Soul Man: This Art Phenom Burst Onto the Houston Scene By Listening to His Atlanta Roots (and the Music)
Portrait by Max Burkhalter
In a still refreshingly raw space on the ground floor of a former mattress factory and one-time brewery in Houston’s EaDo (now the fashion incubator Magpies & Peacocks), Robert Hodge holds court. The vibe is loose and collaborative, just the way he likes it.
Hodge — also an artist-in-residence at Project Row Houses in the Third Ward, where he was raised — seemed to burst on the scene all at once, about three years ago. Now, despite not having a Texas gallery, he’s on collector and curator lists in Houston and beyond. Represented by galleries in Pittsburgh and New Orleans, this fall he’ll pop up in L.A., while New York City dealer Freight + Volume is planning a solo in January 2017, the same month he begins an Artpace residency.
The HSPVA grad who studied at Pratt and Atlanta College of Art returned to his hometown in 2003, at a particularly fertile moment. Hodge became part of the action, one of its leaders. A decade later, he was everywhere: launching a solo at Peveto on Colquitt and receiving a Joan Mitchell Grant (2013); being anointed by Contemporary Arts Museum Houston with a one-person exhibition (2014 – 2015); and carving out a community-based space in a former dry cleaner on Dowling (its allegorical title, The Beauty Box, taken from the original signage) with collaborator and childhood friend Phillip Pyle II (2013). The Black Guys exhibition and performance piece soon followed (2014-2015), undertaken for Art League Houston, again with Pyle.
His new collage-based work is mined from discarded album covers and movie posters reclaimed from the streets; sources allude to African-American musicology.
“What makes me happy,” he says, “is that old soul music — the music that tells you to work it out with your girlfriend, not break up with her. I’m using that energy to forge a new future … With all this heaviness in the world right now, I’m just thinking about making great, fun, enjoyable artwork that’s about color, texture, and composition.”
He calls it a welcome antidote to “my Facebook feed.”
Then there’s a group exhibition this month at the Station, where Hodge shows collage, sculpture, and painting while functioning as a music curator, recording the soundtracks of the other artists featured in the show (“Friendly Fire: Houston Sculpture.”)
Finally, watch for the wrap of the film Two & 1/2 Years — a reference to the time it took for the news of the Emancipation Proclamation to reach Texas. Accompanying his recent CD of the same name, in which he functions as curator, the film features a vanishing generation of residents of the Third Ward, paired with Houston musical legends such as Robert Glasper, Lil’ Keke, and Devin the Dude.
“Every Juneteenth, I drop new music, and this Juneteenth I’ll have a short film ready,” he says. “The neighborhood is a main character. It’s a little pocket that I feel won’t be there in five years, so I wanted to document it.”
Hodge is the son of one of Houston’s first African-American judges, Robert Hodge Sr.; mom, Alfredia Sauceda, was an educator. The poly-genre artist credits key Houston mentors for where he is today — from art historian Dr. Alvia Wardlaw to artist Tierney Malone. On the national stage, he looks up to talents Radcliffe Bailey, Thornton Dial, and Rauschenberg (whom he has a great story about meeting due to a bit of hutzpah).
Another artist he admires is Row Houses’ Rick Lowe. And Hodge’s philosophy of bringing art to the neighborhood, via Beauty Box, is closely aligned with Lowe’s own.
Hodge wonders, “How do I get to people outside a painting. I’ve been working with architects to make a traveling Beauty Box. So we’ll be going to urban neighborhoods and really bringing art to the people.” Watch for the first Beauty Box on the road to unveil next summer in Pittsburgh at the nonprofit print shop AIR (Artists Image Resource).