Strauss & co - 26 - 28 July 2020, Online

92 264 Robert Hodgins SOUTH AFRICAN 1920–2010 Memo Painting #1 dated 2005 and inscribed with the artist’s name, the title and the medium on the reverse oil over Indian ink and stamping on canvas 200 by 90 cm R1 200 000 – 1 600 000 The origin of this lot goes back to 1990 when William Kentridge made the 12-minute film T&I . Largely improvised, the film offers a contemporary reimagining of the Mediaeval chivalric romance of Tristan and Isolde. It was filmed on location at FIG, a gallery in central Johannesburg, and features Robert Hodgins in the role of King Mark of Cornwall. ‘William put me into an Austin Reed suit,’recalled Hodgins, adding that he hadn’t worn a suit since his last outfit was stolen in 1965. 1 Hodgins wore his hair slicked back. ‘A whole other figure and person came into him,’remembered Kentridge. 2 This provided the impetus for a subsequent work, Memo (1994), a stop- frame animation film made in a collaboration between Hodgins, Kentridge and Deborah Bell. Made in two and a half days, Memo presents Hodgins in a dark suit, hair greased and parted down the middle, in a white room with a desk. The spare furnishings of the room include a clock and hanging lamp, both hand-drawn. Channelling the spirit of silent-era comedy as much as the absurdist spirit of underground cinema, Hodgins sits and stands behind the desk. In the vertiginous tower block depicted in the present lot, Hodgins loosely transcribes this action across a sequence of illuminated rooms. Introduced into his drawings and paintings of the later 1990s, the map became a stock motif in works made throughout the 2000s. This seemingly bland fixture was largely inspired, as much as borrowed, from American painter Philip Guston, whose cartoon paintings Hodgins greatly admired. Memo was exhibited as an installation with video at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in 1994. Hodgins later described the three-minute film as ‘our big triumph’ 3 in reference to his long-run- ning collaboration with Bell and Kentridge, as well as a ‘favourite’ work. 4 It is unsurprising then, particularly given his proclivity to rework motifs and themes, that Hodgins should return to the film’s setup to explore themes of alienation and absurdity. The setting of this painting bears comment. New York, inferred by the art deco tower resembling the Empire State Building, was both a source of fascination and revulsion for Hodgins. ‘Americans are poets of materialism,’Hodgins admiringly stated in 1968. 5 And yet he loathed New York, stating: ‘I just thought it was Johannesburg multiplied by twenty. I never wanted to live like that. South Africa was a great comfort to me in many ways, because I could pursue my being, knowing that nobody cared, and I didn’t care that nobody cared.’ 6 1. Neil Dundas (ed.) (2000) Robert Hodgins , Cape Town: Tafelberg, page 59. 2. William Kentridge (2007) Interview with Sean O’Toole, 31 May, Johannesburg. 3. Hodgins, op. cit., page 59. 4. Kathryn Smith (2000) Robert Hodgins artbio, Artthrob , June, available at 5. Robert Hodgins (1968) ‘South African Art: Has it made it?’ in News/Check , 20 December, page 16. 6. Robert Hodgins (2009) Interview with Sean O’Toole, 24 August, Johannesburg. Robert Hodgins in a collaborative animated film, Memo , 1993/4, made with Deborah Bell and William Kentridge (Images: Kate McCrickard (2012) Tate Modern Artists: William Kentridge , London: Tate; Neil Dundas (ed.) (2000) Robert Hodgins , Cape Town: Tafelberg).