Yesterday my wife (Mika) and I found out that John Hodgkiss is dead.
We knew each other through the Johannesburg art scene and had developed something of a friendship. When he exhibited at Gordart in Johannesburg I spoke to him about his work, its strengths and weaknesses. He had started the discussion and at some point I remember thinking, I should sugar-coat things a bit more. But he looked at me and said something like: “Don’t chicken out now, I want to hear something real”. I gave it my best and afterward John looked a bit crestfallen. But then he smiled and said that he was glad to hear that I liked some of the work. We walked out to get another drink.
After that evening we worked together on a portfolio of photographic prints for a performance workshop that I had conducted at the Bag Factory. Just as this project was winding up Mika and I heard that we would be coming to London. We held a small farewell party in Johannesburg. As we left that evening he gave us both a sincere hug and I remember his arm stretching over my neck and grasping me tightly for the briefest of moments. He plonked a little wooden Zebra into Mika’s hands and said to take it along as a remembrance. He also said that it belonged to a small group of animal figurines that he kept at home and that if we did not take the Zebra to London we should give it back immediately. And this is how, of all the otherwise useful things we could take along on our journey, the Zebra also made it.
A few months later we took a photograph of the Zebra next to the train tracks at the tube in Kentish Town. Mika and I laughed as we thought of sending John the picture accompanied by a silly caption like ‘Culture in transit’. Mika emailed pictures but he never replied.
Now John is dead. But still I look forward to seeing him again. Perhaps he is simply waiting on another platform for another train. I really wish I had more time to know him better. Life is not fair.