Arts / Galleries

Two Powerhouse Texas Artists Team Up in Houston — The Raw Creativity of Robert Leroy Hodge and Tim Kerr Takes Centerstage

See These Giants' Free Jazz Worthy Collaboration at The Blaffer

BY // 05.26.23

The moment you walk into the Blaffer Art Museum to view the Hodge+Kerr show, the celebration of raw creativity between two Texas artists breathes life directly into the gallery space, and the feeling is palpable. An art synergy has been born between Houston’s own art visionary Robert Leroy Hodge and Austin’s self-expressionist artist Tim Kerr. 

“For me, the collaboration between Tim and I is like peanut butter and jelly,” Hodge says. “Tim has thought patterns like mine. We may look at the world differently, but our mindsets are very similar.

“I believe in humanity and human rights, and everybody being able to share spaces and opportunities. Tim believes that too.” 

The exhibition debut of “No Kings But Us” was more of a sensorial experience than an exhibition. Hodge and Kerr’s collaborative show was the “first performance” of nearly 40 collaborative collage-based paintings. “No Kings But Us” is currently on view at the Blaffer Art Museum until next Sunday, June 4.

“I’m kind of blown away by it,” Kerr tells PaperCity. “As far as the art, we’ve kind of just started. We both came from the same place. The more we’ve worked together, I like the work even better.” 

"Grand Theft," Hodge+Kerr
Hodge+Kerr’s Grand Theft, 2023, is one of the show-stopping images at the Blaffer Art Museum, University of Houston (Photo by Alison Medley)

Splashes of indigo, midnight black and gold are interwoven with tributes to Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr. Muhammad Ali and Alice and John Coltrane play out across the canvases. The exhibition’s opening drew an eclectic Houston art crowd with Hodge and Kerr’s fluid, visceral work speaking the truth about human rights and racial equality.  

“That’s what we wanted — the scene was wild,” Hodge tells PaperCity. “It’s what I imagined it would be like — the banker, the attorney with the skateboarder, the rapper. We’re all connected. We’re also different, but we all need the same things. We need shelter, comfort, security.

“I just try to bring us to the things that makes us alike. And finding value in something so specific. It made me so happy.” 

A Collaboration Is Born

The collaboration of Houston art visionary Robert Leroy Hodge and Austin’s Tim Kerr was a serendipitous stroke of genius. The kindred spirits of Hodge and Kerr came together through the introduction of music producer Russel Gonzalez, also known as “the ARE,” who helped bring this synchronicity of talents together. 

Tim and Robert really meshed well together, and it always felt that we were creating something special,” Gonzalez says. “We have this former DIY legendary music artist out of Austin and an African-American Third Ward native artist, and they come together to create something really special, spectacular.”

Houston art visionary Robert Hodge and Austin self-expressionist artist Robert Kerr collaborate for "No Kings But Us" exhibition at the Blaffer Museum.
Houston art visionary Robert Hodge and Austin self-expressionist artist Tim Kerr collaborate for “No Kings But Us” exhibition at the Blaffer Art Museum. (Photo by Lenard Smith Jr.)

What made the exhibition debut unlike any other was the hypnotic free jazz that transported art appreciators into this surreal world of creation. It felt as if the improvisational talents of Charles Mingus or Theolonius Monk were in the house. The beat-heavy rhythms drew art lovers into the upstairs gallery, and the space just opened up with pure physicality. 

“This was a free jazz piece. It could be noisy, and it could be vocal,” Gonzalez says. “A call, a beacon is put out for everyone to show up. Bring a horn, bring drums, bring whatever you want and you can be a part of this piece. It’s performance art with more of a structured idea.

“It makes the show edgy. This can break the ice, and let everyone feel like they’re a part of the show.” 

Like the art luminaries Cy Twombly and Jean-Michel Basquiat whose paintings are layered with a fusion of word and images, Hodge and Kerr create with an exuberant self-expressionism. A poly-genre conceptual artist with Third Ward roots, the 44-year-old Hodge has made a defining name for himself in the Houston art world.

The Kinder High School for Performing and Visual Art grad’s collage-based works have debuted in significant exhibits at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, the Lawndale Art Center and the Houston Museum of African American Culture.  Blending explosive color with rich visual textures, Hodge has turned to collage and painting to communicate his artistic truth and fuel his pieces. 

Before working with Tim, I would plan out everything. I would make pre-drawings and silkscreens,” Hodge says. “Tim got me into attacking the canvas and painting. Like having an idea, and just starting out where you’re at now in the moment.

“You don’t have to wait for your process. It got me returning back to painting. Everyone thought I was a collage artist, but I can draw and paint.”  

The creative process is all about being improvisational, loose and in the flow, according to Kerr. A DIY self-expressionist artist and musician, the 67-year-old Kerr spent his youth “in creation,” whether it was drawing when was 11 or playing in some of Austin’s DIY punk bands. He’s allergic to any sort of labels. Kerr founded several influential Austin bands, including Bad Mutha Goose, Poison 13 and the Big Boys. 

“It starts with the drawing, and when I finally get a drawing that’s looking back at me, then it’s like OK, I got it,” Kerr says. “I will do a drawing a bunch of times — I’m using that as a guideline. I’m really loose at what I do.” 

The work of Hodge+Kerr is deeply rooted in music and pop culture and shaped by an interest in human rights and racial equality.
The work of Hodge+Kerr is deeply rooted in music and pop culture and shaped by an interest in human rights and racial equality. (Photo by Scott Julian)

In Hodge and Kerr’s mutual sharing of canvases, trust and spontaneity play out in the creative process.

“We had all these happy accidents,” Hodge says. “Like I would cut things out in really cool silhouettes, and he would paint inside of it. It was synergy. None of the work was really overly precious. He could cut anything out of mine or I could paint over things. We would keep growing the work.” 

What comes through in their collaborative work is a commitment to celebrating the similarities rather than the differences between us all.  

“What this show means to me — it’s about two artists from two different generations, two different colors, two spaces of music and culture coming together — because they’re aligned together,” Hodge says. “We’re all human, and we’re making those connections with each other to bring all these worlds together because we’re all the same.” 

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