“The image never really settles down; it deconstructs itself, shows itself up to be culturally specific and layered in multivalent ways at every moment.” Ivor Powell1
Ivor Powell recounts how in the early 1980s Robert Hodgins’s paintings underwent a metamorphosis of sorts, that the artist changed gears, a change that is specifically discernible in a series of mainly small paintings made around the figure of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu. Hodgins speaks of Ubu as “not only ignoble, he is a familiar historical figure: the clown is in power, the clown who seems so funny that it’s easy to forget he is evil.” Powell observes that Hodgins continued to appropriate Ubu but that few of the Ubu images actually refer directly to any event or place or personage in South Africa.
Hodgins’s painting, Head (2004) evokes an ambivalent and ghostlike Ubu presence ominously set against a deep red backdrop. The face may or may not be scarred, he wears a strange military style cap and has shoulders that are still square, but all life force has seemingly drained away.
Powell maintains “that Hodgins’s painting does not thereby sacrifice the sense of a coherent and meaningfully-constituted self. He paints expressionistically, conveying nuances of feeling, emotion, and intuition through the medium of paint. It is just that the self is being rendered up in less innocent ways than would have been the case in an earlier time.”
1. Ivor Powell (1996) Robert Hodgins, Johannesburg: The Project Room and Robert Hodgins.
Bell Roberts Gallery, Cape Town.