Saturday, 9 August 2008
Howard Hodgkin, Realism
I have always wondered why people paint if they don't like the stuff. True, there is an element of mere luxuriance in oil paint that goes against some grains and it may be that Howard Hogkins verges on what certain branches of society regard as de trop. Too bad. Can't be helped.
I like a bit of askesis myself, share some of the instinct for it, but Hodgkin gets to me. I can't be bothered to resist him. Not even tempted to. I welcome those gorgeous splodges of his. Not that he is a great epic artist like, say, Kiefer. He is not a whole desolate land soaked through with history. There is little outside world for him. He is an exotic plant in the corner of the room. A voluptuary.
He comes to mind now because I have been writing, or trying to write, a series of short poems about his work, partly as a result of the welcome prompting of a magazine. I have four poems now, all written very fast, including one about, or out of, the painting above. I still regard it as a draft. I don't quite know what I'm doing in fact. But that, of course, can be a good thing.
So what is it about this particular painting?
There's the spillover for a start, the rich bourgeois frame invaded by a heady colour that billows over it. The application is soft-handed, the paint pressed, almost pushed on. The turquoise verges on aquamarine. In the middle it blurs and muddies, then sharpens to a vivid streak of orange that suggests both flame and leaf. The whole is autumnal. The hint of sky and horizon behind the orange has a heroic feel as if Emil Nolde had been looking over Hodgkin's shoulder. Echoes of Nolde run through Hodgkin's work. He is a more pervasive presence there than those Indian miniatures people compare Hogkin's work to. The miniatures are delicate and spiky. Hodgkin is blunt. More Nolde. Nolde, of course, is more bitter, darker, more about premonition. Hodgkin is about memory, or rather nostalgia.
Nostalgia at its least sentimental is the sense of having been somewhere we had to leave for one reason or another. You get it in Elgar, in the Cello Concerto. You get it, much more poignantly and tragically in Schubert. Even in Verdi.
OK, let's not get too swoony, to twerpish about this. Hodgkin is a sensualist, that's all. HH in melancholy afterglow in a prospect of flowers. But the senses are what we work through and denying them does no one any good. They are something to hold on to, to celebrate. You don't get them for ever, not even for that long.