Robert Hodge is an interdisciplinary artist whose practice explores themes of memory and commemoration. Born in Houston, Texas and raised in the City’s Third Ward district, the artist studied visual art at the Pratt Institute in New York and the Atlanta College of Art before returning to Houston. Hodge has exhibited his work in numerous national and international institutions. The artist has also received grants from the Joan Mitchell Foundation, Houston Arts Alliance and The Idea Fund. Hodge currently lives and works in Houston. Hodge’s current projects include an album he executive produced called “Two and 1⁄2 years: A Musical Celebration to the Spirit of Juneteenth” and his traveling installation called “The Beauty Box.”
TELL US ABOUT THE ALBUM YOU RECORDED DURING YOUR RESIDENCY.
Between the Devil and the Deep was inspired by a Thelonious Monk title and directly relates to the history and myth of legendary guitarist Robert Johnson. It is also tied to my exploration into the unknown and considering questions such as, “Is there a ‘soul?’” “Can it be sold?” and “Does it actually belong to us?”
Robert Johnson recorded his Delta Blues record 80 years ago in San Antonio’s Gunter Hotel. I wanted to honor that event, yet build something new inspired by the history of blues and its influence on the hip hop generation. The legend that Johnson sold his soul for exceptional guitar skills plunged me into a rabbit hole of related material, sparking ideas for paintings and collages addressing the “sins” of man. I reference and distort old images of southern churches, baptism scenes, and a lot of things that made me think of my experience as a southerner. I wanted to bridge the gap between the audio and visual by providing a soundtrack to my exhibition and a visual to my record. In this way I hope activate all the viewers’ senses.
HOW DO YOU COLLECT MATERIAL FOR YOUR WORK? WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS FOR MAKING COLLAGE/PAINTINGS?
I’ve collect materials from all over San Antonio, especially movie posters. The posters are layered and layered until they become very thick, which to me is exactly how we perceive history. We can’t see it all and we only get glimpses and pieces of things that happened, whether personal or worldly. The collages here are made with records I collected from practically every record store I could find in San Antonio. This search, which was my replacement for scavenging posters from buildings, can be challenging depending on the city. The imagery in my collages reflects the local culture and makes the work feel collaborative.
My process for the collages begins with building the surface up using reclaimed paper and experimenting with different shapes and thickness. My intuition guides the process and I follow the lead of what the paper wants to do. It’s almost like molding clay—shaping the paper, adding materials and taking away as needed. After the shape feels good to me, I cull through records I’ve already selected and pre-cut until certain records speak to me visually. I don’t always know where an image is going, but I know eventually it will find a proper home in one of the final works. I also began sewing and adding paint and other materials to bring the image closest to where it was in my imagination.
WHAT ROLE DOES COMMUNITY PLAY IN THE NARRATIVE OF YOUR WORK?
Community is a large part of my practice. Collaborations enable me to create a space for discussions, various perspectives, and shared ideas while generating funds back into the community. My studio is located on the grounds of Project Row Houses in Houston. From this vantage point, I see how community engagement through the arts not only inspires people but also opens dialogue around the impact of your work and what the real world is saying about it, not the art world. I want to know how my work is affecting everyday life and challenging and engaging people who have lost or never had a connection to arts. My mission is to bring art to the people outside of “white cubes” and right into the community in a real and respectful manner. Existing outside of the traditional arts is critical for me—installations, music, and this word “social practice” are the cornerstones of why I am an artist.