Inger Hodgson sees her painting unveiled at Sweden’s national gallery.
At a time when most people are thinking about retiring, Malibu Art Association’s (MAA) oldest member, Inger Hodgson, 77, has just achieved her life’s dream: to have one of her paintings hang in her native Sweden’s national gallery. “It’s such an honor to be shown there — the highlight of my career,” she said.
The painting is of fellow Swede Agneta Nilsson, founder of the Swedish Women’s Education Association, and will grace the cover of a soon-to-be-published book about Nilsson.
Hodgson says MAA has been an important part of her painting life.
“When I first joined in 1976, we rented empty spaces to show our work and lots of people wanted to be members. There’s not so much interest now. I think it’s a generational thing. But MAA is still a vital part of the community.”
Thinking fondly of those early days in MAA, Hodgson said, “We prepared every year for a juried show. I won a lot because I worked in many media, so I could enter more than one category. Eventually they gave me my own category.”
Hodgson always painted a little, but having been born in 1939 at the start of the second World War, art wasn’t a priority. Her degree from Gothenburg University was in Russian, English and archeology. She moved from Sweden to America in 1961, when she married Peter Hodgson, a Yale professor. This enabled her to study at Yale during a time when women weren’t allowed.
The couple had six children and moved to California in 1966, but the marriage ended in divorce. It was while they lived in Venice, before moving to Malibu in 1976, that Hodgson started painting seriously.
“I didn’t have much money, so I painted people’s children in exchange for services. Once I started, I never stopped.”
Hodgson is a highly regarded and busy portrait artist, charging between $2,500 and $3,000. Each painting usually requires six sittings, lasting a maximum of three hours each.
She has always preferred painting from life, but in the beginning of her career, she would use photos if the sitter didn’t have the time or patience to sit still for long periods. Hodgson will still paint from photos if the sitter prefers it after live sittings.
Following a sabbatical at a top portrait school in Florence, Italy (where painting from photographs was forbidden), Hodgson learned a technique called sight-size, and that’s her preferred way to work. It’s a method of viewing the model and the painting simultaneously from a certain position, so both images appear the same size, and then working from that vantage point.
Hodgson is also a skilled maker of death masks. The first one she made was of her son, Nicholas, who drowned at the age of 21.
“It made all the difference to the grieving process to have something with his face. I was able to do it within 36 hours of his death. You can’t wait longer than 48 hours. Now I do it for other parents who have lost a child.”
Hodgson teaches portraiture, including a popular class at Malibu Senior Center and in Sweden where she spends six months of the year. But her first love is still the actual painting, and she shows no sign of slowing down.
“I feel I’m getting better all the time and the best is yet to come,” she shared. “I have no physical problems, just a minor eye issue that’s treated with drops. I’m very aware that something could happen, like Renoir (who painted while bed-ridden with pneumonia). But I never sit. I’m standing and moving all the time while I work.”
Hodgson says her eldest son, a doctor, is an excellent portrait painter. However, none of her four daughters have taken up the brushes, although they are creative in other ways. And one of her two grandchildren, Bonnie, sold a portrait for $150 when she was just seven years old.
Hodgson isn’t in it for the money, although she’s earned a living as an artist.
“I never aspired to make a lot of money from painting. I don’t like pressure. I just love to paint.”
The National Portrait Gallery (Swedish: Statens porträttsamling) at the Gripsholm Castle in Mariefred is a collection of portraits of prominent Swedes. Officially founded in 1822 with over 4000 works that trace the portrait art changes from the 1500s to the present.