The Baby-Sitters Club and Beyond: The Eclectic Art of Hodges Soileau

Arts & Culture

Pictured: Abstract Ballet by Hodges Soileau. Courtesy of the artist.

Before Harry Potter and The Hunger Games captured imaginations everywhere with magical worlds of wizards and child violence, The Baby-Sitters Club ruled the roost with its charming tales of school woe and coming-of-age drama. The series ran for 15 years, resulting in 131 novels and a whole host of spin-offs and special editions. And behind nearly every one of its iconic covers was one artist: Hodges Soileau. Tonight, Soileau comes to Palm Avenue Fine Art for a special two-day exhibition, featuring not only selections of the original oil paintings behind his Baby-Sitters Club covers but showcasing the artist’s wide-ranging exploration in the years following. “And that’s the whole idea of this show,” Soileau says. “Eclectic subjects.”

An opening reception with the artist begins tonight at 6pm.

“If I had to paint only one thing,” Soileau says, “I wouldn’t be happy.” And this could be considered strange coming from the man who spent more than a decade of his life painting Kristy and Claudia and the rest of their entrepreneurial friends for novel after novel. But a quick glimpse around the exhibition illustrates the truth of the matter in landscapes and seascapes, pastoral scenes and figure portraits, abstract work and even a surprise rendering of Indiana Jones (pre-Crystal Skull, no worries).

While there are a handful of the original oil paintings that became Baby-Sitters Club book covers, much of the walls are dominated by Soileau operating squarely in the fine art tradition, eschewing the illustrative tendencies that defined his earlier work to explore new marks and new subjects. Here a portrait of white horses grazing by a waterfall; there a sunset of rich gold and purple. To one side, a classic figure study; to the other, a dancer frozen mid-pose, isolated and still in a world seemingly reduced to blurs of color around her.

“Hopefully, you see growth,” Soileau says of his eclectic collection. “And hopefully, that growth never ends. I’m 80 years old. And if I live to be 90, I’ll be a better artist than I am now.” And it’s this desire to grow as an artist that keeps Soileau coming back to the canvas, exploring different subjects each time, challenging himself to create something he hasn’t created before, whether it’s the watery reflection of a figure in the tide or the perfect haze on a marshland portrait. “If it’s easy and you know how it’s going to turn out…” Soileau trails off, as though even the thought isn’t worth finishing. “It has to be a challenge,” he says. “The challenge of possibly failing is always exciting.”

“And unless you’re asleep at the wheel, you always learn something when you paint.”

Hodges Soileau opens tonight at Palm Avenue Fine Art with an artist reception from 6pm to 9pm. Another artist reception will be at the same time on Saturday.

Pictured: Abstract Ballet by Hodges Soileau. Courtesy of the artist.

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