“… what goes on in the studio… is a jumble of meditation, instantaneous decision, change of direction, memories dredged up and astonishment by what is happening on the surface before one…”
-Robert Hodgins on painting in his studio, in an interview with Ivor Powell, 1996
Robert Hodgins (1920-2010) was born in London, England, and had, in his own words, "a poor and tough beginning - which fostered a certain cynicism and determination in me." Following a few years working in Cape Town and living with a great uncle, 1938 to 1940, he joined the Union Defence Forces and saw service in the Intelligence Corps in Kenya and Egypt during World War II. One could discuss the formal principles of art present in each work in depth but, ultimately, Hodgins was renowned for his desire to identify and to break formal boundaries and hierarchies of society.
This desire is conveyed by Hodgins' satirical commentary on the overarching institutions or systems in which we exist but seldom question, present in both the scenes depicted in his work and the manner in which the artist then titled his pieces. Hodgins passed away in March 2010. Robert Hodgins: +/- 102 is a tribute to him that coincides with what would have been the artist's 102nd birthday on 27 June 2022. Many of the works presented are from the artist's estate and are to be publicly exhibited for the first time. The exhibition features drawings, oil monotypes and paintings, which demonstrate the range of skill and variation of atmosphere for which he was renowned.
The exhibition title Robert Hodgins: +/- 102 ais not only a nod to his birthday but also alludes to the acclaimed exhibition UBU: +/- 101, which featured works by Deborah Bell, Robert Hodgins and William Kentridge. The works included in this show dealt with each artist's interpretation of Alfred Jarry's play, Ubu Roi, wherein the central character is a thoroughly evil, spiteful and dangerous bureaucrat. For Ubu: +/- 101, Hodgins produced a series of images which cast the Ubu figure as a villain in various great historic tragedies and scandals, while managing to inject a note of a comic character making himself ridiculous. UBU: +/- 101 was hosted by the University of Witwatersrand Art Galleries in 1997 and was the last of a number of brilliant collaborative ventures by the three artists.
Despite his use of parody and a sarcastic bite, Robert Hodgins was nevertheless principally known as a sardonic wit, a great raconteur, and a superb painter of the theatre of life. With excellent instinct for colour and the properties of paint, he developed a figurative style which showcased his command of both satire and irony. While many of the artist's works might have an underlying melancholy - or a tart social commentary - present in them, he certainly thought of himself as just as flawed as other human beings and chose to make his viewers "laugh at ourselves, even if ruefully." Critic Deon Viljoen, who has written extensively on Hodgins , said recently of the artist: "Few can dissect the folly that we call human behaviour with such frightening beauty. He is a master, that’s it."
Robert Hodgins (b. 1920, Dulwich, England) became a Lecturer in 1954 at the School of Art, Pretoria Technical College, where he remained until 1962. Then he took up a position as Journalist and Critic for Newscheck magazine. Between 1966 and 1983 he was a Lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand Fine Art Department. At the end of 1983 he retired to take up painting full-time. Some Hodgins' paintings convey a feeling of deep seriousness and sadness; the paintings depict a sense of confusion that many people experience. However Hodgins believed that being an artist is about creating something new, an artist perfects the art of ingeniously reinventing content within society.
"Being an artist is about putting something into your subject matter that isn't inherently there," wrote Hodgins in 2000. "You are not at the mercy of your subject matter, it's the content, and what you put into it, what you do with it, what extract from it, and what you put it with, that is so exciting. If you are aware of this, then you begin to build on the content of your whole life. Before you know where you are, you're already thinking about the next work, and you could live to be 300. Paintings can be one-night stands or lifetime love-affairs - you never know until you get cracking"