Robert Hodgins (1920 – 2010)

Artwork by Robert Hodgins

A self-proclaimed “optimistic old sod”, Robert Hodgins once described painting to be  “a bit like surfing” in that a good deal of time is spent bobbing about, waiting for the right wave to come along. Having said this, it’s not about instant gratification. Where Hodgins was concerned, paintings may only come into their own months or even years after their genesis. But beyond it all, he described being a painter as a “very nice way to live”. Not restricted by the need for technical support, for him it was about accepting the responsibility of the mark of one’s hand that is negotiated by no one other than oneself, quoting Francis Bacon’s words of “courting accidents”, but then choosing the ones that work. Another Hodgins maxim is that “subject matter is not content”. For Hodgins art was an “auto-intoxication that allows one to live through marriages, divorces, deaths and unhappy love affairs, and come up smiling all the time”. 

“There are paintings that stem from memory and from a sombre look at the human condition. Paintings about the construction and confusion of contemporary urban life, but also paintings about the pleasures of being alive, pleasures that crowd in upon the pessimism everywhere – that crowd in and refuse to be ignored”- Robert Hodgins (Goodman Gallery 2000)

Hodgins also produced remarkable multi-media collaborative work with fellow heavyweights William Kentridge and Deborah Bell. Robert Hodgins first exhibited with Bell as early as 1983. Their association began with ‘Hogarth in Johannesburg’, followed by the ‘Little Morals Series’, ‘Easing the Passing (of the Hours)’ and ‘Ubu 101′, culminating in an exhibition at the Johannesburg Art Gallery marking their 10 year working relationship. But a favourite of Robert Hodgins’ was Memo, a stop-frame animation short film directed by Kentridge, in which Hodgins acts as a hapless businessman whose trappings get the better of him in ways which can only be described as Kafka-esque.

As a young child in London, Hodgins endless explore the Tate Gallery, where it was “warm and open”. Despite having exhibited since the early 1950′s, it was 1981 before he was taken really seriously, but the impact was such that a major retrospective was hosted by the Standard Bank National Arts Festival in 1986. An early career highlight was a two-man show with Jan Neethling called ‘Pretty Boy Floyd’, producing some sixty experimental silkscreens of the gangster and hanging them on washing lines in the gallery. Hodgins cited this as a true “corroboration” of minds.

Robert Hodgins is one of South Africa’s leading artists. His work can be found in private and public collections throughout South Africa.