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.”
Article: 'Painting from Memory' by Richard Cork
Publication: The Times (02/11/1993)
“Richard Cork hails a ‘hugely enjoyable’ exhibition of paintings by one of Britain’s foremost living artists, Howard Hodgkin.
Modern painting is usually expected to be fast, impulsive and unstoppable. Spurning the prolonged gestation period associated with the art of the past, contemporary painters are supposed to stake everything on spontaneity. The norm, as so often, was established by Picasso, who in later life thought nothing of producing several large canvases a week. The myth of the artist as human cornucopia, letting images well up in the subconscious and spill out incessantly onto the picture-surface, retains its potency intact.
With typical obstinacy, Howard Hodgkin resists this cliché at every turn. Far from rejoicing in a prolific output, he produces sparingly. His latest, hugely enjoyable exhibition at the Anthony d’Offay Gallery is his first one-man show in London for five years. Many of the paintings are surprisingly small by the overblown standards of today. And several were begun almost a decade ago.
The danger with such along germination is that the finished image could look laboured. Ever since the Pre-Raphaelites, the most Puritan English painters have doted on dogged execution, regarding slowness and pettifogging care as a moral virtue. But Hodgkin has a healthy horror of plodding art. Although his Lovers took an epic eight years to complete, it looks as if he carried it out in a single, blithely sustained bout of work.
Among the largest and most commanding pictures in view, this eruptive image seems to have been made with dashing assurance. The swathes of orange and green pigment curving across the panel are so irresponsible that the y burst out of the frame. Their impact is orgiastic, and yet Hodgkin contrasts their glistening impasto with an undulating area handled in the thinnest manner imaginable. Reminiscent of naked flesh, at once glowing and vulnerable, this passage seems in places hardly touched by the brush. Bare wood plays as much of a pictorial role here ash the white canvas in a late Cezanne. Elsewhere, though, Hodgkin makes no attempt to disguise the layers lurking beneath the final application of paint. In The last time I saw Paris, a band of grey frames the scintillating radiance of the central image. But gaudy dots of scarlet or orange can be detected underneath this subdued border. Only at a late stage did Hodgkin decide to rid his picture of this festive edge, and we can still sense some of the conflict which led to the eventual act of alteration.
Diagonal ridges of overlaid pigment area likewise visible in the central part of the work, frankly at variance with the paint-flow applied on top of them. The contrast between these two states adds tension, accentuating the vivacity with which Hodgkin transforms his images. An infectious excitement with the act of painting is always conveyed, alongside a willingness to take risks rather than settle for the drab caution which English art so often relies on.
The outcome is consistently exuberant. Although London-born, and a student in the late 1940s at the notoriously restrained Camberwell School of Art, Hodgkin has fought against Anglo-Saxon reticence throughout his career. In one of the quotations which he’s has chosen to preface the handsome d’Offay catalogue, Anita Brookner describes the ‘happy few’ who ‘remain emotionally alive, who never compromise, who never succumb to cynicism or the routines of the second-hand’. Now over 60, Hodgkin clearly aims at resisting the tendency of so many senior artists to settle for an easy formula. And on the evidence of this engrossing exhibition, he has succeeded with aplomb. Far from lapsing into repetition, and numbing the viewer with predictable solutions, these sprightly paintings are still able to challenge and provoke. They are the work of a man vigorously caught up as ever in the endlessly fascinating attempt to define the essence of his memories.
Another quotation in the catalogue is drawn from this friend Bruce Chatwin, lamenting the fact that nothing can ‘bring back the things we loves’. It is a passionate, elegiac passage, terminating in the bleak belief that we cannot recover ‘the smell of the beanfields; the sweet, resinous smell of deodar wood burning, or the whiff of a snow leopard at 14,000 feet. Never. Never. Never.’ All the same, the charged and sensuous power of Chatwin’s prose offers a remarkable persuasive evocation of the experiences he has cherished.
The same can be said, in visual terms, of Hodgkin’s own art. He strives, each time, to arrive at an image which does justice to his rapt recollection of a place, person or event without resorting to literal representation. Sometimes, we can feel fairly confident about identifying a particular form within a painting. A round limp of pigment suspended like a blood-clot in Venice sunset can only be the flaring orb itself, descending towards the lagoon. More often, though, the work defies such interpretation. Patrick in Italy may refer to a memory of his fellow artist Caulfield on holiday, but the painting refuses to yield up its secrets.
If Hodgkin relies on recollections of the past, he ensures that his painting language brings us up against the forceful actuality of the wood. There’s nothing remote or nostalgic about his work. The gorgeous splash of deep blue and ultramarine floating at the heart of Fisherman’s Cove looks as if it has only just been flung there, with inspired impetuosity, As for Reading in Bed, it shows how Hodgkin regards painting as an intensely physical act. The blocks and bars of glowing colour seem to aspire to the thickness of the panel beneath. There is sturdiness about his work which looks built to last, countering the vagaries of memory with a fierce yet joyful affirmation that redeems the loss of the past."
Article: 'Viewer virtuosity and red herrings' by Tom Lubbock
Publication: Independent on Sunday (16/12/1990)
"At the Scottish National gallery of Modern Art there is a show of Howard Hodgkin’s Small Paintings 1975-89, 27 of them. He is famously a master of this format. It is hardly necessary now to say that his pictures are very beautiful, nor that, despite the roughness and garishness of the individual splodges and swipes which make them up, he is a paint – and colour – technician of great delicacy and virtuosity. But faced with paintings of an apparently abstract nature, a certain viewer-virtuosity is encouraged too, which consists in screwing up the sensibility and trying to say what, roughly, they are about. You feel so much better, just getting things a little clearer, and it is something that Hodgkin’s work particularly invites. And you are urged on, for one thing, by the artist’s frequent insistence that he is not an abstract painter.
On the other hand, the fact that his work is indeed full of representational inklings is a bit of a red herring. It’s plain enough, for example, that in Small Henry Moore at the Bottom of the Garden there is (in the background) a Moorish lump, hedged about with suggestions of topiary; and that, in After Corot, there is a vista of sky and water, or (elsewhere) an interior space of some kind, a rough indication of a reclining body, a leaf or a rainbow. But one doesn’t feel that this is meant to be important in itself; it seems to be only a matter of chance that these clues (which are not very informative about the visible world) made it into the picture; and often enough, in Alexander Street say, even a Hodgkin-accustomed eye won’t get very far with a literal reading. His sights are on some other kind of experience.
For the pictures do evidently have their sights on something, and concentratedly so. This is partly in the busy framing activity. The frame is generally broad and elaborate, and it is always painted. Sometimes the picture seems to spread on to the frame, sometimes the frame encroaches on to the picture, and the confusion of frame and picture is more than a conceptual teaser. It has its emotional implications. The experience (whatever it may be) is given an indistinct edge, it feels not quite capturable. And through denying a definite outside limit, the pictures insist upon their middles. This is emphasised by the way Hodgkin, though minimally representational, is highly illusionistic – a distinctive 3D effect, done through colour, where one stripe or set of blobs floats or jumps in front of another, and the layers of planes recede into a depth. Everything homes in upon something.
But what? You return for a hint to the titles, and realise they are not much of one. Venice Shadows; In the Honeymoon Suite; Waking up in Naples; After Dinner, Clean Sheets: they offer, typically, a location or an event or a phrase, but these one is to understand are not promises of a scene or subject, but occasions for or associations with the experience in question. It was that time in Venice when – or while we sat – or when I thought . . . and I felt . . . There is a general vacation atmosphere – the emotional Epicureanism of the holidaymaker, his connoisseurship of piquant moods and moments, his collecting of preservable visual, social or erotic experiences. One picture (not exhibited) is entitled A Small Thing, But My Own. And really that might be a portmanteau title for all these private glimpses. It’s rather like looking at somebody’s souvenir snaps, where you get the picture without the meaning it has for that person: except that, with Hodgkin, it goes the other way round. You get the intense meaningfulness, it is clearly a language of feeling, but without a clear idea of the experience behind it – nor thus of the feeling itself. It is not difficult to identify the mode of feeling involved (something intimate, transient, non-violent, elusive) – but as to what sort of feeling, one hesitates to say without a sense of introducing one’s own private associations. You had to be there; or, in fact, you had to be him.“
Article: 'The Hodgkin Paradox' by Eric Gibson
Publication: Studio International (14/03/1985)
"The Tate Gallery’s new and important Turner Prize was not awarded to Howard Hodgkin in 1984, but to Malcolm Morley, which, as Eric Gibson suggests from New York, raised a few eyebrows on both sides of the Atlantic, concerning the criteria which a distinguished jury employed, or didn’t employ in reaching this decision. Was it a case of one painter against another, or did the lure of instant history demand the (temporary) return of a prodigal son? Gibson explains.
The passing over of Howard Hodgkin for the prestigious Turner Prize last autumn, in fabour of Malcolm Morley, was one of the bigger surprises of the season. Hodgkin, after all, is deeply rooted in the art establishment in his country, and his reputation has been increasing steadily since the early ‘70s. Last year, with his installation at the Venice Biennale and the touring retrospective that ensued, it seemed to have reached its latest peak.
Yet in 1984 Morley, too, enjoyed considerable recognition, having himself had had a highly acclaimed touring retrospective. Only, in his case, unlike that of Hodgkin, the result was to ‘bring home’, to insitutionalise one of the art world’s few remaining enfants terribles, to bestow recognition on an artist more celebrated among his peers than among the powers that be. Nonetheless, the passing over of Hodgkin raised many a question, the answers to which tell us as much about Hodgkin’s art as they do about the working of official taste.
Hodgkin is a little like the early modern painter Douanier Rousseau: an artist removed from the mainstream whose work (albeit belatedly in his case) is celbrated by the members of the mainstream. For years he worked quietly away, studiously ignored by colleagues and most of the art establishment. Like a disappointing schoolboy he was considered ‘too slow’ – it took him too long to paint a painting and too long for the painting, once finished, to reveal itself to the viewer. The product of some of that ‘slowness’ – as well as its virtues – was visible when the touring exhibition arrived at the Phillip’s Collection in Washington this October. Entitled “Howard Hodgkin: 40 Paintings’, it surveyed the last 11 years of Hodgkin’s work, produced in the years since his last retrospective – which toured only Great Britain – in 1975.
The current show is the more interesting of the two. If the earlier years saw Hodgkin, in hisown words, trying to ‘make a space’ for himself within the context of the art and art world of the time, the years succeeding – those covered by the retrospective – have seen a consolidation and extension of his position in that ‘space’. They have involved a gradual moving away from the clear, more constructed manner to one more loosely defined and more evocative.
This tradition is well charted in the exhibition, and illustrated by ywo paintings, one early and one late: Grantchester Road, 1977, and Interior With Figures, 1977-84. Both are interior pictures, the former is a rigorously rectilinear painting, its spaces clearly articulated, and its repeated verticals relieved only by dappled panes in the background and in the foreground a series of frame-hugging, exuberant arcs. The latter differs from its predecessor in every way: the space is paradoxically more open yet considerably less defined and, in contrast to the other which by restraint and absence of emotion reflects a palpable tension, Interior With Figures, exudes the sort of heated eroticism more common to late 19th century French painting than the aesthetics of the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Yet throughout, Hodgkin’s narrative and formal concerns have remained constant: the recreation incidents or situations saturated with emotional resonacnce. He is fond of quoting Muriel Spark’s comment that ‘for an artist, time can always be regained’, and indeed this is a process of repeatedly returning to a moment in his memory until that incident has been rendered in all its complexity and depth.
His primary tools in the articulation of this vision are a deep space – the deep. The claustrophpoibc space of the paintings is a metaphor for the space of memory – lavish colour, and a pictorial language which does not so muchg describe as suggest, one whose vocabulary occupies a point midway between the object to which it refers and autonomously decorative form.
There are moments in all of this when hodgkin’s results are a little off key, becoming either too lush or too flat-footed. The Cylinder, the Sphere and the Cone, 1978-84, for example, (a reinterpretation of Cezanne’s famous dictum) is awkwardly illustrational, as though Hodgkin had reversed himself for once and had pressed a pre-existing vocabulary on to a pre-existing subject. Yet such a picture can also make us realize how good he is at evoking pure sensation.
For when all elements coalesce, Hodgkin’s pictures attain an extraordinary richness and force. The bottomless space, deep blacks and blazing yellows of Reading the Letter, 1977-80, brings to mind a sensation of brooding intensity which perfectly evokes the awkward personal moment that forms its subject.
Given this, why was Hodgkin, an artist of increasing stature and growing masterty of his means, passed over in favour of Morley who, for all his gifts, is an artist of far less depth and of uncertain temper – as anyone familiar with his work of the last few years will recognise?
Perhaps it is because, in his deeply personal emphasis on the recreation of subjective personal experience and his use accordingly of a near-abstract, highly subjective vocabulary Hodgkin is revealed as being involved with an order of experience at some remove from contemporary concerns, specifically one closer to the aesthetic concerns of turn-of-the-century Paris. This he tacitly acknowledges in his stated admiration of Vuillard, his increasing interest in Degas and his affinity with the quoted statemnt of Muriel Spark. It is this, I think, which disqualified him in the eyes of the jury.
Moreover, the clear appeal of Malcolm Morley was historical, for Morley is not only considered to have initiated the ‘Photo-Realist’ movement with his immacualately rendered enlargments of picture postcards, but he is more recently credited, along with the late Philip Guston, with having laid the groundwork for neo-Expressionism. Thus, his selection represented for the jury the opportunity to link a native with the cutting edge of contemporarty art. Such a linking could not have been made in the case of Hodgkin, whose selection, in as much as he remains unconcernedly aloof from the mainstream, might have smacked too much of parochialism, like singling out a member of one’s family regardless of the qualifications of others. And in an atmosphere increasingly heated with talk of post-Modernism, to have selected one whose artistic allegiances are firmly tied to an earlier phase of Modernism would have been taken by some as the endorsement of a retrograde tendency – a decision that would not have reflected nearly so well upon the judges as did the one they actually made.
If these conjectures turn out to be correct, they would go a long way towards explaining one of the more mysterious episodes of the last year, and prove once again that when it comes to official judgements, it is more often extra-artistic concerns rather than the work itself which wind up carrying the day."
Article: ‘A Peeper into Paradises: The glowing, ebullient artifice of England’s Howard Hodgkin’ by Robert Hughes
Publication: Time (14/06/1982)
"The main events of the past two or three years, so far as the New York is concerned, has been the, rebirth, of European art – mainly young, German and Italian, expressionists in mood and flirtatiously eclectic in tone. The spectrum of achievement runs from mere operators like Salome to deeply serious artists of the calibre of Anselm Kiefer. The fact that an American audience is paying attention to European painting once more comes as a relief, but before attention gets wholly stylised as fashion, it is worth remembering that England is part of Europe and that some English painters have more to offer than other, more loudly promoted figures of the day. One of them is Howard Hodgkin, whose current New York exhibition opened at the Knoedler Gallery last week.
Hodgkin is fifty this year: a diffident man with a tough, discursive mind and a long background in art history, collecting and teaching. There is not a more educated painter alive, and it would be hard to think of one whose erudition was more exactly placed at the disposal of feeling. His paintings look abstract but are full of echoes of figures, rooms, sociable encounters; they are small, “unheroic” but exquisitely phrased.
The space they evoke is closed, artificial, without horizon or other legible references to landscape. One seems to be looking into a box of coloured flats and wings – and marionette stage, behind whose proscenium the blobs and cylinders of colour glow with shivering theatrical ebullience. “Curious,” as the English art historian Lawrence Gowing remarked in a recent essay on Hodgkin’s work, “that no one has recognised in Hodgkin as god given stage designer, a man with a mission to the theatre of enrichment and augmentation.”
Because Hodgkin’s type of abstract flatness admits the eye some way into the picture and identifies the surface as an imaginary opening, it has nothing to do with the idealised flatness of sixties American colour field painting. It hovers on the edge of scenic recognition, tricking the viewer into the thought that just one more clue might disclose a particular room or restaurant, a familiar scene. Sometimes it will. The most spectacular painting in the current show, In the Bay of Naples, 1980-1982, presents itself as a soft hive of coloured blobs, blooming and twinkling in rows, against the dark ground. Lit windows? Strings of restaurant lights? A view from a terrace? Then more specific things appear: a pinkish vertical, another stage flat, turns into a stucco wall; a cobalt patch at the centre, where the vanishing point would be if there were any perspective, resolves itself as a glimpse of sea; the S of creamy green paint that lights the whole painting with its contradictory glare, leaping against the more tentative and modulated speckling of the rest of the surface, is the wake of a speed boat, tracing its phospherent gesture on the night water.
There is a strongly private, autobiographical element in Hodgkin’s work; it refers to friendship one does not know about, to conservations in rooms long since quitted. But it resists transition as antidote. “The picture,” Hodgkin says firmly, “is instead of what happened. We don’t need to know the story; generally the story is trivial anyway. The more people want to know the story the less they’ll look at the picture.” Likewise, the paintings are full of reference to other art, usually of a rather arcane sort. But they seem casually, even inattentively deployed, coming out not as formal homage’s to this or that master but as a function of temperament. Like Bonnard, whose work he reveres, Hodgkin is a fidgety peeper into secular paradises and controllable realms of pleasure. But as befits a painter who makes no bones about his belief in the continuity of pas and present, part of the pleasure lies in the conversation between his work and its sources.
One of the main ones (a parallel text as it were) is Indian miniature painting of which he has long been a collector. The jewelled colours and flattened space of the court miniature, the way it filters all natural detail in order to preserve it within the twining convention of artifice, and above all the sense it provide of looking past the edge of the ordinary world into a privileged domain – all this is echoed and modified in his own small paintings.
But such influences are meddled into a wholly modernist idiom. Hodgkin does to the Indian miniature what Matisse did to Islamic decoration; the source is not simply quoted but transformed. The miniaturist precision of edge and line is replaced by a fuzzy, affable kind or formal system – nursery-toy versions, almost, of the sphere, cube and cylinder those intimidating platonic solids of programmatic modernism. His pigment, however, has an extraordinary range of effect. His work sports in the transparency, density, and sweet pastiness that oil paint can give. Surfeited by colour, twinkling with fields of dots (like enlarged details of a Seurat, betokening light), its casual surface can look clumsy; but that is only Hodgkin playing with the idea of clumsiness, extracting an educated pleasure from the babyish joys of daubing. In fact, his taste rarely fails, and his talent as a colourist remains unmatched amongst living painters. Both place his paintings squarely in the tradition whose praises they modestly sing."
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.”
Article: 'Howard Hodgkin and Jeremy Moon exhibitions' by Norbert Lynton
Publication: The Guardian (11/04/1969)
"Howard Hodgkin’s recent paintings are larger than his previous average, and they are on show at the Kasmin Gallery where they show up well. Ther aer also brighter and a shade more relaxed than those he showed in 1967. But the cat-and-mouse game he plays with the world of appearances has stayed much the same.
He works very slowly. The picture called “Mr and Mrs stringer” was painted during 1966-8. Another, “Large Staff Room,” was in his 1967 show, date 1964-7. It has been thoroughly reworked since and must now be datyed 1964-9. Rarely does he start and finish a painting in the same; when it happens outside forces are likely to have been at work, like someone buying the thing and carrying it off.
This way of working is essential to him. He starts from a particular visual subject and gradually transforms it. The manner of this transformation is conditionedby various factors: by the aesthetic demands of the picture itself (composition, colour relationships, and so on), by stylistic influences (Matisse has always been important to him but one guesses at a special impulsefrom the big Matisse show), and of course by his personality. None of these contributes separately and what they offer always seems to pass through a filter of wit and irony.
The resuly is a curious intensity. Hodgkin’s titles restate the oringinal subject: a portrait, often. The pictures hove just on nature’s side of complete abstractness, so we can’t let ourselves off his notional hook by opting for a non-representational reading. We stand there perplexed, but also engaged by their vividness and quite unusual images. Hodgkin’s long involvement with Indian miniatures seems to have taught him how to join a convincing sense of life to abstraction and flatness. And time seems to bring a memorable, memory-like succinctness."
Article: ‘Howard Hodgkin’ by Guy Brett
Publication: The Times (14/06/1967)
“Howard Hodgkin’s is a laboured, disjointed way of painting. Or perhaps it only appears to be because it is a kind of painting which lets a prolonged, gradual process of working-out show in the final image. For Mr. Hodgkin allows the different parts he has added to a painting over a period of years, to knock against each other, asserting themselves. He amasses an apparent jumble of different feelings and thoughts about painting (though never diagrammatically).
Some of Mr. Hodgkin’s new paintings at Tooth’s, 31 Bruton Street, W.1, have more of this peculiar choca-bloc feeling about them than others. But it is by means of this “clumsiness” that Mr. Hodgkin seems to communicate his strongest feeling. When he veers forwards a smoother kind of romantic, anecdotal figurative painting, with a less complicated space, tension disappears. His forms lose their abrasive edge.
In two of the bigger paintings “Dinner at West Hill” and “Acacia Road”, the construction is especially dense. Both pictures are crowded with forms (of different colours and consistencies) associated, as the titles suggest, with some special moment for the artist, which the spectators can only penetrate in a general way. A hard-edge rectangle backs on to a soft biomorphic limb; there are openings and blank patches right on the picture pane and also fields of coloured dabs which suggest landscape. The horizontal yellow bars in “Acacia Road”, as solid as a gate, give the softer atmospheric parts of the painting emphasis by remaining distinct from them. This kind of surprise is Mr. Hodgkin’s particular strength.”
Article: ‘Two Young Figurative Painters’ by Conroy Maddox
Publication: Art Review (14/06/1962)
"These two painters, Howard Hodgkin and Allen Jones, may be attempting to mark a stylistic turning point in figurative painting, on the other hand some might just as easily consider them to be hovering on the verge of abstraction without entirely going over it. Anyway its an interesting combination, for they have enough in common stylistically to make them agreeable companions, while in general direction, sufficiently different to give contrast. Of the two, Hodgkin makes greater use of the figurative, with the images brushed in with a casual mussiness against bright, hard colour shapes which are ‘abstract’ in the sense that they are painted flatly. Whether this treatment is responsible, or the use of a repeat pattern, some of the compositions tend to sag, dissolve, would perhaps be a better word, into a disturbing uncommunicative welter of shapeless forms, still I imagine Hodgkin’s is still in an experimental stage investigating the possibilities of his venture. Yet for all the faults, and the very obvious references to Sharn and Bacon, he is able in the best, to impart to his work a sort of enigmatic significance. One is arrested by the role of these figures that retain their human status, although at great cost to their ‘normalcy’.
What troubles me, I think, in the work of both these painters, is a slight sense of the contrived, of the overly elaborated, and this might easily, I realise, be due to their involvement in the contemporary art drama of transition between the pure abstract and the explicitly figurative. There is a greater abstract quality about Jones, but again one is brought up against influences, in this instance Kandinsky, Hard Edge and even geometric Cubism in the treatment of the figures. The majority of his canvases incorporate highly coloured arrangements of the fixed and invariable elements; the triangle, the small rectangle, the irregular curve, the ‘confetti’ skilfully scattered across the surface to terminate in squared off sections that hold the figurative images.
What is interesting is that these two young painters are developing a point of view, and a method of expressing it that holds promise for the future."