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Detail of portrait of Aldis Hodge, by Briana Hodge.
Detail of a portrait of Aldis Hodge, by Briana Hodge.

profile / feature / artcenter-extension / product-design / diversity
November 17, 2021
By Solvej Schou
Images courtesy of Aldis Hodge

ACTOR ALDIS HODGE REFLECTS ON THE IMPACT OF ARTCENTER'S TEENS PROGRAM ON HIM AS A WATCH DESIGNER

It’s a bright day in New York City, and Aldis Hodge—actor and co-founder of the new Black-owned concept art studio 9B Collective—is on the move. During the course of this Zoom interview, he goes from riding in a Lyft car with his mom to talking passionately on a Manhattan sidewalk about his love of art and design.

Hodge is already well known for playing football great Jim Brown in the Regina King-directed 2020 film One Night in Miami, engineer Mary Jackson’s husband Levi Jackson in 2016’s Hidden Figures and hacker Alec Hardison in the television series Leverage. And he’ll soon attain another level of attention when he portrays Carter Hall/Hawkman in DC’s upcoming comic book movie Black Adam, starring Dwayne Johnson. On top of his busy film and TV career, Hodge describes himself as “a designer through and through.”

Case in point, he flashes his wrist, revealing a prototype of a watch he designed for his in-the-works bespoke watch brand A. Hodge Atelier. In 2006, when he was in his late teens, Hodge took an Industrial Drawing course in ACX Teens (then named Saturday High), ArtCenter’s extension program for high school students in grades 9 through 12. His mom Yolette learned about the class from an art teacher and friend, Janet Shusta Recchia. Taught by ArtCenter alumnus and Tesla prototype designer John Kim (BS 02 Environmental Design), Industrial Drawing left a lasting impact on Hodge’s life.

“I always felt awkward, alone and strange, because I was always drawing,” Hodge says. “People didn’t get me. But in that class I felt like, ‘Oh, this is my world, and you understand.’ It was in that class that I found my love of watchmaking.”

In that [ACX Teens] class I felt like, ‘Oh, this is my world, and you understand.’ It was in that class that I found my love of watchmaking.

Aldis HodgeActor, watch desiger, co-founder of 9B Collective
Portrait of Aldis Hodge, by Briana Hodge.
Portrait of Aldis Hodge, by Briana Hodge.
Portrait of Aldis Hodge, by Briana Hodge.
Portrait of Aldis Hodge, by Briana Hodge.

Hodge originally wanted to be an architect. Growing up in poverty, he says, he always wanted a beautiful home, but he never thought that he would have enough money to buy one, so he designed them. In Industrial Drawing, he and other students were taught about different types of design, from product design to transportation design. In class, he designed a bangle style cuff watch, which sparked his passion for watch design. “Taking a class like that helps you figure out who you are as a designer,” he says. “Watchmaking integrates art and engineering, so it was a perfect match for me.”

Hodge’s experience in ACX Teens propelled him to keep designing watches, and to build his relationships in the world of horology—the study of time and the art of making time-telling instruments. That dedication set the stage for his self-funded upcoming brand. “Now, in 2021, I’m finally getting to a prototype I’m happy with,” he says. His manufacturing partner is based in Switzerland, and his first production run of watches, which he describes as “a clean, classy design,” will likely be less than 100 pieces. “Most people don’t look at me and automatically associate me with design, intellect or intelligence because of their culturally negligent perspective of Black people,” adds Hodge. “They forget that my culture is deeply rooted in art and design. I knew from a young age that I needed to break a stereotype.”

“Most people don’t look at me and automatically associate me with design, intellect or intelligence because of their culturally negligent perspective of Black people,” adds Hodge. “They forget that my culture is deeply rooted in art and design. I knew from a young age that I needed to break a stereotype.”

For Hodge, creativity means balancing various platforms of expression, and multitasking. He draws and designs while on planes and in cars, and meets remotely with his team during breaks on set. “I really try to use every bit of my time,” he says.

(L to R) Michael Uwandi, Phillip Boutté Jr., Aldis Hodge, cofounders of 9B Collective.
(L to R) Mike Uwandi, Phillip Boutté Jr., Aldis Hodge, founders of 9B Collective. Photo by Briana Hodge.

In 2020, Hodge and his friends Phillip Boutté Jr., a costume concept artist and production designer (Black Panther, Inception, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), and Illustration alumnus Mike Uwandi (The Mandalorian, Star Trek: Picard, Westworld), a freelance visual development artist at Marvel Studios, founded 9B Collective.

A concept art studio made up primarily of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) concept artists, its goal is to work towards inclusivity in front of, and behind, the camera, and across disciplines, including in film, animation, television and video games. The studio went from working with a few artists to more than 70 artists, as well as clients like Netflix, Sony Pictures Animation, Warner Bros. and DC.

“What we want to do is recognize true value and talent at an earlier stage, and give artists of color as much help as possible to get to where they want to be so they can stay and thrive in the industry,” says Hodge. “A lot of people block access, so it’s up to us to create new lines of access. That’s what 9B is about. That is what A. Hodge Atelier is about. That’s what my production company with my family, Hodge Brothers Productions, is about. It’s about opportunity and access. It’s about pushing the conversation of inclusion into a space of normalcy.”