Robert Griffiths Hodgins

(1920 - 2010)

About

“For me, it is very simple. The act of painting at a particular moment is able, for reasons I neither understand, nor even try to understand, to open up the whole world of my experience, my thinking, my aspirations.” Robert Hodgins

London-born Robert Hodgins is a late bloomer. After immigrating to South Africa in the 1950s, a brief flurry of artistic activity was followed by a lengthy career as an art educator and occasional critic – notably, he took over Esme Berman’s role as critic at Newscheckmagazine. After retiring from the Fine Art department at Wits University in the 1980s, he re-established himself as a painter, holding a mid-career survey show in Grahamstown, in 1986. Since then Hodgins has consistently presented new work on successive solo outings, chiefly in Johannesburg. Now firmly established as one South Africa’s leading painters, a British dealer has in recent years introduced Hodgins to London audiences. 

The artist’s influence in Johannesburg artistic circles is pronounced, Hodgins having previously collaborated with Deborah Bell and William Kentridge, notably in print and film. Aspects of his prodigious and versatile production, which includes works on canvas, ceramic and paper, are detailed in two recent monographs, Robert Hodgins(2002), edited by Brenda Atkinson, and The Ceramic Art of Robert Hodgins(2008), edited by long-time ceramic collaborator, Retief van Wyk. A new book surveying his print output is due out shortly, edited by artist Hentie van der Merwe.

A prolific artist centrally preoccupied with figuration, Hodgins’ work is distinguished by his expressive use of colour, abbreviated sense of composition, essentially modernist approach to human form, tentative engagement with abstraction, and often satirical tone. His laconic brushwork and overall deftness of expression, particularly in creating human figures, has resulted in Hodgins being described as a painter of “casual authority” by artist and critic Sue Williamson (Williamson, 2004:158). Commenting on the affinity his work shares with that of another great English existentialist, painter Francis Bacon, critic Brenda Atkinson observes: 

“Hodgins has opinions and is not shy of intellectual examination, but he has few rules. Although he seems, much like Bacon, constitutionally incapable of producing work that is not beautiful, no matter how sinister the matter, he does not set out to be a painter of beautiful things.” (Atkinson, 2002:17)

The artist’s oeuvre is particularly marked by the repeated appearance of certain stock characters – playboys, businessmen, generals and old molls, in particular. The frequency of their repetition underscores the serial nature of Hodgins’ output as a painter. It also highlights a persistent tension between repetition and nuance in his work and between likeness and difference. Strongly influenced by disparate trends in European modernism his paintings share particular thematic overlap with German Expressionism. Equally noteworthy is the influence of his English working class background on his witty, often caustic, artistic worldview. 

  • Chronology

    1920

    Born in Dulwich, London

    1934

    Leaves school to become a newspaper delivery boy

    1938

    Emigrated to South Africa

    1940

    Joins the Union Defence Forces; serves in Kenya until 1941, and then in Egypt until 1944

    1944

    Returns to England

    1945

    Discharged from military service

    1946

    Emergency Teachers’ Course – Camden Town, London

    1947-50

    Teaches in London’s East End

    Studies art part-time –Goldsmiths College, London University

    Recommended for full-time study

    1951

    Arts and Crafts Certificate, Goldsmiths College, London University

    1953

    NDD, Goldsmiths College, London University

    Returns to South Africa

    1954

    Appointed lecturer, School of Art, Pretoria Technical College

    1962

    Begins work as a journalist and critic –NewscheckMagazine

    1966-83

    Appointed lecturer, University of the Witwatersrand Fine Art Department

    1983

    Retired to paint full-time

  • Studies

    1946

    Emergency Teachers’ Course, Camden Town, London

    1951

    Obtained Arts and Crafts Certificate, Goldsmiths College, London University

    1953

    Obtained NDD (National Diploma of Design), painting major, Goldsmiths College, London University

  • Exhibitions

    1954

    Group exhibition,Transvaal Art of Today,Pretoria Centenary Exhibition

    1955

    First Solo exhibition, Lidchi Gallery, Johannesburg

    1956

    Solo exhibition, Lidchi Gallery, Johannesburg

    1958

    Solo exhibition, Lidchi Gallery, Johannesburg

    1959

    Solo exhibition, South African Association of Arts, Pretoria

    1960

    Solo exhibition, Lidchi Gallery, Johannesburg

    Second Quadrennial Exhibition of South African Art

    1961

    Joint exhibition (with Ernst de Jongh), Gallery 101, Johannesburg

    1970

    Joint exhibition (with Jan Neethling), Lidchi Gallery, Johannesburg

    1971

    Joint exhibition (with Jan Neethling), Lidchi Gallery, Johannesburg

    1975

    Joint exhibition (with Jan Neethling), Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg

    1978

    Joint exhibition (with Jan Neethling), Market Gallery, Johannesburg

    1979

    Cape Town Biennale, South African National Gallery

    1980

    Joint exhibition (with Jan Neethling), Market Gallery, Johannesburg

    Group exhibition,Wits University Lecturers Exhibition, Gertrude Posel Gallery, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

    1983

    Group exhibition (with Deborah Bell, Ann Sassoon and Frank van Schaik), Carriage House Gallery, Johannesburg

    1984

    Group exhibition,Four Johannesburg Artists,South African National Gallery, Cape Town(and National Gallery tour), with Ricky Burnett, Jo Smail and Ilona Anderson

    1985

    Group exhibition,Tributaries,an exhibition of South African art touring South Africa and West Germany

    Cape Town Triennial, South African National Gallery

    1986

    Retrospective Exhibition, Standard Bank National Festival of the Arts, Grahamstown

    Group exhibition, AA Mutual Life Vita Arts Now Awards Exhibition, 3rdQuarter Award, Johannesburg Art Gallery

    1987

    Solo exhibition, Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg

    Group exhibition, AA Life Vita Art Now Awards Exhibition, Johannesburg Art Gallery

    Group exhibition (with Deborah Bell and William Kentridge),Hogarth in Johannesburg: aSeries of Etchings,Cassirer Gallery, Johannesburg

    1990

    Group exhibition, Life Vita Now Awards, Johannesburg Art Gallery

    Solo exhibition, Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg

    1991

    Group exhibition (with Deborah Bell and William Kentridge),Little Morals Series,Cassirer Gallery, Johannesburg

    1992

    Solo exhibition, Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg

    Group exhibition, IGI Life Vita Now Awards, Johannesburg Art Gallery

    1993

    Group exhibition (with Deborah Bell and William Kentridge),Easing the Passing (of the Hours), computer animation and graphics, Cassirer Gallery, Johannesburg

    Group exhibition, (with Deborah Bell and Retief van Wyk),Portrait in the Round,Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg

    1994

    Group exhibition,Displacements,curated by David Bunn and Jane Taylor, an exhibition of works on paper,North West University, Evanston, Illinois, USA

    1995

    Solo exhibition, Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg

    Group exhibition,Mayibue iAfrica, Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London as part of theAfrica ’95 Festival

    Group exhibition,Seven Stories of Africa,South African participation curated by David Koloane, Whitechapel Gallery, London as part of the Africa ’95 Festival

    Group exhibition,Panoramas of Passage,curated by Clive van den Berg, Meridian International Centre, Washington DC, USA in association with University of the Witwatersrand Art Galleries

    1997

    Group exhibition,South African Artists,Michel Luneau Gallery, Nantes, France

    Group exhibition,Ubu 101,exhibition with both South African and International Artist, Gertrude Posel Gallery, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

    Group exhibition (with William Kentridge and Deborah Bell),Collaborations,Johannesburg Art Gallery

    Group exhibition,Cram,A.V.A Gallery, Cape Town, in collaboration with the Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg

    1998

    Solo exhibition, Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg

    1999

    Group exhibition,<> Fast Forward,Van Reekum Museum of Modern Art, Apeldoorn, Netherlands

    Group exhibition,World Artists at the Millennium,United Nations, New York

    2000

    Solo exhibition, Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg

    2001

    Solo exhibition, Joao Ferreira Gallery, Cape Town

    Retrospective Exhibition,50 Years a Painter,University of Potchefstroom, Potchefstroom

    Joint Exhibition (with Jan Neethling), Art on Paper Gallery, Johannesburg

    Group exhibition,Baggage,(an Hourglass Project), United States, touring Atlanta, Charlotte and Roswell in 2002

    2001-02

    Retrospective Exhibition,50 Years a Painter,Sasol Art Museum, University of Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch

    2002

    Solo Exhibition, Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg

    Retrospective Exhibition,50 Years a Painter,Gertrude Posel Gallery, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

    Retrospective Exhibition,50 Years a Painter,Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermaritzburg

    Solo exhibition, Joao Ferreira Gallery, Cape Town

    2003

    Solo exhibition, Simon Mee Fine Art at the Arndean Gallery, Cork Street, London

    Group exhibition,Absolutely/Perhaps,Simon Mee Fine Art, London

    2004

    Solo exhibition,Hodgins,Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg

    Art Basel with Goodman Gallery

    Art Basel Miami Beach with Goodman Gallery

    2005

    Solo exhibition,New Oil Paintings and Monoprints,Simon Mee Fine Art, Queensgate, London

    Art Basel with Goodman Gallery

    2006

    Solo exhibition,From a Far South,Simon Mee Fine Art, Cork Street, London

    2007

    Solo exhibition,Hodgins,Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg and Cape Town

    Group exhibition, Art on Paper, Johannesburg

    2008

    Solo exhibition, Simon Mee Gallery, Cork Street, London

    Solo exhibition,Ceramics,Bell-Roberts Gallery, Cape Tow

  • Collections

    Public Collections - South Africa

    • VODACOM, Cape Town
    • Anglo American, Johannesburg
    • SASOL Limited, Johannesburg
    • Rembrandt van Rijn Foundation, Stellenbosch
    • South African Breweries Collection, Johannesburg
    • South African Broadcasting Corporation, Johannesburg
    • SANLAM Corporate Art Collection, Bellville
    • MTN Collection
    • Billiton, Johannesburg
    • Vodacom Collection, Cape Town

    Galleries & Museums - South Africa

    • Johannesburg Art Gallery
    • Pretoria Art Museum
    • Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town
    • William Humphreys Art Gallery, Kimberley
    • Sandton Art Gallery, Johannesburg
    • Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Gallery, Port Elizabeth
    • Durban Art Gallery
    • Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermaritzburg

    Universities - South Africa

    • University of South Africa, Pretoria
    • University of the Witwatersrand Art Galleries, Johannesburg

    Private Collections

    • His works can be found in numerous collections in South Africa and Abroad
  • Awards

    1955

    Received the Best Young Artist Award from Transvaal Art of Today at the Centenary Exhibition, Pretoria

    1986

    Vita Art Now, 3rdQuarter Award Winner

    1987

    Vita Art Now, Overall Award Winner

    1990

    Vita Art Now, 3rdQuarter Award Winner

    1992

    Vita Art Now, 1stQuarter Award Winner

    1995

    Awarded the Helgaard Steyn Award for painting

  • Bibliography

    Atkinson, B.2002.Robert Hodgins.Cape Town: Tafelberg

    Ogilvie, G.1988.The Dictionary of South African Painters and Sculptors.Johannesburg: Everard Read

    O’Toole, S. 2008.Robert Hodgins “…another country…another time…”exhibition catalogue, September 2008. London: Emerging Markets Art

Artwork