Reggie Burrows Hodges: The Journey from Compton to Everyman
Reggie Burrows Hodges has traversed the United States from his childhood in Compton, California, to his current residence in Lewiston, Maine. This journey is a symbolic embodiment of the artistic path he has taken, as his recent show at the Karma Gallery displayed.
The images are a minimalistic and insightful approach to painting. The use of acrylic paint lends to the immediacy of the work -- quick application -- living in the moment. Despite their initially simple display of elegant color and composition, they reveal their wisdom and depth. Their lack of defined and refined features gives them an Everyman quality, inviting us into their universal message.
Swimming in Compton: Look Ma’, 2019, acrylic and pastel on canvas, 64 × 58 inches; 162.6 × 147.3 cm
“Swimming in Compton: Look Ma’”, 2019, presents two figures at a pool -- poised at specific points of action that fit precisely into the space. The result is a rich landscape whose composition is reminiscent of Richard Diebenkorn, as well as Helen Frankenthaler. The forms bounce off of each other by the juxtaposed color and touches like the dripping paint in the foreground.
Hodges works from a black background like a contemporary chiaroscuro. His gift of composition and color never allows it to overcome the painting. It is integral -- not just physically to the overall piece -- but metaphorically, enriching the story that emerges. The themes of the work are largely of African Americans. He paints what he knows. This is one of his greatest strengths. As one moves from work to work, all of the reference points of his artistic knowledge peek out from this space, and the richness builds ultimately becoming uniquely Reggie Burrows Hodges.
Working out of a black background also adds a feeling of coming from the earth, and being reminded that we are, ultimately, from dust and return to it in the end. This is a pivotal element in Hodges’ work. The paintings’ primary subject matter are people doing their thing -- living each day. Every act, every moment is important -- the history of us being here. Wherever each of us started out from, we ultimately return to the same place, the earth. As such, we should keep in mind that significant bond that makes us one. In today’s moiré of troubles and separations brought on by racism, rioting, political duping, and fostered prejudice, we need to acknowledge our sameness that gives us our Humanity.
The “On the Verge” painting series generates a musicality. They combine imagery, color, composition and the rhythm of space and time.
On the Verge: Green Field, 2020, acrylic and pastel on linen, 36 × 28 inches; 91.4 × 71.1 cm, 37 1⁄4 × 29 inches; 94.6 × 73.7 cm (framed)
“On the Verge, Green Field”, 2020, has a Millet-like quality. Landscape, figure, and unicycle create an early Kandinsky-like pastoral tinged with morning’s glow. The figure walks amid quiet greens and blues that suggest a muted feeling of subdued activity. The sun over the horizon speaks to the beginning of a new day.
On the Verge: Suspension of a Blue State, 2020, acrylic and pastel on panel, 12 1⁄4 × 12 1⁄4 inches; 31.1 × 31.1 cm, 13 1⁄4 × 13 1⁄4 inches; 33.7 × 33.7 cm (framed)
“On the Verge, Suspension in a Blue State”, 2020, shows the rider in full unicycle Zen. The suspension of place, time, and poised rider contribute to a sense of wonder. It brings to mind that moment when a musician plays and reaches a point where nothing else is real and everything comes together.
On the Verge: Wantonly, 2020, acrylic and pastel on wood panel, 12 × 12 inches; 30.5 × 30.5 cm, 13 × 13 inches; 33 × 33 cm (framed)
“On the Verge: Wantonly”, 2020, has a feeling of Impressionism with foliage merging with the now indefinite shape of the unicyclist. The breakdown of forms gives the landscape a sense of excitement. The light dappled across the tree and ground generates activity and warmth.
The surfaces of the paintings have a quality like the work of Arthur Dove and Marsden Hartley. Some of the shapes and positions also remind of Matisse and compositions such as “Piano Lesson”. His topics are similar to Romare Bearden’s depiction of American black culture. Like fellow Maine painter Lois Dodd, there is a regalness to the ordinary of just being alive and engaged in activity. Another Maine artist, Emily Nelligan, may also be seen in the handling of a landscape space and how black is maximized to draw the image out as it pulls the viewer in.
Hurdling: Sky Blue, 2020, acrylic and pastel on linen, 68 × 52 inches; 172.7 × 132.1 cm; 69 1⁄4 × 53 inches; 175.9 × 134.6 cm (framed)
“Hurdling: Sky Blue,” 2020, triggers many thoughts as the solitary figure jumps across a series of hurdles. He is in the act of jumping towards the viewer -- making the viewer take notice of the painted and real space. The featurelessness of the figure unites us in the rush of competition, or our own struggles of having to jump over obstacles to get through the day. The simple lines and limited palette give so many charges to the painting with so many potential meanings.
Seated Listener: Yellow Chair, 2019, acrylic and pastel on canvas, 14 × 11 inches; 35.6 × 27.9 cm, 15 1⁄8 × 12 1⁄8 inches; 38.4 × 30.8 cm (framed)
“Seated Listener: Yellow Chair” depicts a figure in a light blue outfit seated in a chair and holding a folded fan. The grace of the figure and elegance of the fan give the presence of royalty. The figure appears to tilt slightly forward as though engaging something off-canvas. The yellowness of the chair creates a thronelike purport to the scene. The spareness of the background and the featureless image offer endless possibilities. The off center placing of the figure generates energy and imbalance, adding to the grasp of the fan as the figure ponders. It reminds one of a contained Francis Bacon.
The figures in Hodges’ paintings idle and run, lean forward and hold back. Their treatment creates just as much energy and feeling as would the delineated features of someone looking apprehensive, angry, active, content, happy, or sad. Their coming forth from the shadows of a black background give them a birthing quality, as they come from the unknown to where they will no doubt return to.
Hodges paints what he knows about people, culture, life, and in doing so creates spaces that cross all boundaries. They stand alone in their completeness yet open themselves to the subjective engagement of the viewer who completes their own story through these images. Hodges brings forth the Everyman in all of us.
Reggie Burrows Hodges is at the Karma Gallery until March 14th. You may continue to view the works included in the show on their website at https://karmakarma.org As well as his own website at https://reggieburrowshodges.com.