Snowden Hodges: Tradition Today

Mar 15, 2016

Snowden Hodges in his studio with (l-r) a preliminary drawing for "Tradition," the oil painting "Tradition," and a portion of "Beach."
Credit noe tanigawa

  Snowden Hodges is the reigning dean of representational painting in Honolulu.  His annual painting ateliers at Windward  Community College were the stuff of legend, and a strong program in representational art remains his legacy there.  HPR’s Noe Tanigawa visited Mr. Hodges’ studio recently to see the work he’s putting into a new show at KCC's Koa Gallery. 

Thursday, March 17, is the opening reception, 4:30 - 7:30, at KCC's Koa Gallery, 4303 Diamond Head Road.  The show runs through April 15.

Open Monday - Friday, 10am - 4pm
Saturday, 9am - 3pm
Closed on most major Holidays and for Spring Break March 22 - 28

Free and open to the public

Snowden Hodges will receive the KCC Koa Award  at a luncheon on Wednesday, April 6th, at noon, at  the Koa Gallery Courtyard.  A nominal luncheon charge will be charged - noon until 2:00 PM.  You'll have an opportunity to chat with the artist.

He called it butter colored, and so it is, Snowden Hodges’ home and studio on Maunalani Heights overlooks

Snowden Hodges, "Beach," oil on canvas on the left with a preliminary drawing on the right.
Credit noe tanigawa

   Diamond Head from the mauka side.

“I miss being up here when I’m running errands and things and I just can’t wait to get back.”

Angled north, light streams in the windows, jars of powdered pigments line one wall, and there’s a beach scene on a wooden easel.  Hodges recalls discussing a painting with a friend who responded, it’s nice and all but doesn’t ask any hard questions.

“Which I though was an interesting way to put it.  And so what I was thinking in this exhibit, without trying to upset anybody, but do things that really did challenge a little bit.  This is going to be a little challenging.”

Hodges motions to the beach scene,  it’s Waikīkī, but clothing optional.

“Why not, you know?  I felt like people are more comfortable with gun violence than they are with public nudity and I thought where’s the sense in that?  That’s why I painted it."

These nudes don’t look salacious, because of the way they’re painted.  

Dry pigments Hodges mixes with Maroger medium to make the paint he uses.
Credit noe tanigawa

  “I use dry pigments, see the pigments over here, and I cook my own medium, Maroger medium, which is controversial.”

Hodges claims the familiar old masters’ glazing medium  simply doesn't  last.  Maroger medium, a rediscovered old masters' technique, is pure raw linseed oil, unbleached yellow beeswax, and a minute amount of litharge of lead.  Hodges says this medium, used impasto style, has much greater longevity than the often used old masters’ recipe which involves turpentine.  Find out more about Maroger medium on Hodges' website.

One of the most satisfying accomplishments with paint is rendering human flesh.  For this, Hodges uses only four colors.

“We use ivory black, flake white, cadmium light red, and yellow ochre.  With those four colors, black and white aren’t even colors, you can paint every conceivable flesh tone and hair color. That’s all you need.  And the only exception to that is sometimes this line between the lips, it’s black, or in the nostril you can make it black, but if you make it alizarin, which is a deep red, it just looks like there’s blood flowing.”

A little tip like that can make all the difference in a portrait.  Hodges says so many people have asked him to teach them to draw.  He says it's a natural human thing to want to depict what you see, or what you have in your mind.  He says people always used to know how to draw, otherwise they would never have been able to build whatever it was.  Drawing, he says, is attention to the function and the look of a thing, figuring it out.  That's why in this show, preliminary drawings and notes will accompany each painting so you can see how it was built, how meaning is created.

Among the works in the upcoming show, a Nazi themed triptych resonates,disquietingly, with echoes on the campaign trail today, and there’s a contemporary self-portrait that for this writer, at least, recalls Velazquez’ “Las Meninas” from 17thcentury Spain.  I like to think Hodges is adding his self-portrait to a historical conversation which is marked by contributions from Goya, Sargent, and Picasso, among others who have dealt with this painting's themes over the centuries.  The composition and elements in Velasquez’ painting force us to ask questions about reality, illusion, and point of view, which are pertinent to any moment in human history.  

Hodges conflates history and place as naturally in his paintings as in life.  We passed outside, where lychee, limes, palms and hibiscus flank a handmade walkway, the sunken garden and two marble columns. 

Painter Snowden Hodges in his garden.
Credit noe tanigawa

There's a lovely scent is in the air, which Hodges attributes to a blur of white, the Mexican poinsettia. Lemons and tangerines are in bloom too.  Real ivy climbs an antique-looking pedestal which Hodges actually made himself from a basketball. 

“It looks like it’s always been here...that was the trick. It’s all drawing, really.”   

How's this picture of Snowden Hodges in his garden on Maunalani Heights, with a bust in the background, looking a bit like a scene from Watteau.