Archive: Issue No. 138, February 2009

Go to the current edition for SA art News, Reviews & Listings.
EDITIONS FOR ARTTHROB EDITIONS FOR ARTTHROB    |    5 Years of Artthrob    |    About    |    Contact    |    Archive    |    Subscribe    |    SEARCH   

Robert Hodgins

Robert Hodgins
A little murder in the suburbs 1998/99
oil on canvas
91 x 122cm

Robert Hodgins

Robert Hodgins
The Orator 1998
oil on canvas
155 x 61 x 17cm

Robert Hodgins

Robert Hodgins
Before the meeting 2006
oil on canvas
35 x 100cm

Robert Hodgins

Robert Hodgins
Giant V 2006
oil on canvas
75 x 75cm

Robert Hodgins

Robert Hodgins>br> Men Bathing II 2006
oil on canvas
90 x 120cm

Robert Hodgins

Robert Hodgins
Head 2008
oil on canvas
60 x 60cm

Robert Hodgins

Robert Hodgins
The Smug Cadet 2008
77 x 57.5cm

Robert Hodgins

Robert Hodgins
Oom Jan 2008
69 x 49cm

Robert Hodgins
by Michael Smith (February 2009)


Painting is at once a very refined and primitive pursuit. The apparently unassailable authority of painting as fine art practice enables it to operate in circles of power, influence and status. Yet its mechanics are often a set of simple, anti-technological menial tasks, downright mucky, imprecise and visceral. Few South African artists create works that embody this dichotomy quite like Robert Hodgins. His images, quietly deconstructing the poses and posturing of the elite while hanging on their walls, play a deceptive visual game of jolly coloration and faux naïveté.

The cornerstone of Hodgins' approach is, of course, a sophisticated understanding of paint and the act of making pictures, not indulged for its own sake, but one that is constantly pushed into fresh avenues of possibility. His complex pictorial understanding and peerless coloration belie superficially brutal, often deliberately messy brushwork. Sometimes venturing as far as self-deprecation in scale and simplicity, Hodgins' paintings nonetheless always have a nasty sting, the aftertaste of sharp social observation.

Hodgins tempers this pessimism with a visual humour, and a broader handle on people: an empathy with human folly seems to inform his representation of both victims and his aggressors. Often likened to Bacon, Hodgins in fact has a greater affinity with Guston, recasting the latter's American banality and abject baseness as a passing parade of South African tragicomedy. Like another arch-satirist and source of inspiration playwright Alfred Jarry, Hodgins' truths lie amongst the ruins of power eviscerated by its own absurdity.

Hodgins' utterances on painting are as much a part of his audience's understanding of his work as the works themselves. Statements like describing painting as being 'a bit like surfing', or as either 'one-night stands or lifetime love-affairs' are classic Hodgins.


'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 you 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.'

'As far as I have a purpose in art, I would want to make paintings which, although they refer to life, have a life of their own, beyond what they depict from the world.'

'I've become aware of a certain schizophrenia in my life: I love good looking people, buildings etc. but never paint them.'

'I always put the titles onto my works at the end. I love putting on the titles: I see it as my perk. I believe that after all the work I put into painting, I'm entitled to that.'


Early in 2009, Hodgins has just finished another stint working with Mark Attwood of the Artist's Press Studio in White River, producing a new body of prints. He also held yet another highly successful solo show at the Goodman Gallery Cape in November 2008. As with previous bodies of work, the paintings and monoprints on this show saw Hodgins move adeptly between social satire and a more serious mode of comment on militarism and aggression, through works like The Smug Cadet and Despot.


The Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg presented Hodgins' work in March and April of 2007, which was met by overwhelming critical acclaim and commercial success. As the gallery stated about this show, the body of work 'move[d] away from his typical humorous depiction of the human condition, to an exploration of the darker side of humanity, drawing inspiration from a combination of ancient history such as the "The Battle of Cascina" and stories of giants, to contemporary wars, torture, and soldiers.'

Hodgins participated in 'Absolutely/Perhaps', a group exhibition with countrymen William Kentridge, Johannes Phokela, Zwelethu Mthethwa and Sam Nhlengethwa at Simon Mee Fine Art in London, in 2003.

During 2001 and 2002, Hodgins was the subject of a retrospective '50 Years a Painter', which opened at University of Potchefstroom Art Gallery, and travelled to the Sasol Art Gallery at the University of Stellenbosch, the Gertrude Posel Gallery at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, and the Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermaritzburg.


In 2000, Kayhryn Smith noted Hodgins' early-to-mid-1980s collaborations with 'fellow heavyweights' William Kentridge and Deborah Bell. As Smith states, 'Hodgins first exhibited with Bell and Kentridge 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.' During this period Hodgins was also notable as a performer in a rare live-action/stop-frame animation by Kentridge, called Memo, in which Hodgins seems to take on the role of one of his own parade of suited businessmen, overcome by the anthropomorphic transformations of his office supplies and possessions.


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 1950s, 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', where he presented 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.


After a busy 2007 and 2008, with sell-out shows in both years, Hodgins' gallery states he is taking 2009 relatively easy. This undoubtedly means his production will still be prolific, but that he won't have a solo exhibition in 2009. Nonetheless, Hodgins will contribute a print for ArtThrob's new Editions portfolio.


Robert Hodgins was born in Dulwich, England, on June 27, 1920. In 1938 he emigrated to South Africa, joined the Union Defence Forces in 1940, and served in Kenya until 1941, then in Egypt until 1944.

He returned to England in 1944, was discharged from the service, and underwent an Emergency Teacher's Training Course at Goldsmith's College, London University. He was recommended to study art full time there. He obtained an Arts and Crafts Certificate and then in 1953 the NDD (National Diploma of Design), painting major also from Goldsmith's College, London University. He then returned to South Africa.

In 1954 Robert Hodgins became a Lecturer 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.


2004 Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg
2003 Simon Mee Fine Art, London, UK
2002 '50 Years a Painter', Retrospective exhibition, Gertrude Posel Gallery, University of Witswatersrand, Johannesburg, and at Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermaritzburg
2001 João Ferreira Gallery, Cape Town
'50 Years a Painter', retrospective exhibition at University of Potchefstroom, and Sasol Art Museum, University of Stellenbosch
2000 Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg
1998 Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg
1995 Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg
1992 Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg
1990 Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg
1987 Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg
1986 Retrospective, Standard Bank Natioanl Festival of the Arts, Grahamstown
1960 Lidchi Gallery, Johannesburg
1959 South African Association of the Arts, Pretoria
1958 Lidchi Gallery, Johannesburg
1956 Lidchi Gallery, Johannesburg

Group Exhibitions

2003 'Absolutely/Perhaps' with William Kentridge, Johannes Phokela, Zwelethu Mthethwa and Sam Nhlengethwa at Simon Mee Fine Art, London
1999 '< FAST FORWARD'�, Van Reekum Museum of Modern Art, Appeldoorn, The Netherlands
1997 'Collaborations', joint exhibition with William Kentridge and Deborah Bell at the Johannesburg Art Gallery
1997 'Cram', an exhibition of South African Artists, SA Association of the Arts, Cape Town
1995 'Mayibue iAfrica', Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London, as part of the Africa '95 Festival
'Seven Stories of Africa', South African participation curated by David Koloane, coordinated by Felicity Lunn and Catherine Lampert, Whitechapel Gallery, London as part of the Africa '95 Festival
'Panoramas of Passage', curated by Clive van den Berg, Meridian International Centre, Washington DC in association with University of the Witwatersrand Art Galleries Recipient, Helgaard Steyn, Award for painting
1994 'Displacements' curated by David Bunn and Jane Taylor, an exhibition of works on paper, invited to lecture and exhibit with a group of South African artists at the Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois
1993 'Portraits in the Round', ceramic exhibition in collaboration with Deborah Bell and Retief van Wyk
1992 IGI Life Vita Now Awards, Johannesburg Art Gallery, 1st quarter Award Winner
'Le Bal des Tables Artistiques', Mayoral Ball, Johannesburg Art Gallery
1992 'Easing the Passing (of the Hours)', computer animation and graphics in collaboration with William Kentridge and Deborah Bell
1991 'Little Morals Series' with Deborah Bell and William Kentridge, Cassirer Gallery, Johannesburg
. 1990 Life Vita Now Awards, Johannesburg Art Gallery, 3rd quarter winner
1989 'Hogarth in Johannesburg' book launch, Gertrude Posel Gallery,University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
1987 AA Life Vita Art Now Awards Exhibition, Overall Award Winner, Johannesburg
'Hogarth in Johannesburg', a series of etchings in collaboration with Deborah Bell and William Kentridge, Cassirer Gallery, Johannesburg and national tour
1986 AA Mutual Life Vita Arts Now Awards Exhibition, 3rd quarter Award Winner, Johannesburg Art Gallery
1985 Cape Town Triennial, SA National Gallery and major museums around South Africa
1984 'Four Johannesburg Artists' with Ricky Burnett, Jo Smail and Ilona Anderson, opened at the SANG and toured various galleries countrywide, including the Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg
1983 Exhibited with Deborah Bell, Ann Sassoon and Frank van Schaik, Carriage House Gallery
1980 'Wits University Lecturers', Gertrude Posel Gallery, University of the Witwatersrand
1980 'Pretty Boy Floyd', series of graphics, monotypes and one off silk-screens with Jan Neetling, Market Gallery, Johannesburg
1978 Paintings with sculptures by Jan Neetling, Market Gallery, Johannesburg
1975 Goodman Gallery with Jan Neetling
1971 Two man show of 'Cliches Verres', with Jan Neetling, Lidchi Gallery, Johannesburg and SA Association of the Arts, Cape Town
1970 Two man show with Jan Neetling, Lidchi Gallery, Johannesburg
1961 Two man show with Ernest de Jong, Gallery 101, Johannesburg
1954 Transvaal Art of Today (Best Young Artist Award) Pretoria Centenary Exhibition


Sanell Aggenbach
(Sept 2005)

Alan Alborough
(July 2000)

Jane Alexander
(July 1999)

Siemon Allen
(June 2001)

Bridget Baker
(March 2006)

Emma Bedford
(March 2007)

Willie Bester
(Aug 1999)

Zander Blom
(June 2008)

Dineo Bopape
(December 2008)

Ralph Borland
(Jan 2006)

Willem Boshoff
(Aug 2001)

Conrad Botes
(Dec 2001)

Andries Botha
(April 2000)

Wim Botha
(April 2003)

Kevin Brand
(June 1998)

Candice Breitz
(Oct 1998)

Lisa Brice
(Jan 1999)

Lisa Brice
(Oct 2007)

Jean Brundrit
(March 2004)

Angela Buckland
(Mar 2003)

Pitso Chinzima
(Oct 2001)

Marco Cianfanelli
(Aug 2002)

Julia Rosa Clark
(July 2005)

Peter Clarke
(Sept 2003)

Steven Cohen
(May 1998)

Keith Deitrich
(July 2004)

Marlene Dumas
(Dec 2007)

Peter Eastman
(Aug 2008)

Paul Edmunds
(Feb 2004)

Leora Farber
(May 2002)

Bronwen Findlay
(April 2002)

Bronwen Findlay
(Sept 2006)

Pierre Fouché
(Sept 2007)

Tracy Lindner Gander
(April 2004)

Kendell Geers
(June 2002)

Linda Givon
(Dec 1999)

David Goldblatt
(Dec 2002)

Thembinkosi Goniwe
(Oct 2002)

Frances Goodman
(Aug 2006)

Dan Halter
(July 2007)

Brad Hammond
(Jan 2001)

Randolph Hartzenberg
(Aug 1998)

Kay Hassan
(Oct 2000)

Matthew Hindley
(Sept 2004)

Nicholas Hlobo
(June 2006)

Stephen Hobbs
(Dec 1998)

Robert Hodgins
(June 2000)

Pieter Hugo
(April 2006)

William Kentridge
(Nov 2007)

William Kentridge
(May 1999)

Isaac Khanyile
(Nov 2001)

David Koloane
(July 2003)

Dorothee Kreutzfeld
(Jan 2000)

Terry Kurgan
(Aug 2000)

Moshekwa Langa
(Feb 1999)

Chris Ledochowski
(June 2003)

Kim Lieberman
(May 2003)

Mandla Mabila
(Aug 2001)

Churchill Madikida
(May 2004)

Veronique Malherbe
(June 1999)

Mustafa Maluka
(July 1998)

Thando Mama
(June 2004)

Senzeni Marasela
(Feb 2000)

Gerhard Marx
(July 2008)

Colbert Mashile
(May 2006)

Brent Meistre
(May 2005)

Nandipha Mntambo
(Sept 2008)

Santu Mofokeng
(July 2002)

Anthea Moys
(May 2008)

Zwelethu Mthethwa
(April 1999)

Samson Mudzunga
(Oct 2004)

Zanele Muholi
(Dec 2006)

Thomas Mulcaire
(April 2001)

Brett Murray
(Sept 1998)

Hylton Nel
(Feb 2002)

Karel Nel
(Oct 1999)

Sam Nhlengethwa
(Oct 2003)

Walter Oltmann
(July 2001)

Jay Pather
(Dec 2004)

Malcolm Payne
(Nov 2002)

Tracy Payne
(March 1998)

Peet Pienaar
(Dec 2000)

Andrew Putter
(Feb 2008)

Jo Ractliffe
(Mar 1999)

Robin Rhode
(Nov 1999)

Colin Richards
(Aug 2003)

Tracey Rose
(March 2001)

Athi-Patra Ruga
(Oct 2008)

Ruth Sacks
(Oct 2006)

Claudette Schreuders
(Sept 2000)

Berni Searle
(May 2000)

Berni Searle
(Jan 2003)

Usha Seejarim
(May 2001)

Penny Siopis
(Sept 1999)

Cecil Skotnes
(July 2006)

Kathryn Smith
(Dec 2003)

Dave Southwood
(March 2002)

Doreen Southwood
(Sept 2002)

Nathaniel Stern
(Feb 20006)

Greg Streak
(Feb 2001)

Mikhael Subotzky
(Aug 2007)

Guy Tillim
(Jan 2005)

Clive van den Berg
(Nov 1998)

Hentie van der Merwe
(Mar 2000)

Strijdom van der Merwe
(Jan 2002)

Storm Janse van Rensburg
(June 2005)

Minnette Vári
(Feb 1998)

Nontsikelelo 'Lolo' Veleko
(Feb 2007)

Andrew Verster
(May 2007)

Diane Victor
(Feb 2003)

Vuyile Voyiya
(Aug 2005)

Jeremy Wafer
(Nov 2000)

James Webb
(Aug 2004)

Sue Williamson
(Nov 2003)

Ed Young
(Nov 2005)

Billie Zangewa
(June 2007)

Mlu Zondi
(Nov 2006)