Sculpture: The Lightness of Being

If the concept of ‘garden’ has the natural elements at its core – water, fire, earth and air – then the ‘ART of gardening’ brings the fifth element into play – the spiritual element, that often indefinable aesthetic quality that brings our senses to life. In the design and making of gardens there is a rich and complex interplay between the elements and the senses. The role of the artist (sculptor, designer or architect) is about the integration and balancing of those elements in order to awaken or to delight the senses.

Sydney based sculptor, Christopher Hodges, captures this spiritual sense of delight in its very essence. He is an artist who shares in the obsessions and preoccupations of the ‘garden maker’. His bold, steel “cut outs”, minimalist homages to Matisse, are quintessentially about light, space, surface, texture, colour, line and edge. His search for balance between all of these elements intersects and overlaps with the pursuits of contemporary Australian landscape designers.

Selection of small bronze sculptures, 2014

Hodges is a product of the brightness and modernity of the Sydney art world. He was exposed at a young age to Brett Whitely, Tim Storrier and Martin Sharp of the Yellow House. Initially a painter, he transitioned into sculpture and was spurred into abstraction after a stint in Paris and New York in the late 1980s. He has claimed Matisse and Pollock as his heroes but there is something philosophical, if not meditational, about his approach to the making of art. I suspect that the strongest influence on Hodges stems from the Papunya Tula artists of Alice Springs and his empathy with their calm, metaphysical style of painting.

Technically, he says, he relies on drawing and what he describes as “organic geometry”. His bold metal shapes are translated into CADs for laser cutting but his pieces are welded together to achieve an organic quality and a naturalness of line and form.

JM_CH_8White Flower, 2009
Painted Steel
250 x 250 x 125 cm

White Flower was commissioned for Hunter Park, Mosman. It sits upright in the open park space bringing a dark shaded area to life, a playful focal point against the dark foliage of the trees and road that flank this corner of the park. Installed on a grassy mound constructed as a base for the work, the steel structure sits so lightly on the ground that that it looks as though it could blow away in the wind. This is one example of his recurring flower motif that captures the elegance and carefully balanced resolution of the elements and one that has had positive impact on park visitors. According to a survey conducted by the council audience responses to White Flower were overwhelmingly positive and alluded to its charm and uplifting qualities.

JM_CH_9Four Petal, 2012
Painted Stainless Steel

Four Petal, a privately commissioned piece demonstrates what can be achieved when artist, client and landscape designer collaborate. The formal setting – planting, foliage, flowers and pavers, appear to be designed to frame and offset the sculpture as the focal point. Likewise, the hot pink Pop Art steel ‘petals’ accentuate the lime and dark green foliage, the blue Sydney sky and pink and white flowers. The soft edging and childlike form of the painted petals are in stark contrast to the geometric pavers, the rigidity of the pencil pines and box hedging. There is a lot going on here and it could easily have resulted in a layering of formal and standard elements. Strategic positioning of the sculpture pulls this garden design together and gives it an undeniable ‘wow’ factor.

JM_CH_14Mira Mira
Macquarie University Theatre
Polished Stainless Steel

Mira Mira (to bring something hidden into the light) positioned at the intersection of pathways to the entrance to Macquarie University theatre building, is an iconic beacon to all that might seek out this destination. It is an example of how sculpture, at its best, and well sited, can act as a dramatic connection between landscape and architecture. In stark contrast to the box shaped geometric forms of the building and the dark leafiness of the trees, this monumental curved form rises up effortlessly and shimmers with light and dynamic energy. Made of highly polished stainless steel, Hodges uses an angle grinder to give the surface a wildly dynamic texture that attracts light with such intensity that it is, in itself, highly theatrical. The bold silhouette motif – a strong, linear curve – is one that Hodges has explored with increasing simplicity in his drawings and sculpture. This motif has indigenous origins deducted into an iconic linear shape that has powerful presence.

JM_CH_15Presence                                                      Echo

Presence photographed here against an ugly brick wall and Echo, a stainless steel piece backlit with LED light, show the potential impact of well-placed, well lit, sculpture that draws the eye away from unsightly features and can remodel the space. In Presence the highly polished, light-catching and dynamic balancing act of geometric form on form transforms the ugly bricks into a backdrop tapestry of rich texture and colour. The lit form, Echo synthesizes the separate elements of light, plinth, brick column and sculptural form to create a stylish and elegant impact.

JM_CH_4Crooked Man, Mona Lisa and Black Swan Black, 2014
Powder Steel Forms

Crooked Man, Mona Lisa and Black Swan, seen here at his 2014 exhibition, may seem to be grappling with gravity but placed externally on a paved or concrete surface with a white or flat surround, these bold silhouettes create dramatic shadows that reform and reshape throughout the day and throughout the seasons. Well lit, they have the power to cast dramatic shadows at night and significantly affect the mood of the environment. Hodges steel forms are ideal for capturing the dynamics of light and shade in the exterior design context.

In fact, because his sculpture is so highly evolved – because it simplifies the complexity and the tensions between all the elements of design – colour, texture, line, light, form, edge, space dimensions and proportions – it achieves a seamless fit between landscape and architecture and a masterly lightness of being.

Christopher Hodges is represented by Utopia Art Sydney

Jo Moulton from JOMO Steel is compiling a profile collection of leading Australian sculptors and designers for the architectural, interior and landscape design market. Jo’s interest in sculpture and design stems from her past work in leading Australian museums and art galleries. She has her own design practice specialising in exterior design.