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Robert Hodgins

Robert Hodgins avoided a standardised style, even though his work is recognised by the strong use of colour, a flowing painting technique and innovative compositions.

Robert Hodgins was born in Dulwich, UK in 1920 and died in Johannesburg in 2010. He is best known for paintings and printmaking.

Despite having exhibited since the early 1950’s, it was not until 1981 that he was taken seriously. The impact was such that a major retrospective was hosted by the Standard Bank National Arts Festival, Grahamstown in 1986.

An early career highlight in 1980 was a two-man show with Jan Neethling, called Pretty Boy Floyd. The almost sixty experimental silkscreens were based on a newspaper photograph of a gangster in the Depression years of the 1930’s. These monoprints were exhibited in the Market Theatre Art Gallery by hanging them on washing lines. Hodgins cited this as a true “corrobo- ration” of minds. Eventually, Hodgins and Neethling exhibited together for 35 years.

Hodgins produced a variety of multi-media works with William Kentridge and Deborah Bell. His first exhibition with Bell was in 1983, with Hogarth in Johannesburg, followed by the Little Morals series, Easing the Passing (of the Hours) and Ubu 101. The highlight of their collaboration was celebrated in the tenth year, with an exhibition in the Johannesburg Art Gallery.

Hodgins is een van Suid-Afrika se voorste kunstenaars. Sy werk is landwyd in private en openbare versamelings opgeneem. Hy het ook aan verskeie uitstallings in Europa en Suid-Afrika deelgeneem. Hy het jare lank by The Artists’ Press gewerk. Hier het Mart Attwood ‘n spesiale plek vir Hodgins ingeruim omdat hy gereken het “die ou man” was vir hom ‘n groter aansporing en motivering as die meeste ander kunstenaars. Hodgins het eers monodrukke gemaak en dan steendrukke van dié waarvan hy die meeste gehou het. Hy het ook met handgekleurde gravures geëksperimenteer.

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)

Robert Hodgins avoided a standardised style, even though his work is recognised by the strong use of colour, a flowing painting technique and innovative compositions. His clever pictorial commentary, witty but scorching, was especially applicable to the South African situation, but did outweigh the local relevance as a universal statement of humanity’s madness.
(Commendatio 1995)

In his acceptance speech, on 4 December 1995, Hodgins referred to the first recipients of the Helgaard Steyn Award and remarked: “I think what runs through our work as a common stream is that we are none of us consolatory artists – we do not soothe, we do not address ourselves to what our society would perhaps prefer that we did. 

“In my own case, I am a man most disappointed in my time ... We are conquering disease, we are producing more food than in the history of the world, we have had no conflict in fifty years. All this is so. And yet. We have AIDS, over-population, horrors from Bosnia and Rwanda. All this is so, so indeed. And indeed and yet.”

Being an artist is about putting something into your subject matter ... lifetime love-affairs – you never know until you get cracking. (Robert Hodgins [s.a.]) 

South African Summer: All This is So, And Yet … (1992), oil and acrylic paint on canvas, 205 x 305cm

Sandton Art Gallery collection, Johannesburg Art Gallery

Photo courtesy of Johannesburg Art Gallery