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Beautifully Ordinary: Jim Hodges at the DMA

In its first museum partnership with the highly respected Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Dallas Museum of Art mounts an artist’s first solo museum presentation.  Contributor Joan Davidow shows us how this exhibition, Jim Hodges:  Give More Than You Take, highlights 25 years of turning ordinary materials and overlooked craft into powerful artworks.  Joan Davidow is an adjunct professor teaching contemporary art survey in SMU’s MLS degree program.

  • Hurry. Jim Hodges Give More Than You Take closes on Jan. 12 at the Dallas Museum of Art.
  • Listen to the report that aired on KERA FM

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When an artist grows up in the midst of grand nature, playing in the dirt and making things with leaves and rocks, his art reflects the love of the earth.  When he grows up watching his mom sew and mend, the love of materials sneaks into his artmaking.

As a newly minted artist, Jim Hodges was unhappy making paintings and took a colleague’s sage advice:  “You don’t have to paint!”  He packed away the paints and began art-making with odd materials on the studio floor not knowing what would evolve ~ and something wonderful happened.  Using unusual materials, he transforms traditional craft – mosaics, quilting, gold leaf – that hearken back to an earlier era.

The entry wall of DMAs Barrel Vault is studded with fake flowers ~ a casual array of bits and pieces of cheap artificial flowers.  They show the playful, yet refined hand of Hodges, who found a way to express himself with non-traditional materials.  The title tells it all:  Give More than you Take…….he’s making something out of nothing and giving the viewer plenty to digest.  His work inspires others to use unusual materials and methods.  This is an artist’s artist.  Dallas artist Linnea Glatt, who inventively uses her sewing machine to create delicately drawn lines, says “Hodges gives me courage to do these things.”

How can a wall of cheap, torn-apart fake flowers look so good!  Or a huge hanging of silk scarves floating against another wall.  These are personal things…the things that touch us.  Linda Ridgway, an artist who bronzes dying flowers, says, “He plays with things everyone else takes for granted.”

Besides the ephemeral, misty poetic pieces that seem so delicate and transparent, Hodges makes tough stuff.  The earliest piece in the exhibition, a black ski mask the artist pulled apart and rewove, stares down at the viewer.  Needing other materials to use in his art, Hodges succumbed to the urge to break a mirror, smashing it from behind.  In my mind, a broken mirror signals bad luck, but for Hodges, mirror fragments became another material.  The cracks even look like flower petals.  Bits and pieces of hand-carved, mosaic mirror-chips form rectangles, and large glowing, moon-sized orbs hang high on the museum’s walls.

Hodges uses heavy chains to close in a walled corner, fashioning a curious spider’s web that acts as a gate.  What hides inside that boxed space?  The spidery web, more delicately woven in jewel-like, glittery chains reappears, most poignantly hugging a corner in another gallery.

Recalling the work of the hand, the exhibition’s crescendo appears as a wall-sized masterwork, an appliquéd denim quilt, capturing that big sky of his youth with bloated clouds and striking rays of light, delicate and monumental.

Look closely:  there’s more than sweet, pretty art here:  this art harkens to traditional Still Life paintings, which capture Nautre Morte, dying nature.   Here the artist faces mortality and the grave losses of AIDS that surrounds him.  In this stunning exhibition, we see Jim Hodges tackle heavy issues in a subtle, well-conceived way.  He tells poignant stories of love and loss.