlarge The new R. Gerard Gallery allows Rob Hofbauer to showcase his paintings made for films. - Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
The new R. Gerard Gallery allows Rob Hofbauer to showcase his paintings made for films.
Rob Hofbauer, the owner of Leftcoast Modern vintage furnishings in East Walnut Hills, long ago selected Mid-Century design as his defining style and found success with it. But he has another lesser-known artistic inclination, a kind of alter ego. He hasn’t flaunted it — until now.

Introducing the mysterious R. Gerard. 

It’s the name Hofbauer, a part-time artist, uses when painting for his own pleasure and for jobs with locally made movies like Don Cheadle’s Miles Ahead, the Patrick Wilson-Jessica Biel feature A Kind of Murder and The Life and Death of John Gotti with John Travolta. 

At the beginning of the year, R. Gerard (Hofbauer’s first initial and middle name) also became the name of his newest enterprise: a by-appointment-only gallery on the edge of Over-the-Rhine, where he can paint and curate his best Mid-Century finds. 

Almost as soon as Leftcoast Modern opened five years ago on Fourth Street downtown, the original store and its Spring Grove Avenue warehouse became the city’s source for furnishings from the 1950s-’70s, as well as newer pieces in the Modernist style  — everything from atomic kitsch to prime offerings from Knoll and Milo Baughman.  It’s where the Miles Ahead team discovered all the props they needed, plus someone to quickly paint original artwork for the film. 

Two years ago, Leftcoast Modern moved to its current location on Woodburn Avenue, where it also opened an annex three doors down.  Hofbauer likes that the East Walnut Hills location, though busy, attracts curious patrons from Woodburn Brewery and passersby during the Friday night Walk on Woodburn events. 

“I answer questions all day long,” Hofbauer says.  He is constantly moving credenzas, sofas, posters and pottery in and out, yet he knows the history of every piece.

But Hofbauer had wished there was more time to turn a brief answer about a desk into an in-depth discussion about design. So to offer an educational and social after-hours experience for serious collectors, he moved his own art and pricier furniture and accessories out of that business and into his new 2,000-square-foot space at 1403 Central Parkway. 

If the purple beast on the building’s exterior (part of a mural by neighbor ChoreMonster) doesn’t elicit a “Wow,” then the first look inside the bright R. Gerard Gallery will. The place is stocked floor to ceiling with groupings of mod abstract paintings and sleek furnishings. “It’s filled with my favorite furnishings, which inspire my art, so what you put around you is all about form and beauty,” Hofbauer says. Though some items, such as an architect’s model used as a prop in Murder, are not for sale, Hofbauer emphasizes that he’s not running a museum. “I still want to sell,” he says. “Enjoy it, sell it and get something else.” 

It takes a moment to soak in the surroundings. The set of Alcatraz green “prison bars” that he painted for Miles Ahead hangs on one wall, but oranges, golds, browns and reds seem to dominate most of the art and upholstery. In a tabletop case, Hofbauer has placed two pieces of 1907 Amphora pottery by Paul Dachsel, one of which he’s seamlessly repairing. Though the vessels are not Mid-Century, their futuristic details and glazes clearly influenced later artists, including those at local Rookwood Pottery.

Hofbauer opens a Dunbar desk drawer to pull out a book and flip through more Amphora examples, but he could just as easily ad-lib an expert presentation about the down-filled Herman Miller Eames chair nearby. 

“This (talk time) is what I want to do in Over-the-Rhine,” he says. 

Hofbauer, a Chicago native, surprisingly didn’t major in art or design at Southern Illinois University, studying education instead. He took art his freshman through junior years of high school, but not senior year. By then, “I could paint anywhere; I didn’t need a class,” he says. As a teen, he innocently signed his abstracts “RH ’63” (his birth year), and sold them to people who initially thought the works were created by a mid-20th-century painter. His graduating class voted him most likely to become a famous artist. 

At SIU, Hofbauer was exposed to the influence of onetime professor R. Buckminster Fuller, who popularized the geodesic dome. “His forward thinking about art inspired me to keep (my paintings) abstract and incorporate art into a lifestyle,” Hofbauer says. 

Hofbauer created his R. Gerard signature about five years ago as he started painting 1950s- and ’60s-style Pop Art and abstracts for movies and wanted to curate those works. 

“It’s my Ziggy Stardust, as if I were David Bowie,” the onetime music storeowner says of his alter ego. “And someday he’ll die, as if I were Bowie.”

But before he kills off R. Gerard the way Bowie retired Ziggy, Hofbauer — who is 53 and says he feels a decade younger — is intent on building a legacy for both his entrepreneurial and creative personas. Though he’s scaling back mid-level items in favor of higher-end objects, this T-shirt-and-jeans guy says he’s not counting on any piece to be his retirement fund. He will keep prices reasonable. 

Whether he is working with paintings, home decor or film props, Hofbauer takes pride in supplying pieces that are period-correct and memorable. He provided 1970s-era furniture for the office Robert Redford is using while making The Old Man and the Gun, and says he wouldn’t be surprised if some ends up on screen.  

Hofbauer has been dealing in Modern furniture and art for 15 years, starting in Sarasota, Fla., and has collected such pieces for twice as long. Yet there were years when he did not paint. “Trying to please myself is exhausting,” he says. But once he began painting for movies, he started to enjoy his own art more.

“People see in my art what I don’t see on a conscious level,” he says. “When you paint abstracts, you open up people’s perception of art and movement and color. I wanted a third gallery for a place that inspires me and where I can step back 20, 30 feet and see art the way it’s meant to be seen.” 

For an R. GERARD GALLERY appointment, visit Rob Hofbauer noon-6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday at Leftcoast Modern, 2809 Woodburn Ave., East Walnut Hills. More info: facebook.com/leftcoastmoderncincinnati.