Reggie Burrows Hodges - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Friday, October 15, 2021 | Phillips

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  • 'I start with a black ground [as a way] of dealing with blackness’s totality. I’m painting an environment in which the figures emerge from negative space […] If you see my paintings in person, you’ll look at the depth.' —Reggie Burrows Hodges 

    Immediately arresting in its expansive fields of chalky terracotta, mossy greens, and absorbing pools of deep inky black, For the Greater Good is highly representative of established Californian artist Reggie Burrows Hodges lyrical meditations on memory and metaphor. Covering his raw canvases with a matte black ground, Hodges builds his compositions up from opacity through the application of luminous passages of acrylic. Drawing on memories of his childhood in Compton, Hodges crafts mysterious scenes full of individual drama; fleeting, seemingly inconsequential moments that nevertheless seem pressed with a sense of unknown importance. Representing the artist’s auction debut, For the Greater Good is a striking example of the artist’s contemporary dialogue with American post-war colourists. 


    Shaded from the heat of the afternoon sun, two figures dominate the composition, resting, we are led to assume, after a game of tennis. One figure sits back in a low chair, the relaxed angle of his legs made prominent by the white ankle socks standing out against the dense black shadow cast around him. A girl stands in front of him, her two feet planted squarely on the ground as she faces him. The two seem deep in conversation, a tennis racket laid on the ground between them and Hodges presses us to look deeper into the rich surface for more.


    Detail of the present work


    The Power of Narrative 
    'Figures created by Hodges are made sharper, and more haunting, not because we see those things in their eyes, we see it in their bodies, their postures, the endless desire for humans not to be alone, and to connect. To that Hodges adds all that wonderful blackness.' —Hilton Als

    With a background in film and theatre, Hodges is a highly accomplished and descriptive visual storyteller, crafting quiet scenes that are full of elusive narrative power and potential. Although his paintings are centred on the human form, Hodges’ figures never meet our gaze, their faces either turned away, or their features obscured. In fact, their features were never really there at all. In building up his scenes from his dense, black ground Hodges leaves ‘the subjects themselves as untouched, impossibly deep silhouettes.’i  


    Vividly rendered in The Greater Good, Hodges places the standing figure with her back firmly to us, a physical inaccessibility that is extended with the artist’s masterful use of deep, amorphous shadow. Shrouding his figures from us in this way, Hodges evokes ‘the history of western portraiture by foregrounding the figure but depart from tradition by omitting all facial features.’ Displacing our attention onto the more intangible relationship established between the two figures, and the environment they are set within, Hodges expands our sense of how we orient ourselves in our communities and to the wider world.


    American Expressionism and Colour 


    Recalling the subdued and hazy hues of American Modernist master Milton Avery, Hodges taps into a tradition of American painting that explores the abstract and emotive qualities of colour while remaining grounded in the figurative and representational. Avery’s commitment to combining the core principles of abstraction and the representational serve as useful anchor for Hodge’s rich painterly approach, allowing him to combine more abstract passages of colour and form with his abiding commitment to a mode of narrative figurative painting. 


    Milton Avery, Swimmers and Sunbathers, 1945, The Metropolitan Museum, New York © 2021. Image copyright The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Art Resource/Scala, Florence © Milton Avery Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and DACS, London 2021

    A keen and observant student of chromatic abstraction, Hodges’ approach to his compositions involves a careful control that we might not associate with the more psychical and gestural handling of Helen Frankenthaler or Mark Rothko. 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.


    Placing immense compositional and thematic importance on deep, black hues, Hodges makes a significant departure from the Colour Field paintings of his predecessors. For the Greater Good is an emblematic example of what critic Hilton Als has recently described as the artist’s ‘equating blackness not only with depth of field, but depth of person.’ii


    While the fantastically intangible, hazy quality of his treatment of colour speaks clearly to the vicissitudes of memory, Hodges also makes ‘ingenious use of so-called negative space as […] a metaphor for hegemonic white culture.’iii Building up his compositions from a black ground in this way, Hodges is contributing to an important and ongoing discussion about painting’s ability to speak to questions of identity and representation in the 21st century. 


    Reggie Burrows Hodges in his studio during his residency with the Ellis-Beauregard Foundation, Maine. photograph by Rachel Sieben

    Collector’s Digest 


    •    Reggie Burrows Hodges’ work resides in major collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Nasher Museum of Art, North Carolina, and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. 


    •    Hodges’ New York debut at Karma in New York earlier this year was met with significant critical acclaim. As the 2019 recipient of the Ellis-Beauregard Foundation Fellowship in the Visual Arts, Hodges will be the subject of a solo exhibition at the Centre for Maine Contemporary Art, Rockland in 2022.


    •    In 2021 he was awarded the Jacob Lawrence Award in Art by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. 


    i Will Heinrich, ‘Reggie Burrows Hodges’, New York Times, 10 February 2021, online 
    ii Hilton Als, ‘In the Service of Others: The Art of Reggie Burrows Hodges’, The New York Review of Books, 212 March 2021, online 
    iii Johanna Fateman, ‘Reggie Burrows Hodges’, The New Yorker, online

    • Provenance

      Dowling Walsh Gallery, Rockland
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Rockland, Dowling Walsh Gallery, Reggie Burrows Hodges, 4 October - 30 November 2019

Property From A Distinguished Scandinavian Collection


For the Greater Good

signed with the artist's initials and dated 'RBH 2019' on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
76.2 x 127 cm (30 x 50 in.)
Painted in 2019.

Full Cataloguing

£30,000 - 50,000 

Sold for £441,000

Contact Specialist

Kate Bryan
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

+44 7391 402741


Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe

+44 20 7318 4099

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 October 2021