Painting of the Day

24 Dec



Dark Evening. by Howard Hodgkin (born 1932). Oil on canvas and frame, 2011. 

Notes from

Stefan Kuiper writes in Vrij Nederland, 28 August 2010: ‘In the past, until about ten years ago, [Hodgkin] worked on the basis of personal memories, and his paintings bore titles such as In Paris With You (1995-1996) and In Raimund Stecker’s Garden (1998-2001). His art was private, confessional; as though all sorts of intimate acknowledgements could be found among the enigmatic forms. Those paintings were highly personal theaters (the broad, paint-spattered frame resembling the entrance to a stage) in which the painter brought his memories to life. Paint had become Proust’s madeleine. Hodgkin’s new work is different, less private. That can be discerned in the titles—Lawn, Big Lawn, Sky—but also in the form. The small and intimate panel Leaf (2007-2009), for instance, involves no more than a single sharply curled sweep of thinned green against a background of plain wood. And Mud (2002) is a unprepared plank covered with wide strokes of green and grey. Though it consists of practically nothing, somehow this little picture effortlessly gives rise to associations with landscapes and shoals, or an approaching storm. These paintings are more suggestive than Hodgkin’s earlier work, less insistent, and consequently better. The difference resembles that between people who give energy—Hodgkin fondly refers to his paintings as a cast of characters—and those who take it. Between inhaling and exhaling.

‘The question is whether the painter himself sees it that way. Hodgkin nods eagerly when I present him with my interpretation. That new approach to the work, he says, has to do with added confidence (“I used to be afraid of boring the viewer”) but also with a new method. “Painting, to me, meant plodding away endlessly. I spent entire days turning things around and around in a painting. Plenty of pentimenti were carried out before I felt satisfied with the work. At a certain point I had had enough of that. It became too strenuous, especially with my difficult knees.

“Nowadays I work differently, with circumspection, more like a chess player. I’d say that about ninety percent of the time in my studio is spent on a contemplation and analysis of the work, and only ten percent on actually painting it. So when I sit there staring at the wall, I’m in fact hard at work.” His eyes twinkle mischievously: “Explaining that to my assistants took quite some time.”‘ 

My comments:

Howard Hodgkins’ work is the antithesis of the exhibition I saw this past Friday in Manhattan at the Guggenheim Museum, “Picasso Black and White.” Whereas in that exhibition Picasso wanted to omit color from his paintings in order to focus on the line and how that is used to form figures in compositions, in Hodgkins’ work color is form. Who is right: is line or color better? This was a kind of debate back in the 19th century between Classicists like Ingres, who believed in the primacy of line, and Romanticists like Delacroix (who actually said himself that he hated grey), who relied on colors to convey emotion and provide the energy of the painting. Personally I tend to gravitate toward more colorful paintings. 

I think Hodgkins’ painting is interesting for the way he painted over the canvas and on the frame that encompasses it too, as if his painting is extending out from the confines of itself into the real world. 

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