‘I paint representational pictures of emotional situations.’
‘Painting is agony,’ Howard Hodgkin said on several occasions. He was known to pour himself a cocktail after completing each picture! The sense is of an artist who grappled constantly with his past, with the end result representing a kind of catharsis.
‘My entire life is in my paintings,’ he said, but viewers won’t know what episode in that life they’re looking at – especially given the lack of figurative references.
Titles occasionally help. Goodbye to the Bay of Naples, for example, does at least give a sense of place.
Goodbye to the Bay of Naples, 1980-82. Oil on wood.
An alternative way of engaging with his pictures is to forget their source and simply dive into them, promptly summoning memories or associations of one’s own.
As such, his works are loaded with feeling. This is reflected in its intense colour – and the vivacious sweeps, stabs and slashes of his brush, which often covered even a picture’s frame in paint. In many cases, the memories were painful; in some cases, they were positive.
Howard Hodgkin (1932-2017), The Spectator, 1984-87. Oil on wood.
One could describe him as a great user of colour, because the uses he found for it extended far beyond decoration. As he matured his work grew bolder and freer thenceforth, with more complex colours. It also appeared to move close to complete abstraction, devoid of any of the oblique figurative references of the recent past.
Hodgkin represented his country at the Venice Biennale in 1984. He won the Turner Prize in 1985. He was knighted in 1992, the same year that he designed a mural for the British Council’s new Indian headquarters in New Delhi. In 1995 he received a retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.