Walker Art Center

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Skin and Stone: A Deeper Look at Jim Hodges’ Shining Boulders

A Flash of Inspiration

Photo: Gene Pittman

The idea behind Jim Hodges’ sculptural boulders, Untitled (2011)—the newest outdoor sculpture on the Walker campus—came in a flash during a recent trip through India. It wasn’t any single experience that spawned the project, but many—a cacophony of color and complexity: temples flying flags in Rajasthani fields, Ganesha statues painted orange and gold, images of the Hindu deity Hanuman enhanced with red or orange paint, women pouring water as they prayed. Hodges says he was struck by “this layering, layering, layering of material, to the point where what’s being covered, its identity, seemed to start being erased by the accumulation of color.”

A Sketch on the Studio Wall

Photo: Olga Viso

In planning a 2014 Walker retrospective of Hodges’ work, co-organized with the Dallas Museum of Art, Walker executive director Olga Viso made many trips to the artist’s New York studio. During one, she noticed Hodges’ preliminary sketches of the boulders, made shortly after his return from India. “I’d hung them in a corner with tape so you could get in and see them in relationship with each other,” he recalls. “I had four different-colored foil papers inside so you could see them reflecting on each other. I showed that to Olga, and she instantly grasped it and was excited by it.” Viso immediately expressed strong support for the project and her desire to pursue bringing them to Minneapolis permanently.

Installation Begins

Photo: Gene Pittman

In April 2012, barely a year after Viso first saw the artist’s sketches, the boulders were installed on the Walker’s hillside, near the entrance to James Turrell’s Sky Pesher, 2005, a sky-viewing chamber. Arriving on three semis, they were hoisted into place by a construction crane and placed on concrete bases.

A Sense of Scale

Photo: Cameron Wittig

Scale is a key aspect of the work for Hodges. After searching for rocks in northern Minnesota and, finally, in Massachusetts, he selected a set of four stones, each weighing between eight and thirteen tons and standing more than six feet high.

Extraordinarily Present

Photo: Gene Pittman

Collectively, the boulders needed to be “large enough to challenge the physicality of our bodies, that they would become in opposition to us and overwhelm the body, in a way,” says Hodges (pictured). “They’re extraordinarily present, physical things. They feel like they’re alive.”

Respecting Rock

Photo: Gladstone Gallery

According to a worker at the Massachusetts quarry where the artist found the boulders, each stone is approximately 400 million years old. “I really respect and love the material,” Hodges says. “There’s something very profound about a material like that for me. I felt that I had to work very hard to rise to the occasion of the material. It’s something that’s been around for millions of years, and it’s an honor to work with it.”

Deceptively Simple

Photo: Gene Pittman

Seemingly dipped in molten metal, the sculpture is an accessible, shining landmark on the Walker’s grassy slope. But the simplicity of the design—especially its highly reflective surface—is the result of a complex, sophisticated process. Body putty was applied to each boulder to create a smooth exterior; then, after a mold was made from that, the stainless steel was cast. The rock surface was chipped away to accept the stainless steel veneers, arriving at a perfect fit between skin and stone. The thin steel sheets, which were painted with clear-coat mixed with a dye typically used on motorcycles, were adhered with pins and epoxy.

Continuity of the Eye

Photo: Gladstone Gallery

That exacting process of casting, coloring, and adhering the steel skin to the stone served a singular purpose for Hodges: “What I was concentrating on was that the surface would be continuous—that one’s eye would pass over the surface without interruption.”

Animated by Light

Photo: Cameron Wittig

“As you walk amid the sculptures and they are animated by light, they at once seem massive and monumental yet light and buoyant, almost weightless,” Walker executive director Olga Viso wrote. Hodges notes another dualism: the initial idea for the work, which he says took “less than a minute,” and the nearly yearlong process of fabricating the stainless-steel high-gloss skins to each rock.

Work that Names Itself

Photo: Cameron Wittig

Hodges’ sculptures and works on paper are often titled, the poetic or descriptive titles aiming to enhance the viewer’s experience. But because of the site-specific nature of this project, the mammoth scale of its parts, and its locale situated within a community that will call it its own, the artist chose not to title the boulders. “I thought that, because things take on names anyway, the works will name themselves. I like that idea—that the works become ‘it.’ It builds its ‘ownness.’”