Reggie Burrows Hodges - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Friday, October 14, 2022 | Phillips
  • "My practice has been inspired by the study of moments and translating the essence of them through colour, figuration, abstraction, and various techniques of mark making."
    —Reggie Burrows Hodges
    His compositions calm and controlled and peopled by anonymous figures who are often presented turned away from us or with their faces obscured from view, Reggie Burrows Hodges paintings are strangely evocative of the sensations of memory. This unique quality is especially concentrated in the softly diffused edges of his forms, described memorably by critic Hilton Als as ‘controlled bleeding’. Drawing on his rich and peripatetic history including a childhood in Compton, California; studies in music and film; and an early career as a professional tennis coach, Hodges crafts narrative vignettes that are at once personal and more universally nostalgic. Although clearly taken from his own recollections and observations out on the tennis court here, rather than serving more prosaically autobiographic ends the many figures in Hodge’s paintings might in fact be more fruitfully read as illustrating various ‘characters in a giant narrative about American life as it is played out in games and loneliness’.i Depicted alone and in groups, at work and at leisure, these anonymous figures charge Hodges’ compositions with a note of ambiguity, one that remains rooted in themes of identity and community, truth and memory in a way that communicates across generational and cultural divides. 

    The title of this magnificent 2019 work - First Serve - implies action, but the scene depicted by the artist instead captures the private, introspective moments before the start of the match. The viewer is fixed low in the foreground,  the ball girl and boy standing with hands held behind their backs, poised on the edge of action. Gathering themselves for the game ahead, the two players are seated either side of the umpire, shaded from the blinding sunlight by umbrellas, further obscuring their features and recalling other, notable compositions from this body of work. Lingering on moments of stillness between action in this manner, Hodge’s compositions draw on the quiet observations of French Intimiste Édouard Vuillard, later developed by American artists such as Milton Avery, to whom Hodges’ technical approach is often compared. 


    Édouard Vuillard, Jardins publics : la conversation, les nourrices, l'ombrelle rouge (The Public Gardens: The Nurses, The Conversation and The Red Umbrella), 1894, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Image: Bridgeman Images

    Stacked behind the court, the bustling stands are built up from large passages of black pigment, highlighted with brightly contrasting white details. Almost entirely abstracted, these areas are highly evocative, vibrating with the agitated anticipation of the crowd they depict. The treatment of black here is especially significant, highlighting an important aspect of Hodges’ painterly practice. Unusually, the artist begins his compositions by covering the white canvas with a black ground, only then adding layers of colour and white to pick out the forms and pictorial structure. Of this decision, the artist has said ‘I start with a black background [as a way] of dealing with blackness’ totality. I’m painting an environment in which the figures emerge from negative space […] If you see my paintings in person, you’ll look in depth’ii. Some critics have taken this interest in negative space as a potent ‘metaphor for hegemonic white culture’, and although Hodges certainly addresses questions of representation and identity, a celebration of the colour black and the contrasts it is able to draw out alongside other hues remains his central preoccupation.iii Like Avery before him, Hodges uses colour and opacity to create depth and texture within his works. Forms are flattened and subtly spread into the canvas in carefully controlled bleeds, speaking more to atmosphere than to a strict adherence to realism, supported by the artist’s marvellous facility for storytelling.


    Left: Mark Rothko, No. 10, 1950, The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Image: The Whitney Museum of American Art / Licensed by Scala, Artwork: © Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko / DACS, London 2022
    Right: Milton Avery, Interlude, 1960, Philadelphia Museum of Art. Image: Philadelphia Museum of Art: Centennial gift of the Woodward Foundation, 1975, 1975-81-1, Artwork: © Milton Avery Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and DACS, London 2022

    Appropriately, alongside Avery, Hodges has also cited the American colour field painters as bearing a significant influence in developing his practice and, although it remains wholeheartedly descriptive and figurative, the impact of artists such as Mark Rothko can be felt in First Serve. The picture plane is horizontally bisected with the lines which draw out the sky, stand, and the blue edge of the court, a composition which is echoed in works such as Rothko’s No.10, where rectangular passages of yellow, white and ultramarine are edged and feathered with black. In First Serve, Hodges’ figures appear to emerge from the same pools of pure, flat colour, endowing them with an unusually fluid quality that is at once captivating and serene. 


    Collector’s Digest 


    • Recently awarded the Jacob Lawrence Award in Art by the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Reggie Burrows Hodges has been the subject of intensifying critical attention in recent years following his debut solo exhibition with Karma Gallery in New York in 2021. 


    • Reggie Burrows Hodges made his auction debut at Phillips London in October 2021, when his For the Greater Good achieved £441,000, soaring over 15 times its low estimate. 


    • His work now resides in major collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Nasher Museum of Art, North Carolina, and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. 


    • As the 2019 recipient of the Ellis-Beauregard Foundation Fellowship in the Visual Arts, Hodges has most recently been the subject of a solo exhibition at the Centre for Maine Contemporary Art, Rockland in May of this year. 

    i Hilton Als, Suzette McAvoy, Reggie Burrows Hodges, (, New York, 2021, p. 11.
    ii Hilton Als, Suzette McAvoy, Reggie Burrows Hodges, (, New York, 2021, p. 11.
    iii Johanna Fateman, ‘Reggie Burrows Hodges’, The New Yorker, online

    • Provenance

      Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

Property from a Distinguished Private American Collection


First Serve

signed with the artist’s initials and dated ‘RBH 2019’ on the reverse
acrylic and pastel on canvas
141.3 x 206.4 cm (55 5/8 x 81 1/4 in.)
Executed in 2019.

Full Cataloguing

£220,000 - 280,000 

Sold for £591,200

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Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4060

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 14 October 2022