Robin Hodgson on Adaptations & His Painting Practice
As the result of a motor vehicle accident, I have been a C5/C6 quadriplegic since the age of nineteen. Prior to this injury I was an accomplished snowboarder and a member of Canada’s junior national team. Each spinal cord injury is unique to the individual; mine presents me with partial movement in my arms. Although I have no finger movement or tricep function, my biceps and limited wrist flexion allow me enough mobility to continue drawing and painting with the assistance of the adaptive tools and techniques I’ve created.
In 2013, I graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in painting from Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. I focused my studies in painting and the development of tools to aid in my practice. The style and conceptual process I work in can be attributed to the various mark-making devices I’ve crafted to help me overcome my mobility restrictions.
My work advocates for those living with disabilities. Thematically it explores a variety of issues related to the psychological and emotional nature of post-able-body life. Through the development of my own painting process and adaptive tools, I can work on large canvases as a way to transcend disability. In a 2021 group show called Drawing from the Margins at the Penticton Art Gallery, I rented a power wheelchair equipped with an elevation lift to assist me in painting a series of five-by-five-foot canvases. The use of mobility equipment started out simply as a practical way to mitigate my handicap, but as I continued to conceptualize my painting practice, I began to reconsider my process with equal importance to the final outcome of each painting.
Currently I have been experimenting with and trouble-shooting a painting process that incorporates a ceiling lift. These lifts are typically intended to assist individuals with mobility restrictions in and out of bed or the shower. The lift is a small battery-operated motor that works similar to a winch. The lift portion hooks onto aluminum tracking mounted to the ceiling. The lift then lowers and connects to a mesh sling that wraps around the individual, allowing them to be hoisted from their mobility device to the bed, bath, or shower.
I recently mounted a section of tracking to the ceiling of my home studio so I could be hoisted out of my wheelchair to reach heights and canvas sizes I otherwise wouldn’t be able to access. So far, the ceiling lift trials have proven to be more conceptual than practical as the set-up takes some time and more than five minutes in the sling has led to discomfort and minor skin breakdown. My aim is to develop a unique painting style through new and experimental methods. With these unconventional art-making practices, I also intend to stimulate conversation around equity issues for the one-in-every-five Canadians living with permanent disabilities.
In my large-scale compositions, I incorporate autobiographical moments while leaning into broader narratives of isolation among those living with disabilities. Health and life challenges have been heightened for everyone during the pandemic; through my work, I explore personal, physical, and psychological well-being in relation to those in similar situations. Motifs from race-car culture are used as tongue-in-cheek references to the motor vehicle accident that changed my life. Recurring images of a race-car helmet pop up in my work as both a self-portrait and a nod to what could have been.
My painting is intuitive. Spontaneous application and vigorous brush strokes are layered over areas of fine detail and text. These layers evoke ideas reconsidered or purposefully left obscured, yet not entirely erased, suggesting a past left behind but not forgotten. My process builds on the practice and subconscious imagery of other artists of influence, including Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Through my painting and the adaptions I develop, I seek not only to transcend my disability, but to find a connection between me and the viewer.
Robin Hodgson lives in Kamloops, BC, where he currently works from his downtown studio. His art practice includes painting and sculpture as well as his efforts in promoting the development of the emerging local art scene. His community interests have led him to sit on the board of directors for Arnica Artist Run Center, and the co-creation of two non-profit studio and exhibition spaces in downtown Kamloops: Padlock studios (2014-2017) and REpublic Gallery (2018-2022). In 2019 he received the Mayor Award for the Arts as Emerging Artist of the Year. This year he exhibited in a group show at the Salmon Arm Arts Centre, followed by a solo show at the Kamloops Art Gallery, and most recently a solo show at Vancouver’s Crack Gallery.