Robert Hodgins, as Kendell Geers argues, commands “a reverence often verging on cult status” (2015). Hodgins’ wit and intellect, the way in which he captures the glamour and cacophony that characterises the inner mind of the artist, is undoubtedly that which attracts the admiration of his peers and art critics alike. Although Hodgins relied largely on art as a form of escape — having experienced the harshness of working class life during the Depression of the 1930s and having fought in and lived through the atrocities of the Second World War — much of his oeuvre reveals, rather than conceals the trauma through which he lived.
Interestingly, rather than discover art through the application of paint to canvas, Hodgins was first ensnared by painting when, as young poor boy in London, he would visit museums purely for the physical warmth and silence that these spaces had to offer him. Despite these hardships, Robyn Sassen in the article Art, privilege and the sound of wry laughter: new work by Hodgins, notes that:
with a long and prolific history of painting and of self-belief without taking himself too seriously, Hodgins has a stylistic signature that speaks of a knowledge of and confidence with colour, anatomy, concept and material that doesn’t need heavy accents on accuracy. The magnificence of these works, with strong, undiluted colour, with crazily formulated figures, posed loosely in compositions, and with titles spontaneous and outrageous, attests to this (own emphasis, 2004).
Each aspect of Sassen’s observation, from Hodgin’s disregard for accuracy to his “crazily formulated figures” is epitomised by the work “Model Resting”. Here, the sitter’s cushions of crimson flesh contrast against a complex gauze of black, behind which rivers of sapphire and teal run with liquid grace, as if the painter were working primarily in watercolour rather than oils. As Sassen argues, it is for this fluency and fluidity with his medium that Hodgins’ style is instantly recognisable — there is a therianthropic quality to the way he captures his subjects, as if the sitter slips between human and beast. The “Model Resting” to which the title of this particular work refers, reminds the viewer of that iconic sculpture, “The Venus of Willendorf”, as both women’scorpulent middles evoke fertility and fullness. However, in Hodgins’ painting, the woman’s dual profile renders her foreign and strange, the clenched fists which create a fan of tension above her head unsettle the idea that she may be “resting”. Instead they send the viewer into a nightmarish spinning motion, with an electric streak of turquoise, that radiates from the sitter’s left arm, presenting itself as the only chance of escape from a perpetual commotion of colour, movement and line.
Nonetheless, it is of little surprise that Hodgins would tell critics that it is this “flood of images, the colours, shapes, distortions [that] fitted me” (in Van Wyk 2010). “Model Resting” is in this sense, a true reflection of the very essence of colour and craziness for which Hodgins has been famed. The work holds a complex, nuanced and unusual position in his oeuvre — as one of his 1980s pieces, it marks the beginning of his renowned style and strange sitters, while in terms of depth and fluidity, it sits seamlessly alongside the very best of his paintings.
Bibliography: Geers, K. Quoted in Genovese, B. 2015. Half a Century of Robert Hodgins. Online.
Hodgins, R. Quoted in Van Wyk, L. 2010. ‘‘Optimistic Old Sod’ Robert Hodgins Dead at 89. Mail and Guardian. Opinion Piece. Online
Sassen, R. 2004. ‘Art, privilege and the sound of wry laughter: new work by Hodgins’.Arrtthrob: Archive: Issue No. 86. October 2004