Article: Howard Hodgkin, at Alan Cristea gallery, by Andrew Graham-Dixon
Publication: Seven Magazine, The Sunday Telegraph (20/06/2012)
To mark Howard Hodgkin’s imminent 80th birthday, Alan Cristea Gallery is showing a new series of monumental prints entitled ‘Acquainted with the Night’. Hodgkin was once known for creating perversely small pictures, but during the last two decades he has worked on a larger scale, and with commanding assurance.
This has been truest of his work as a printmaker, so much so that he has quietly pioneered new departures within the medium itself. In 2009 he made the two largest etchings ever created: the 20-feet-long pair Time Goes By. Hodgkin’s new aquatints (mostly seven-feet high by eight-feet across) are also gigantic by print standards.
They were created using carborundum, a substance originally used in its solid form to grind down lithographic stones, but in this case itself powdered and mixed with PVA glue to form a paste, which the painter applies directly to an aluminium printing-plate.
The marks dry to form a granular surface, which can be inked and printed in different colours. Hodgkin describes the results as “surrogate paintings ... on the edge of not being prints at all”. Working with the basic unit of a single set of preserved painterly gestures, he plays startling variations on a theme.
A wave-like form, disintegrating at its margins into specks and spatters like flecks of wind-scattered sea-spume, is successively transformed from one print to the next – both through colour and through the associations created by a title.
The first of these fertile swathes of form is printed in a hot medley of yellows, oranges and reds, on a light speckled ground. It might resemble a figure reclining, seen in silhouette through half-closed eyes at the end of a blazing day. The name given to this heat-saturated image is In India. Then, the same form mutates into a convulsion of browns, violets and vermilions: now, suddenly, it is Delhi.
Next, translated into an intense sequence of blue and ultramarine, it suggests a hugely blown-up accident involving a fountain pen: La plume de ma tante. There is a black, as well as blue, version of aunty’s pen. Then, once more with feeling, the same forms appear in black and viridian, on a mottled field of brown wash: this is Mud, and how muddy and earth-impregnated it feels.
In another set of gestures, a hatched mass of bluey-black clouds are set above veils of green and lighter blue: Stormy Weather. At the last, both plates are printed together, so that those storm-clouds hover above the wave-like form of the earlier sequence. Printed in brown, madder and ochre, their collision is itself upstaged by a huge, splash-like welter of yellow and green paint, furiously applied directly to the paper by hand. Attack, the artist calls this weird, sense-stunning work, as if declaring his intent to stay on the offensive.
“La plume de ma tante” is a phrase from French textbooks of yore, recalling the tortuously stilted exercises in vocab-learning that once tormented Ronald Searle’s cynical Fifties schoolboy, Nigel Molesworth. Its use here suggests a wry awareness that these prints themselves represent a programmatic demonstration of the artist’s methods.
How much, they prove, he can wring from the restricted means of his own self-invented pictorial language. How many different memories, places, weathers and emotions can be communicated by the self-same pictorial forms, altered by colour, combination or recombination.
The title of the series, drawn from a short poem by Robert Frost, has a hint of morbidity about it. But these are, in truth, intoxicating pictures, full of exuberant, fiery vitality.
To July 7, www.alancristea.com
Article: 'The expertise of a brilliant panellist' by Ben Luke
Publication: Evening Standard (08/12/2009)
Article: 'Beyond Boundaries' by Andrew Graham-Dixon
Publication: Sunday Telegraph (13/04/2008)
“Howard Hodgkin is showing 20 new paintings in the generous, light filled spaces of Gagosian Gallery, in London. The artist is in his 76th year, but his energy and invention are undimmed. The pictures are vigorous, joyful, saturated in colour. They are painted with great freedom and collectively indicate that the painter has so thoroughly mastered his own, self-invented language of expression – a deceptively forthright vocabulary of bars and swipes and spots and veils of colour – that he can do just about whatever he wants with it. The sense of awkwardness overcome, of a beguiling, but necessary opacity, once so integral to the experience of his work, has largely evaporated.
In the past, many of Hodgkin’s formal devices conveyed his struggle to pin down and preserve individual moments of experience – to create, as he once put it, ‘representational pictures of emotional situations’. He would work on tablets of framed wood, not only painting over the frame itself, but painting further uprights and horizontals within the borders of the image. In the process he would create frames within frames, like the stage flats of a proscenium-arch theatres, as if to dramatise his sense that the feelings he wished to preserve were so fragile they needed this weighty pictorial buffering to shield them from the world. Each painting was like a different room in the artist’s palace of memory. The pictures were objects to be looked into, to be interrogated and deciphered. Many of them, most of them even, were small in scale. They had the feeling of veiled, private images, rather like Degas’ brothel-scene monotypes (and in fact their subjects were often erotic).
Over the years, and particularly in recent years, Hodgkin’s art has become more extrovert. He still works on oil on woos, but whereas he once painted on the scale of the portrait or the genre painting, he increasingly paints on the scale of the history picture – a declamatory, public, narrative form of painting. And whereas his pictures once were like window or keyholes into worlds of private feeling, drawing the viewer in, now their energies seem to travel in the opposite direction altogether. The effect is of emotions flooding out from the pictures into the rooms in which they are hung.
There are one or two exceptions, such as Privacy and Self-Expression in the Bedroom – its title wryly drawn from a book on interior design – which clearly belongs to the family of Hodgkin’s vivid, half-occluded erotica. But most of the works in the exhibition are outgoing to the point of gay abandon. Blushing is a picture flush with colour, a vibrating patchwork of pink pointillist dots interrupted by a swipe like a half-rainbow – paint made to resemble blood rushing to the skin’s surface. Artist and Model resembles an assault more than an encounter, a tsunami of greens and oranges piling into a flock of calligraphic squiggles on a field of blond, unprimed wood.
There is a lot of surface showing through in the pictures as a whole. Several have been painted on entirely unframed wooden supports, which brings them closer to the lingua franca of most large-scale contemporary painting – the unframed, stretched canvas – than almost any of Hodgkin’s earlier works. One consequence of this is a thinning of the layers that make up each picture. It also results in an increased feeling of rawness, both at the centre of the image, and at its edges where it bleeds raggedly into the space surrounding it.
The artist has always presented his pictures as shameless analogues of himself, but now he asserts that even more nakedly than ever. Some of the works are so brusque that they might, by the standards of the artist’s previous work, seem to be unfinished. Blobs and flecks of pigment float in pictorial space like snowflakes in the sky, or grass-cuttings scattered in the wind. A crowd becomes like a hail of red marks, shape-shifting as they follow the contours of an old and distinctly warped frame of wood. A garden is reinvented as a shimmering surface of green and yellow marks, suspended above a dark pool like leaves floating on water. These paintings seem more intent on conveying movement and transience than on capturing particular instants of lived experience. Collectively, they envisage life not as a succession of glimpses or glances, but more as a process of constant change. This shift in emphasis is mirrored by a shift in subject-matter. There are fewer paintings about people and social situations, and more paintings that seem to draw their inspiration from the flux and mutability of the natural world.
At the heart of the exhibition, there is a quartet of monumental landscapes playfully titled after the words of the old American fold-song, ‘Home on the Range’. Home, Home on the Range is an expansive and turbulent landscape, full of brute but majestic forms that read like shorthand equivalents for mountain, lake, sky and sun. Where the Deer and the Antelope Play is like another view of the same wild and empty place, formed this time around the contrast between a field of green and an inflamed sky above which clouds of black threaten. Where Seldom Is Heard a Discouraging Word consists of a mosaic of cobalt blue shapes, like a sky broken into shards of glass, dancing above a sea of bright orange waves. The final work in the series, And the Skies Are Not Cloudy All Day, is both climax and renunciation, a flutter of feather-edged green stipplings set adrift on the bare wood of the picture’s unprimed surface. On this occasion, the artist’s use of non finito – the deliberate look of unfinish – looks morbid and dreamy at one and the same time. It conjures up a fantasy of atomisation or evaporation, and idyllic and painless reabsorption into nature. Behind these paintings can be sensed the ghosts of other artists Hodgkin has admired. The first picture evokes the American sublime landscape tradition, from its romantic roots in the work of Charles Church and Alfred Bierstadt to its post-war apotheosis in the paintings of artists such as Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko. The second calls to mind the dissolved landscapes painted by Turner in his later years. The third picture contains elements for a homage to Matisse, while the last might almost be a distant, attenuated reflection on Claude Monet’s waterlily pond at Giverny.
Some years ago, Hodgkin was asked why he took such an interest in the history of art. His answer was that the tradition of what painters had done in the past was realty the only true home any painter working now could ever have. Perhaps that has some relevance to this new quartet of pictures. As a group, they indicate the breadth – and transatlantic span – of his affinities with those who have come before him. And yet none of them could have been created by anyone except Howard Hodgkin. At a time when so much contemporary art speaks the language of pastiche – endlessly recycling, in particular, the formulae of the Dada and Surrealist movements – it is a measure of his achievement that he should have found his place within tradition, but without sacrificing his independence. There may also be an irony embedded in that half –serious title borrowed from an old song. Far from staying home, home on the range, he is an artist who continues restlessly to test the expressive limits of his own art.”
Article: ‘Flirtation with abstraction’ by Jackie Wullschlager
Publication: Financial Times (15/06/2006)
"In Howard Hodgkin’s ‘Talking About Art’, bold, overlapping planes of colour and columns of thick paint are tightly stacked within a heavy purple wooden frame. Placed halfway through Tate’s new retrospective, the work is a satire: this conversation is going nowhere. Yet in his paintings Hodgkin talks about art all the time. A dialogue begun in 1979 with ‘After Corot’ and continued through ‘After Matisse’, ‘Seurat’s Bathers’, after Vuillard, ‘After Degas’, and ‘After Samuel Palmer’ (2005) speaks of ceaseless engagement with painting’s history. Another group of witty or intriguing titles – ‘Clean Sheets’, ‘Dirty Mirror’, ‘Come Back Dull Care’ – are clues inviting us to talk about Hodgkin’s elusive subjects.
No painter alive treads a more fascinating, tremulous line between figuration and abstraction, or matches an intensity of representation by a reluctance to describe anything. This was true, Tate shows, from the start of Hodgkin’s career. In 1960, ‘Mr and Mrs Denny’, he in brash sunglasses, she with a glazed look, bob up and down like puppets on a stylised sea of blue-cream sails. The mock-pastoral ‘Gardening’ (1963) has Hodgkin’s wife Julia submerged beneath an extravagant décor of flower shapes and discs of lemon, lime and strawberry. In ‘Mrs Nicholas Monro’ (1966-9), a few serpentine brushstrokes and garish circles evoke the memory of a woman stripping after lunch. Exuberant geometry, playfulness, irony, caricature: here are the bright tones and abbreviated figuration of British pop. Yet Hodgkin is already an individualist: here too, in the beguiling all-over patterns, sensuousness, pull between harmony and resistance, is a postwar take on the intimism of Bonnard, Vuillard and Matisse that was to manifest itself as Hodgkin’s most powerful influence.
Which other English painter coming of age in the 1960s so perfectly embodies the vibrant, expressive optimism of that decade while continuing to debate the possibilities, dilemmas, paths and culs-de-sac of European modernism? Freud, Auerbach and Rego were born abroad, Hockney took essential impetus from America, pop-figurative friends such as Peter Blake and Patrick Caulfield did not stay the course with Hodgkin’s mix of lucid consistency and inventiveness. That is why we cannot stop talking about him; why, along with Tate’s red-carpet exhibition, curated by Nicholas Serota, comes not only a catalogue but a handsome volume of prose as lush as his paintings, Writers on Howard Hodgkin (Tate, £14.99), by essayists including Bruce Chatwin, Susan Sontag and Julian Barnes, as well as a sumptuous, indispensable catalogue raisonné, Howard Hodgkin, The Compete Paintings (Thames & Hudson, £60), with quotations from hundreds more.
From such monuments, it takes a moment to adjust to the small scale of Hodgkin’s paintings themselves, hung very far apart on walls dramatically painted eau de nit, mailbag grey and mustard yellow, at Tate Britain’s sweeping main galleries.
“My pictures tend to destroy each other when they are hung too closely together,” Hodgkin warns. Sontag calls each on an arch seducer, whose charms are undermined by the presence of rival seducers, but the real reason is that each is a conversation piece, painted to domestic scale, and putting too many conversations together creates a babble.
Portraits, interiors, the tamed landscape of a garden, the view form hotel bedrooms: Hodgkin’s paintings, rooted in sites of affluent pleasure, are mostly memories of conversations and encounters, conveyed in a mosaic of flat-and-deep colours and abstracted forms. In the 1970s, these hover towards recognition – the civil servant and her marmalade blobs of guests in ‘Small Durand Gardens’, the oval haze of green, amid geometric shapes and dotted pillars, which evokes the enveloping conversation of Mr E.J.P. and his Brancusi sculpture in ‘Mr and Mrs E.J.P.”. By the 1980s the eye is rarely persuaded into precise decoding. IN the spectacular ‘In the Bay of Naples’ a blaze of fiery dots and stucco pinks is crossed by a fat snake of creamy, sea-green paint to suggest the dizzying effects of Naples on the senses, while the giant pink arrow slicing across ‘In a Hot Country’ is a brazen sexual symbol, at once enclosed by and bursting into a frame coated in red splashes, in a painting charged with lust.
Memory and desire are intimism’s vocabulary, from Proust to Matisse. The distinctive wood panels that are Hodgkin’s surfaces, with their elaborate painted frames – tough and durable, in contrast to memory’s evanescence – are, he says, chosen “so that this delicate thing will remain protected and intact”. Frames emphasise painting as object: an antique frame refracts the gold of ‘Old Sky’ and suggests Venetian architecture, for the octagonal ‘Rain in Venice’. Objects – beds, curtains, mirrors, sculptures – carry significance within the works, too.
It is impossible here not to talk of class and sex. Hodgkin, who is related to a clan of Huxleys and Frys, as his friend Chatwin wrote, “comes from an upper-middle class family of well-ordered minds and well-furnished houses”.
Chatwin saw him as a frozen Englishman painting “forlorn married couples in rooms” until in the late 1970s he nearly died of amoebic dysentery and discovered his identity as a gay man. Then “a new kind of subject, and a new mood” – the push-pull primal swirl of ‘Lovers’, the flashy scarlet columns of ‘Red Bermudas’ – dominated.
James Meyer in Tate’s catalogue strongly rejects such old-fashioned life/art symbiosis. The greatest virtue of Tate’s show is the chronological overview, which allows a more subtle reading. It announces Hodgkin, like most European modernists, as an autobiographical artist, but with no caesura in his work, so that it forms a continuum shaped by an unchanging sensibility: refined, gentle, hesitant and highly literate.
Tate, selecting vigorous near-abstractions such as ‘In Paris with You’, pointedly omits those silky, sultry, more figurative paintings that centre on the nude: the large ‘Interior with Figures’, framed by crimson sashes, where colours burst ecstatically from the ceiling of the room; the feather-light ‘None But the Brave Deserves the Fair’, with its airy plumes of white paint; the reclining naked back, from which paint seeps like sweat against a turquoise view, in ‘Waking Up in Naples’. To my mind these are among Hodgkin’s best works, and attempts to minimise his genteel eroticism are senseless. Even his many Indian paintings in tropical colours – ‘Bombay Sunset’, painted, Chatwin wrote, in “mud, blood and bile”, or the flaming orange of ‘In the Studio of Jamini Roy’ – have a touch of the colonial Raj, recalling Antony Blanche’s criticism of Charles Ryder’s paintings in Brideshead Revisited: “It was charm again, my dear, simple English creamy charm, playing tigers.”
The latest works, including the lovely ‘Come into the Garden, Maud’ (2000-3), with its flurry of leaves, fluttering shifts of dappled light and witty echoes of Tennyson, show Hodgkin transposing that delicacy of feeling to a larger scale and with freer, looser brushwork, but the effect is the same. Of course, these memorials to private joys and anxieties are irredeemably bourgeois, but that is the price of the affirmation, individuality and ardent renewal of European modernism to which this show confirms, Hodgkin’s work is a long, gorgeous, self-conscious yet tangentially English coda.”
Article: 'Howard Hodgkin in Milan, An artist at the height of his powers' by Julian Mitchell
Publication: Modern Painters (14/06/2001)
"Howard Hodgkin was a relatively late developer, almost forty before he found his own pictorial language. But now, with seventy looming, he uses it with such fluency, the paintings seem to come off the brush with effortless mastery. We know they are not effortless, that he works on them for months and years. But where his early works showed the effort by being clamped and tight, as though he couldn’t quite trust his own discoveries, his latest are loose and free, with such a singing authority that there is no sense whatever of the long physical and emotional labour involved. This spring, he showed 18 ‘Piccoli Dipinti’ at the Galleria Lawrence Rubin in Milan, mostly very recent small paintings, all executed with the confidence of an artist in complete control of his medium. You might think that, having attained international celebrity, he would be resting on his laurels, but no Hodgkin show is ever the same as the last. There are familiar themes: he has never been afraid of the landscape or the weather as subjects, any more than Turner was. There are familiar devices: most of the pictures are painted on wood, and most have the characteristic frames within frames which concentrate the central image. (They can act like the curtains in a theatre; there is a great deal of dramatic confrontation in Hodgkin’s work, here notably in Border Country.) But each recent show has seemed more liberated than the last, and here the feeling is stronger and the execution more sensual than ever. There are pictures where the paint seems to burst through the frame as though the emotion can no longer be contained. In this, Hodgkin is a most unEnglish painter, as he is a most unEnglish man. Restraint, repression, polite good taste have no place in his work – perhaps because he left school without completing it and avoided university altogether. He doesn’t ‘belong’ to any artistic movement; he is untamed by convention; he is unafraid of feeling – he has ‘the gift of tears’. All of which means he is in touch with his innermost self in a way foreign to most British artists. As is well-known now, his pictures are not abstract, they are Proustian depictions of emotions recollected – sometimes in tranquility, sometimes very obviously not. He goes down into the depths of himself, and turns his explorations into paint. The transformation is such that very little, if any, of the physical origin of the memory remains, and he very rarely gives even a hint of what it might have been. I think it might be unhelpful to know. It’s not possible to share someone else’s memories. But what we can get is the feeling behind the painting, which in turn we can transform into feeling of our own. Here the titles are open to multiple interpretations. Is Stormy Weather referring to a meteorological event or a personal crisis? When we look at Dirty Mirror where are we exactly, and is it ourselves we see? Just how ‘dirty’ is the mirror? Are we clothes or naked? What face should we put on? Even Twilight may be the end of an affair rather than the end of a day. Hodgkin’s great popularity demonstrates clearly enough that communication is no problem. The ambiguity and allusiveness, the suggestiveness, are part of the attraction. There’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way of interpreting the paintings; all you can do is bring as much of yourself to them as you can, submitting himself to his memory. You can look and look and keep coming up with different feelings. The paintings are objects for contemplation, reflection – and sensuous delight. Paint is his familiar spirit, and it obeys him joyfully. Thinly applied in some places, in others it piles up in thick oozy corners. Looked at closely, the surfaces are as exciting and dramatic as the over-all images. As for the colour – the sheer pleasure Hodgkin takes in it is the first thing everyone notices. My own favourites from the Milan show are the haunting Dirty Mirror, mentioned above, and North Sea. I think I probably like these so much because they brought me up short, they seemed a new departure, using a new palate. Dirty Mirror has a greenish border to a rectangle divided into light and dark. It suggests, first, a mirror whose silver has gone; then a pond partly reflecting a pale sky and partly infinite depth. You feel you could sink in it and never surface. The centre of North Sea seems grey, s the North Sea usually is. Then you look closer and find it is full of blue. The border is orange. Though it is so small, like a snapshot, it seems to contain all the sea in the world. It is at once like a grey day at Cromer, and the very idea of North, with just a memory of sunlight, never sunlight itself. Others of these gemlike pictures are sometimes like lyric versions of work we’ve seen already. Though Hodgkin never repeats himself, he has, for instance, a great fondness for what cinematographers call ‘the golden hour’ just before sunset. Who doesn’t?, one might say. But there were two Egyptian pictures quite breathtaking in the way they conjure up an evening sky on the edge of the desert. As for sensuality, there were two luscious paintings I can only interpret as intensely erotic. And in Stormy Weather there is a rarity. When Hodgkin lets a painting out of his studio it is usually finished, and that’s that. But he was dissatisfied with this one, took it back and repainted the border. Connoisseurs will note the absence from the show of Hodgkin’s characteristic dots, and two uses of oil on card. It is dangerous to generalize about an artist who is continuing to explore, to develop, to demonstrate his complete originality. But if anyone asks what modern British art is really like, this is the answer. You can see for yourself this summer when Dulwich Picture Gallery will be hanging nine other Hodgkins – chosen by the artist and most of them not seen in Britain before – among its permanent collection. The last person to take on this challenge was Lucian Freud, and he lost. How will this modern master look next to Poussin, Cuyp and Watteau? The show opens just after mid-summer: book now for a ringside seat."
Article: 'Howard Hodgkin' by Martin Herbert
Publication: Time Out (01/08/2001)
"It is a deliciously strange experience. You are perusing the Gainsboroughs and Van Dycks, when suddenly there’s a trumpet blast of chromatic colour – one of ten paintings by Howard Hodgkin hung beside the Old Masters. ‘The Last Time I Saw Paris’ nestles between two classically themed Poussins and in close proximity to works by three lesser masters who died in Paris. Such associations direct one’s interpretation of Hodgkin’s gorgeously ambiguous marks. His broad arcs of lucid colour find harmony, for instance, in the curving arm of a Poussin nymph and, in ‘Memories’, a shrouded background triangle seems to mirror the mountain peak in the view of a Roman campagna hung beside it. ‘Autumn Foliage’ – a palimpsest of translucent smears that rack up seasonal sensations (the rich russet of leaves, a bird-shit-coloured sky) – is set off by similar tones in the society portraits by John Greenhill that flank it like sentinels.
Purely formalist comparisons miss Hodgkin’s intent, though; he wants the mood of his paintings to permeate the surrounding works, and vice versa. A notable exception is ‘Chez Max’, a tondo placed near a Tiepolo study for a church ceiling fresco. Large-scale and fizzing with Hodgkin’s trademark dots, this diamond-hard but graceful painting unapologetically hijacks the room. The carefully orchestrated interplay between contemporary and classical modes marks this show out as a classic of its kind.”