Embracing a variety of media – principally photography, but also drawing, animation, performance and sculpture – the work of Robin Rhode uses simple, ephemeral devices (soap, charcoal, paint and chalk) to comment on urban youth culture, colonialism and socio-economic issues in a simple, witty and subtly effective way. His work often uses the street as his canvas or his backdrop, alluding to hip-hop and the role of the graffiti artist, and he often operates within the gritty aesthetic associated with that culture.
Rhode’s work, however transient it may seem, involves creating a kind of narrative that contains several stages of erasure and redrawing with the trace of his actions remaining visible throughout. There is also a pervasive mood of failure, while his persistent gestures toward ludicrous and apparently unachievable goals are as poignant as they are humorous. Rhode draws a skipping rope and cajoles a room of people to engage in a game of Double-Dutch with him, or he plays an upside-down game of snooker that only he can win – the challenger is absent and the game defies logic and gravity. For another work, Rhode fashioned a bike out of soap, rendering the object comically futile. While his work calls to mind early silent film, stop-start animation and flip books, Rhode’s alter ego – a recurring feature – evokes a character from nineteenth and early twentieth-century American minstrel shows and the exploits of Buster Keaton. Rhode’s practice straddles both the recent past, when one only needed a ball or a yo-yo in your pocket for amusement, and the constant, overwhelming stimuli of the present day.
Rhode was born in Cape Town in 1976 and raised in Johannesburg, graduating from the South African School of Film, Television and Dramatic Arts, Johannesburg in 2000. He has been included in several notable group exhibitions such as How Latitudes Become Forms, Walker Art Centre, MN (2003), New Photography, MoMA, NY (2005), The Experience of Art, Italian Pavilion, 51st Venice Biennale, Venice, IT (2005) and Prospect.1 New Orleans, The New Orleans Biennial, LA (2008). Rhode has also been invited to participate in the 2012 Sydney Biennale. The Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany staged Robin’s first major museum solo show Walk Off in 2007, followed by a his first UK institutional solo show, Who Saw Who at the Hayward Gallery in 2008. The artist currently lives and works in Berlin, Germany.