The scraps and junk that Jim Hodges turns into art
There’s something truly sublime about that way this American artist fashions his found objects into fine art
Jim Hodges might have trained as a painter, but the artist’s devotion to that medium ended, more or less as soon as that training stopped. Here’s how art historian and curator Robert Hobbs describes this shift in our new book on Hodges.
“After earning an MFA in painting from Pratt Institute in 1986, Jim Hodges began to create ephemeral objects in his Lower-Manhattan basement studio,” writes Hobbs. “Working in a basement without windows had a huge impact on his art: he believed himself to be ‘unearthing’ and even ‘excavating’ a new way of making art as he interrogated the concept of permanence, while jettisoning some conventions he had learned in art school.”
Having thrown out those conventions, Hodges started, gradually, to make room for trash. “I started dragging things into the studio from the street and playing with scotch tape, staples, plastic, Crisco, pins, fabrics, wires, etc, while locating the site of making on the floor, the walls and incorporating the ceiling,” Hodges says in our new book. “I started using the Xerox machine and the fax machine too, along with video and sound recordings and microphones. I set a mic up at the slop sink outside my studio and would arrange various objects in the sink and then let the water find music in the varied interruptions of the flow I’d arranged. It was a very dirty, dusty charcoal heaven.”
The art community soon took notice. “In the 1990s, critics began to notice Hodges’s art and lauded its impressive array of commonplace and often innovative artistic media, including many materials at the time not considered appropriate for art,” writes Hobbs. “Over the years Hodges has personalized such well-established artistic modes as drawing, painting, collage, photography, film, sculpture, glass blowing, gold leaf and mosaic, as well as more recent ones such as Xerox and installation. He has also spearheaded many unconventional techniques, including the use of staples and scotch tape, disassembling and reassembling found and purchased materials, as well as folding, fracturing, ironing, licking, spitting and even undressing.”
Some have likened Hodges’ methods with those used by Italy’s Arte Povera artists a few decades earlier. It’s hard not to look at Hodges’ Unearthed, a huge, life-sized bronze cast of a tree stump that was installed in San Francisco’s Episcopal church, Grace Cathedral, win 2019, or his 2015 piece, Holding Still, made from a tree root, white brass, dirt and steel, and consider Giuseppe Penone tree pieces.
Yet there’s something more personal, and quintessentially American about the way Hodges turns his trash into treasured art works. Take Untitled (One Day It All Comes True), from 2013, a quilt-like work that brings to mind 19th century East Coast landscape art, while reminding us of the USA’s hard-working, tattered blue-collar underpinnings.
“Inspired by dramatically lit, luxuriant cumulus-cloud-filled skies in Upstate New York, where he was then living, he conceived a monumental cloudscape consisting of hundreds of pieces of denim from dozens of used jeans in different shades, ranging from pale blue bordering on white to rich cobalt,” writes Hobbs. “He had selected these from piles of discarded blue jeans found in thrift shops, which he then cut into irregular shapes before assembling them into this climatic wall piece.”
“his work metonymically alludes to the missing persons who once wore the blue jeans incorporated into this tapestry, and to their absent presence,” Hobs goes on. “Similar to Hodges’s early painted canvas between two trees, this extraordinary appliqué refers to an acculturated nature – the transcendent sky composed of different shades of denim – and is itself a naturalized cultural artefact since it obviously refers to the many imposing skies that Hodges enjoyed while living for a time in Hudson New York and remembers seeing when studying particularly spectacular Hudson River School paintings. When one tries to imagine the lives of all the individuals connected to the myriad fragments of cast-off jeans appearing in this work, one approaches Kant’s sublime, whereby the imagination is overwhelmed by the infinity of moments witnessed by these pieces of denim in their former incarnations, thus encouraging viewers to take satisfaction in the mind’s ability to cognize what the imagination cannot encompass.”
To see that work in greater detail, order a copy of Jim Hodges’ new book here.