Modus operandi: A self-proclaimed "optimistic old sod", Hodgins once described painting to be a "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 Robert Hodgins is concerned, paintings may only come into their own months or even years after their genesis. But beyond it all, he describes being a painter as a "very nice way to live". Not restricted by the need for technical support, for him it is 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". Art is an "auto-intoxication that allows one to live through marriages, divorces, deaths and unhappy love affairs, and come up smiling all the time". Brenda Atkinson has noted Hodgins' distinctive "British post-war vision". His familiar icons of malevolent businessmen in pinstriped suits, prison cells, historical references and political tyrants still reappear, both tempered and aggravated by his mastery of colour and texture which sensitively negotiate the terrain between seriousness and somberness.
"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".
(Goodman Gallery 2000)
"Being an artist is about putting something into your subject matter that isn't inherently there. 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".
You may remember remarkable multi-media collaborative work produced 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 Hodgins' (and of mine) is 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. Hodgins has been a five-time recipient of various Vita art prizes, either as quarterly or overall winner pre-1997, and was a finalist in 1998.
As a young child in London, Hodgins used to hide out in 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 60 experimental silkscreens of the gangster and hanging them on washing lines in the gallery. Hodgins cites 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. He has exhibited extensively in Europe and the South African art scene can consider itself lucky to have this living treasure amongst it. Hodgins has worked at The Artists' Press for many years and it is always a pleasure to have Rob's energy, sticky tea buns and humour in the studio. Mark Attwood has a special place at his press for Hodgins as he feels that the "old man" pushes him harder and challenges him more that most other artists. When the printer and artist collaborate the energy in the printshop is tangible. Hodgins uses mono prints as his starting point and then develops ones that he likes most into lithographs. He has also started to experiment with hand coloured gravure prints. But most importantly, Robert Hodgins wants to be the first South African painter to get up on his 100th birthday and start a new canvas. At the rate he's going now, this looks like a distinct possibility.