FORMAL

Christopher Hodges

02 June - 02 July

exhibition essay

The Cool Complexity of Christopher Hodges

There are some artists who make a splash, throw colour and conceptions around, experiment with new media, create impressive large scale (and occasionally impenetrable) installations for art fairs and biennales, and then there are the quiet ones, working on similar ideas over sustained periods of time, holding the focus, making incremental yet important shifts. There's nothing splashy about mid-career painter and sculptor Christopher Hodges; there's nothing lightweight about him either. Don't be fooled by his familiar use of the flower motif.  Look a bit closer and you'll find references not only to Matisse's famous cut-outs but also to shapes and sequences, symmetry and proportion, the mathematical foundations of nature and the universe itself.

A big claim perhaps, but why not? What is art if not an attempt to get to the core of things, in one way or another? In Hodges' practice a rich knowledge of the history of Abstract Art (the capital letters are intentional) joins forces with a love of mathematics and an abiding fascination with Australian Indigenous art practice to make works that are subtly powerful.

The new major paintings in FORMAL, the current exhibition, are a case in point. A restrained palette of black, white and red ochre creates a mood of gravitas. Large geometric shapes and symbols are constructed to ratio and painted with intentional care and finesse. We recognise the target, the rhombus, the triangle, the rectangle and the square for their place in art history and for their ongoing relevance as signs and symbols in the modern and contemporary world. A target references famous American painter Jasper Johns, it's also a symbol on an airplane wing, a bullseye, concentric circles in Aboriginal paintings and tribal ceremonial body markings signifying a connection to the ancestors and the spirit world.

Hodges explains: "Just outside Alice Springs, not far from the airport, there's this place, and the Aboriginal people of the district don't know who did the marks that are there, they are that old. And if you go and look at the signs, there are these purely abstract signs, circles and forms that are completely abstracted, but there are also the ones that are sort of figuratively abstracted, that are on the edge of those two things. If you look at the combination of things, you can see some things that are directly like tracks and you can see circles and squares and concentric forms.  It's a vocabulary that's pre-language, and that goes across all cultures. You can look at New Guinea, you can look at South America, you can look at any culture around the world and there seems to be this humanity embedded in these simple symbols.

In terms of the history of modern art, Hodges pays tribute to Barnett Newman, Donald Judd and Ellsworth Kelly, Bridget Riley, Sean Scully, Colin McCahon and Richard Serra as well as Johns. He's as interested in the space around the shape (and the shape of the space around the shape) as the shape itself. As a sculptor, he's fascinated with proportion, solidity versus "empty space", and form versus shadow. As a painter, he's interested in light and shade, in creating the illusion of space and solidity. Speaking of a perfect rhombus painted as narrow white triangles each side of a larger black square, he says "the light has no trouble in supporting it". Underpainting with metallic pigments beneath red ochre gives a sense of rusted corten steel; a white stripe can be read metaphysically, a shaft of light into darkness. A deep velvety black centre circle gives an illusion of depthless space, a void, a black hole.

There's a sort of trick I'm playing with visually - the silhouette has always been something that's run through my work, for example, and I want to cause a contradiction. If it's the silhouette of a human, you can't tell if it's coming towards you or running away from you, whether it's waving hello or waving goodbye, that sort of conundrum. That's something that appeals to my visual perception as well as my idea of how things go.

Hodges can be simply joyful. Many of the works on paper in the exhibition experiment with translucency and density and the small wooden sculptures are pure pleasure in their balance of geometric painted shapes. And just when we've become accustomed to a restrained colour palette, in strolls a tall, slender hot pink sculpture aptly titled Flamingo.

Christopher Hodges loves to paint I even enjoy painting a wall! he says. With a brush, not a roller. There is a lovely craft in painting, he continues. If you look at an Ellsworth Kelly painting, they are all hand brushed. Hodges uses a French brand of very high pigment acrylic that he can dilute for layers of translucency or keep dense for intense vermillion or velvety black. He doesn't use masking tape, believing brushed edges give certain mutability, a subtle, almost out-of-focus effect to an ostensibly clean line. He paints on polyester canvas laid flat on the ground, walking on top of the painting while he's working, like another of his heroes, Jackson Pollock.

2016 is shaping up as an exciting year for abstract art. In September, the first multi-artist exhibition of US Abstract Expressionism to take place in the UK since 1959 opens at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Pollock's Blue Poles, purchased by James Mollison for the National Gallery of Australia in 1973 (a landmark controversial moment in the cultural life of our nation) is included. Rothko, Still, Francis, Newman, and many others are represented. One of the aims of the RA's exhibition is to celebrate the often-overlooked diversity of the movement. It's sure to spark conversation about the history, relevance, contemporary resurgence and varied practice of abstraction. For Mr Christopher Hodges, that's a good thing.

Susie Burge, May 2016

The Cool Complexity of Christopher Hodges

There are some artists who make a splash, throw colour and conceptions around, experiment with new media, create impressive large scale (and occasionally impenetrable) installations for art fairs and biennales, and then there are the quiet ones, working on similar ideas over sustained periods of time, holding the focus, making incremental yet important shifts. There's nothing splashy about mid-career painter and sculptor Christopher Hodges; there's nothing lightweight about him either. Don't be fooled by his familiar use of the flower motif.  Look a bit closer and you'll find references not only to Matisse's famous cut-outs but also to shapes and sequences, symmetry and proportion, the mathematical foundations of nature and the universe itself.

A big claim perhaps, but why not? What is art if not an attempt to get to the core of things, in one way or another? In Hodges' practice a rich knowledge of the history of Abstract Art (the capital letters are intentional) joins forces with a love of mathematics and an abiding fascination with Australian Indigenous art practice to make works that are subtly powerful.

The new major paintings in FORMAL, the current exhibition, are a case in point. A restrained palette of black, white and red ochre creates a mood of gravitas. Large geometric shapes and symbols are constructed to ratio and painted with intentional care and finesse. We recognise the target, the rhombus, the triangle, the rectangle and the square for their place in art history and for their ongoing relevance as signs and symbols in the modern and contemporary world. A target references famous American painter Jasper Johns, it's also a symbol on an airplane wing, a bullseye, concentric circles in Aboriginal paintings and tribal ceremonial body markings signifying a connection to the ancestors and the spirit world.

Hodges explains: "Just outside Alice Springs, not far from the airport, there's this place, and the Aboriginal people of the district don't know who did the marks that are there, they are that old. And if you go and look at the signs, there are these purely abstract signs, circles and forms that are completely abstracted, but there are also the ones that are sort of figuratively abstracted, that are on the edge of those two things. If you look at the combination of things, you can see some things that are directly like tracks and you can see circles and squares and concentric forms.  It's a vocabulary that's pre-language, and that goes across all cultures. You can look at New Guinea, you can look at South America, you can look at any culture around the world and there seems to be this humanity embedded in these simple symbols.

In terms of the history of modern art, Hodges pays tribute to Barnett Newman, Donald Judd and Ellsworth Kelly, Bridget Riley, Sean Scully, Colin McCahon and Richard Serra as well as Johns. He's as interested in the space around the shape (and the shape of the space around the shape) as the shape itself. As a sculptor, he's fascinated with proportion, solidity versus "empty space", and form versus shadow. As a painter, he's interested in light and shade, in creating the illusion of space and solidity. Speaking of a perfect rhombus painted as narrow white triangles each side of a larger black square, he says "the light has no trouble in supporting it". Underpainting with metallic pigments beneath red ochre gives a sense of rusted corten steel; a white stripe can be read metaphysically, a shaft of light into darkness. A deep velvety black centre circle gives an illusion of depthless space, a void, a black hole.

There's a sort of trick I'm playing with visually - the silhouette has always been something that's run through my work, for example, and I want to cause a contradiction. If it's the silhouette of a human, you can't tell if it's coming towards you or running away from you, whether it's waving hello or waving goodbye, that sort of conundrum. That's something that appeals to my visual perception as well as my idea of how things go.

Hodges can be simply joyful. Many of the works on paper in the exhibition experiment with translucency and density and the small wooden sculptures are pure pleasure in their balance of geometric painted shapes. And just when we've become accustomed to a restrained colour palette, in strolls a tall, slender hot pink sculpture aptly titled Flamingo.

Christopher Hodges loves to paint I even enjoy painting a wall! he says. With a brush, not a roller. There is a lovely craft in painting, he continues. If you look at an Ellsworth Kelly painting, they are all hand brushed. Hodges uses a French brand of very high pigment acrylic that he can dilute for layers of translucency or keep dense for intense vermillion or velvety black. He doesn't use masking tape, believing brushed edges give certain mutability, a subtle, almost out-of-focus effect to an ostensibly clean line. He paints on polyester canvas laid flat on the ground, walking on top of the painting while he's working, like another of his heroes, Jackson Pollock.

2016 is shaping up as an exciting year for abstract art. In September, the first multi-artist exhibition of US Abstract Expressionism to take place in the UK since 1959 opens at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Pollock's Blue Poles, purchased by James Mollison for the National Gallery of Australia in 1973 (a landmark controversial moment in the cultural life of our nation) is included. Rothko, Still, Francis, Newman, and many others are represented. One of the aims of the RA's exhibition is to celebrate the often-overlooked diversity of the movement. It's sure to spark conversation about the history, relevance, contemporary resurgence and varied practice of abstraction. For Mr Christopher Hodges, that's a good thing.

Susie Burge, May 2016