Article: ‘Hodgkin and Caulfield’ by Lynda Morris
Publication: Unknown (14/06/1976)
“One of the most encouraging signs for contemporary art has been a development in the quality of publicly galleries outside London. The Museum of Modern Art in Oxford and the Arnolfini in Bristol were both founded in the middle Sixties, and they now receive substantial grants from the Arts Council. They are both housed in converted warehouses, but they have developed in different directions. The Arnolfini is an elegant dockside complex, including a bar, restaurant, bookshop, cinema and theatre, as well as two gallery spaces. MOMA in Oxford is more austerely converted, and has concentrated on a programme of temporary exhibitions. It is one of the most sympathetic exhibition spaces in England and its recent programme has received international support.
Oxford is currently holding a large exhibition of the work of Howard Hodgkin between 1949 and 1975. In Bristol, there has been a small exhibition of paintings and prints by Patrick Caulfield. Both artists are in their early forties, and both were connected with the New Generation exhibitions. Caulfield showed at the Robert Fraser Gallery, and Hodgkin was with the Kasmin Gallery. Neither artist first easily into a stylistic category, but they are two of the strongest representatives of their generation. They have been somewhat inaccurately discussed as pop artists, partly because they are both figurative painters. Caulfield’s work is, perhaps, happiest with the pop label. His paintings are a bland rendering of simplified objects and scenes. The colours are flat and the images are drawn in a heavy black line, which refers to the pictorial shorthand of illustrations and cartoons. The apparent superficiality is compensated for by an ironic intelligence which leaves clues to our understanding of graphic references. Some of the paintings allude to Dufy or Matisse, and in another work the source is an advertisement or a travel brochure. The largest painting in the Arnolfini exhibition is Sun Lounge 1975. It is part of a series of the interior and exteriors of ageing, nondescript Mediterranean hotels. Dark blue shadows are cast by a strong blue light, and it is the black lines rather than the colour changes that created the scene. Only incidental objects are allowed the luxury of real colour – a pink jug, a yellow ornament and the watery blue of the outside word. The two other paintings, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, develop the theme of realism juxtaposed with a painted image. The two still lifes are painted within his normal vocabulary, but they include a realistic bunch of tulips for father and a single rose for mother.
Caulfield deals openly with the irony inherent in his profession, and he has solved the problem of his relationship to the tradition of painting, by an intellectual choice of what to paint and how to paint it. Hodgkin’s paintings are more personal. The exhibition is reassuring celebration. Hodgkin’s problem is not a didactic decision about painting in the age of photography; it is an individual’s search for his integrity. He makes only five or six paintings a year, many of which take three or four years to complete. The classic reference for his work is Matisse, and he also draws on his knowledge of Indian miniatures. The paintings rest happily in the European tradition of easel painting and, less consciously, within the influence of Fauvism on English painting.
There are no clearly defined periods, but there is a gradual growth towards more mature paintings. The subjects of the work are figurative and literary, but the shapes have more connection with the brushmark than with a recognisable object. The same shape appears in different paintings; sometimes a square is a table and another time it is a door. A background of dots can be a carpet, a garden or, simply, a pattern. The name does not matter, but the function within the painting does. The paint is used through the full range of transparency to a solid are of bright pigment. Both the colours and the shapes are blatant reminders that one is, first, looking at paint, and, only secondly, at a painted image. The relationship between shape and colour in a particular work gives us the criteria to understand the moment the artist has painted. European painting has been concerned with the stages of abstraction from a concreted image. This is particularly evident in Mondiraan and Picasso. English abstraction has always remained more literary than the continental equivalent. Hodgkin’s work is completely within these traditions.”
Article: 'The Life of Colours' by John Russell
Publication: The Sunday Times (11/04/1971)
"People prate about ‘the end of painting’; but it is remarkable how often the things most worth looking at turn out to be old-fashioned rectangular pictures that add just a line or two to the long history of Western art. They don’t lack admirers, either; Howard Hodgkin’s new show at Kasmin’s was sold out almost before it got on the wall.
Hodgkin is not, for all that, a man who makes things easy for the public. His subject-matter is orthodox enough: people in rooms, the landscape of southern England in high summer, Indian architecture with its moto perpetuo patterning and its terraces open to tall tress and kingsize raucous flowers. Nor does he have a new style for every year; fundamentally his course has changed little since he first showed at Tooth’s in 1962.
The difficulty comes, of course, from the cryptographic way in which the subject-matter is rendered. If so many people are happy to wrestle with this, it is partly because Hodgkin has developed over the last five years into one of the richest and most individual colourists now working anywhere. One has only to think of the crass conjunctions which are perpetrated with life-long impunity by certain more famous artists to realize how very much superior are Hodgkin’s procedures.
Colour has played so great a part in twentieth-century art, and has been so much abused in consequence, that it is very difficult indeed to recapture the total strangeness with which we first looked at a Matisse of 1908. From the disciplined reactions of Albers at one extreme to the feet-first exuberance of the Fauves at the other, all seems familiar. But meaningful colour-combination does not depend on science, any more than it can be achieved by random assault. It calls for the deployment of a completed human nature, and in Hodgkin’s new paintings it gets just that.
The concentric bands of pure colour work, quite often, as they would work in an abstract painting; but their full effect depends on a wide range of circumstantial reference. In a discreet way he is one of the most learned painters of his generation, and like all true Europeans he can thicken the plot without rambling. He is the aristocrat who never parades his learning, but he is also the yeoman who goes out for a certain thick plainness about the individual marks ina painting. Many of the new paintings are on wood and have a look of home-carpentry which is emphasised by Hodgkin’s new habit of painting a frame-within-the-picture and, on occasion, stepping the image back within a painted mount. European, also are the acceptance of ambiguity, and the effect of distancing which he achieves by adumbrated awnings and lattices. Those flat, lollopy, interlaced forms could only have originated in our sub-continent. They are reductive, but in the way that Matisse was reductive; there is nothing doctrinaire about them, and the paintings as a whole go their own rich way and do not dictate to use."
Article: ‘Private Lives’ by Eric Rowan
Publication: The Times (14/06/1970)
“Howard Hodgkin is a painter who, though successful and highly regarded, is not as well-known as some of his friends and contemporaries. This is partly due to the fact that he is a more conventional, less sensational artist; he produces small, flat pictures in oil paint and uses traditional figurative subject matter – namely, figures in interiors. For the past few years he has painted, almost exclusively, the private lives of these same friends and contemporaries.
In his recent work, now on show at the Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol, he is still preoccupied with this theme. For, of the seven paintings exhibited, all but one are portraits and that one, Lilac Time, seems to have been a portrait that went awry in its processing. Portrait is rather a misleading word, for what Hodgkin does is to take a passing moment in the lives of his sitters and their settings, and to overlay it with formal devices and relevant personal symbolism. And since, as in the case of Mr. Mrs. Peter Blake, these small paintings can take up to five years to complete, they are obviously thoroughly considered and offered as more than just personal mementos.
But can one elicit some universal significance from such a moment of private and personal experience? The titles are explicit and if they are to be taken as word-clues to the otherwise obscure content, then we must look for some meaning in the triangle of relationships between the painter, his sitters and their life and work. Such meaning, if any, remains obscure in Hodgkin’s paintings. To digress: Patrick Caulfield painting a paraphrase of Delacroix offers various degrees of meaning depending on what we know of art history, of Delacroix and his work, of modern painting in general and of Caulfield’s in particular. But when we are faced with Howard Hodgkin’s painting of Mr. and Mrs. Patrick Caulfield (at home?), then presumably we need to know more about the Caulfields and more about Hodgkin. Yet this information is not vouchsafed to the general public to whom these works are offered.
Perhaps it is the lush and decorative quality of the paint that also inhibits communication. And perhaps this, in turn, is why David Hockney Drawing is the most successful piece in the exhibition. Hockney is generally known to have a flamboyant character, and this painting, with the red coat, green trousers, yellow shoes and yellow hair, and the flat, carpet-like setting of blues and pink, reinforces this impression. But there, again, is the esoteric significance of the yellow, toothsome oval with its phallic images. It is all so cosy and inbred, and there lingers a feeling that this is an exclusive world into which we are privileged to peer.
Nevertheless, it is decorative in the non-pejorative sense of the word, with occasional flashes of objective visual wit as in Mr. and Mrs. Richard Smith. Hodgkin is a sensuous and accomplished colourist in the European mainstream, and he can easily be appreciated on this level. Cleverly, he synthesizes the influences of various modern masters with a declared interest in Indian Miniatures to produce a personal and fluent style. And if these qualities appeal to you, and if you like to ponder on the private live of public figures, this is a completely successful exhibition.”