Cyclists take note. Though you may not have met her, Robyn Hodess of Piedmont probably has touched your life. Because it’s quite possible she designed the box your bike helmet came in. Through a series of chance events, advice from plucky peers, and a powerful aesthetic impulse, Hodess’ career metamorphosized, first through botanical drawings and finally taking off into “aerial landscape” paintings.
Using acrylic paints, paper and sand, she evokes purely imagined landscapes of farm grids, mountains, oceans and lakes; though each viewer tends to bring his or her own associations to the works. Currently on display at Touch Salon and Gallery in Oakland, Hodess’ work is also accessible on her website. Hodess discusses the evolution of her work, and her perspectives on nature.
Q: How did you begin this?
HODESS: I started in art at Memphis State. I finished at the Academy of Art in San Francisco, then worked in graphic design for seven years. I did package design for [bike] helmets at Bell Bicycle Company in Rhode Island. Then I moved back here in 1990 with my husband and I worked at Wells Fargo doing marketing. Then I stopped and had babies.
One day we were flying across the country, and I got the window. Two of my girls wanted to sit next to each other, which was like a miracle. I look out the window and I see farmland, and it’s a perfectly clear day, and I say, “Oh my God! Who has a crayon?! Who has paper?!” I grabbed everything and sketched it really quick. At home, I started playing. I got a canvas, 5 by 6 feet.
I got about this far (two-thirds of the painting) and my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah was coming up. I needed it on the wall. I was getting frantic. I started really playing. “Let’s try this! Let’s try that!” I finished it.
Q: You write that nature has influenced your art. How has art influenced your experience of nature?
HODESS: Before, I was looking at it very closely, “Oh, look at the bud; Oh, look at the curve.” Now I’m saying, “What are the textures in the world? What are the colors in the world? What are the feelings that you’re getting when you’re looking down on something? Does it make you feel really small? Does it make you feel really big? Does it make you feel like you just want to jump into it?”
Q: Some of these paintings seem to resemble specific places.
HODESS: None. I take the painting and sometimes I’ll paint a background. I’ll start chalking, just draw how it feels. And I build it up from there. All of those are out of my head. I’ll look at pieces like this one (“Landscape #5”) and it looks like a man and woman, and they’re in love and they’re separated by water and they can’t get across.
Q: I see the Red Sea.
HODESS: That’s what’s really cool. Some people see a heart. You can put yourself into it, and say, “I’ve been there, it reminds me of being there.” My daughter says it looks like a giraffe. It’s not like I built them in. I’m just painting and that’s the way it comes out.
Q: What’s your greatest challenge?
HODESS: Keeping painting. Are people going to like it? I’ve painted all these paintings, should I paint more? That’s my biggest challenge right now, giving it the time to mature.
Q: It’s quite an evolution from package design to landscapes. What’s next?
HODESS: Well, that’s a good question. I have one daughter in college, one about to go to college and one in middle school. So I said, “Now is the time. I’m going to put my work out there, and see what happens.” I was getting good feedback from friends; I wanted to see what others would say. I created a web page. I talked to my hairdresser who puts up art. I stuck an ad in the local paper. I said, “Let’s just see where the advertising side of me and the artistic side of me can meld. Because if you’re spending time selling yourself, you’re not spending time painting.”
Q: How do you select the subject of the next painting?
HODESS: I let the painting speak to me. I don’t know where I’m going, except that I’m saying, “I’m going to paint this one with reds. I’m going to paint this one with blues.”