Paul Hodges on Capturing Melbourne’s Cafés

Paul Hodges (b 1974, Melbourne) is a mid-career artist known for his figurative paintings. Although his preferred medium is painting, he has worked across a variety of mediums throughout his career. This interview follows his recent virtual exhibition – which featured his reverence of dancers and models – to show another angle of his interest in representing the human figure in motion. 

His café series contains cubist tendencies with varies contemporary colour applications. People and objects fold together in a synchronic assemblage of both the aesthetic and social of the Melbourne hospitality scene. While created in 2019, these pieces hold a posthumous nostalgia seven months into the city’s lockdown measures.

In this discussion, Paul Hodges reflects on one piece within the series, talking on his inspiration, mediums, and live drawing of the artwork.

Paul Hodges has worked in the Arts Project studio since 1998 and has presented numerous solo and group exhibitions. His work is held in the National Gallery of Victoria (as gifted by Stuart Purves) and in private collections throughout Australia.

Paul Hodges Not titled 2019 ink, watercolour on paper 28 x 37.5 cm PH19-0004

Paul Hodges Not titled 2019 ink, watercolour on paper 28 x 37.5 cm PH19-0004


Let’s talk about one of your café series- can you tell me about this work?

It started with a picture out of a Monet book – or one of those type of artists – from the Arts Project Australia library. I remember one of the staff artists, Lyn Young, inspiring me to do a café series, which I started from a picture in the book. I was using watercolours at the time, and I remember wanting to do something with perspective.

The image looks a bit like Four Beans, the café next to Arts Project Australia. 

Oh yeah, it is Four Beans! I sat in Four Beans, and they let me draw. I probably spent an hour in there.

And the people in the image? 

They’re just random strangers. It was hectic in the café that day. I think I visited another café up the road as well in Westgarth and did some drawing.

Paul Hodges & Jon Campbell at ‘We could be heroes’ exhibition opening in August 2018


Let’s talk about your process. Did you also work from photographs? I also noticed this particular piece, compared to others in the series, has a different colour palette. The other café series images are brighter while this one stood out to be more muted. 

I didn’t use photographs! With this one, I started with ink and then took it back to Arts Project studio to add the watercolour. I really liked using the purple and yellow. 

It’s interesting at a time to look at artistic depictions of people in cafes because it’s something we’re all missing. You were saying before this interview that you miss making big paintings because you can’t be in the APA studio. I’m sure other artists can relate to that.

Yeah, that’s right- we can’t even sit in a café! I really miss the studio, too.

I just remembered this work was on consignment with Dutton Gallery for the Outsider Art Fair in New York. It’s funny thinking of a Melbourne site-specific image being all the way over in the States.

Oh, gee whiz! Yeah, the artwork must have been in an exhibition! Yeah, it’s pretty funny.

Support Arts Project Australia and browse more of Paul Hodges’s portfolio at Arts Project Australia’s online shop. 

Love from the Studio is a series of interviews and articles bringing you behind the scenes of Arts Project Australia.  Paul Hodges was interviewed by Arts Project Australia gallery technician Margaret McIntosh.