Exhibition News

Christopher Hodges On Reflection at Utopia Art Sydney.

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Published Saturday, 1 November 2003

Christopher Hodges latest work is on show at Utopia Art Sydney in an exhibition that encompasses all aspects of his work and is on view until November 22.
The Path to Mira Mira

Hodges' works offer supremely practiced strokes. His continuous loops are a calligraphy of motion. They represent both the ancient and the familiar. Yet, at the same time they are vital signs of the body and a record of a physical way of living. Twelve months ago Petal was realised by Hodges and became a core theme for the current exhibition. Petal and its prehensile companion Anemone are an extension of Hodges' established imagery. Whilst there is a strong sense of continuity in his evolving style, these works introduce some new themes. Earlier works are self-contained, and autonomous, whilst the recent works reach out with sensual and supple fingers. Exploring the space around them they seek to engage and encapsulate. Like organisms that have been fosilised, there is a beautiful fragility that defines these new works.

Non figurative and abstracted works often elude description. We tend to look for narratives, concepts and meanings. Much of Hodges' work evokes an intellectual response other than language. It is a visual delight. Hodges acknowledges that his work is organic and unconsciously references nature, however the images are essentially non-specific. In some cases, such as Mandolin, they are derived from a minute detail, such as the fretwork in the soundboard of a Mandolin Hodges came across when travelling through Spain. Even then, their origin is ambiguous upon translation to large-scale works. Other works such as Leaf are more literal, although one suspects that Hodges names these works post production indicating simplicity rather than form.

To disregard the form and follow the outline of each work is to take the journey with Hodges. Contained within each band are his physical actions. The widths vary depending on how he travelled. The way Hodges' body worked to create the line as he followed it, the limitations of an elbow's radius or an arm's length, are all bound into one endless loop. These lines are not perfect. There are pit stops and human foibles, giving them depth and character. However, they are sure and studied. A confident and well-travelled road.

It is this repetition that drives Hodges. Works are conceived as miniature pencil drawings in a pocket sized folio. Little replicas march over pages as Hodges searches for a satisfactory version of a design. He then coaxes these spidery babes to full maturity, spawning graduated works on paper and canvas, in stainless steel and bronze. Hodges does not work in a linear fashion. His studio houses works at various stages of completion and experimentation. This is the easiest approach, as his other career as a gallerist is of a variable nature and occupies a significant amount of time. Considering the control and care with which each work is executed, it is also possible that Hodges requires an approach that allows him adequate time to develop an image with which he is truly comfortable.

Hodges' works on paper lead us inexorably toward the simple deep qualities of his medium. These works need to be contemplated over time. Hodges is drawn to the soft surface of paper. He uses a dense wash to build up layers that hold the character in and a Chromacryl gold wash to create his shimmering backgrounds. He likes the kick and lustre that it produces, focusing on the play of light and tone animating the surface. As evidence of the way that Hodges incorporates the Asian aesthetic in his work he uses a simple carved stamp as a date mark. He prefers to work on smaller pieces of paper and for works such as Saint builds an image from several pieces. These works have a tension as the pieces of paper butt up against one another. He creates an emblematic effect by alternating washes. The checks remind him of commonplace objects such as screens and patterned walls. References to the work of Pop artist Jasper Johns and Hard Edge colour painter Ellsworth Kelly are subtle, however Hodges cites these artists as having a large impact on his work.

They have also informed his colour sensibilities. Hodges likes bold colours. This is most evident in the arresting Leaf canvas. For Hodges to achieve a similar wash on these canvases is a very different process to that of the works on paper. He enjoys the challenge of this change in medium. Although these works are monumental, they continue to explore Hodges' key designs. The washes that he uses are tonal and raw, much like the country that he traverses as he visits the artist's co-operative, Papunya Tula, in Alice Springs. Hodges has been making this journey to Central Australia since 1988. His representation of indigenous artists has had a direct effect on his work. Hodges stresses that the most important lesson imparted from these artists is their introspective approach to art making. It has enabled him to develop a quiet confidence in his practice.

Most of the works on paper and canvas have partners in sculpture. As flat, solid versions of Hodges' key shapes, these works are essentially silhouettes. Works in bronze are beautiful for their imperfections; a burred edge, evidence of the wax cast and the course of Hodges' carving are preserved on the surface. The aptly named bronze Black Beauty tweaks the imagination as it adopts bestial qualities befitting of its title. In contrast, it is the reflective quality of the stainless steel works that gives them depth and tone. Rapunzel and Braidwood represent a continuation of Hodges' totemic work. Their playful titles merge with their entwined forms. Like beanstalks with infinite potential they direct their energy skyward. Staring at one of these sculptures can be like looking into the sun. Spots dance off the surface producing a mesmerising effect. Hodges calls this a vibrato, referring to the perception of movement as the work occupies its surroundings and becomes part of the space between it and the viewer. Mira Mira is the most solid form that he has made for a long time and uses a highly polished surface. It was created in direct response to the beach, and references the shapes, bumps and contours that typify our sand and surf. Hodges' anticipates iconograpic beach goers both caught and reflected in its smooth surface.

Christopher Hodges presents us with works that are energetic, rigorous and poetic. He invites us to journey deeply into images that are as familiar as they are exciting and stimulating. Through his use of different mediums he produces works that are either brimming with energy and tension, or strong, silent meditative symbols. Sometimes they are both.

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