A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Travelling With Howard Hodgkin

Rain by Howard Hodgkin. I saw this picture when I visited Tate Britain in December 2013.

I think a lot of people in England are afraid of pictures which have visible emotions in them. They feel calmer in front of pictures which are placid. They want to be distanced from the feeling, to look out at the storm through a window, or a frame. HOWARD HODGKIN

I have just read Andrew Graham-Dixon's monograph on the contemporary British painter, Howard Hodgkin (Howard Hodgkin, Thames & Hudson, 1994; revised 2001). I really like Hodgkin, whose tentatively suggestive yet boldly vibrant oils — usually painted on rough bare wood — inhabit a region somewhere in-between the figurative and the abstract. This borderline area appeals to me very much: too much representation and you're back in the 19th century; too much abstraction and it can become tedious and lead to a dead-end. Hodgkin gets the balance right. For me he's one of the most interesting artists of the last 50 years, and I rarely fail to be drawn into his paintings and emotionally engaged by them. For this is what he is painting — representational pictures of emotional situations, as he himself stated.

The only way an artist can communicate with the world at large is on the level of feeling. I think the function of the artist is to practise his art to such a level that, like the soul leaving the body, it comes out into the world and affects other people. HOWARD HODGKIN

Many of Hodgkin's paintings have 'abroad' as their theme — France, Venice, Naples, Egypt, India, Morocco. Indeed, all his work is to some extent about travel, about transporting the viewer to 'somewhere else'.

To travel is to see different things and it is also to see things differently. When we travel to a foreign place, our habits and routines are disturbed and our experience of the world takes on a different texture. We notice things that back home we often take for granted or do not give a second thought to: the colours of a landscape, the forms of its vegetation, new sounds and smells; the architecture, how coffee is served, designs on cigarette packets, the way people dress and the sort of litter they leave on the street; the heat or the light, the size of raindrops and the sound they make when they land. Travelling, we study the world more inquisitively and alertly than usual. We look at it as intently as if it were art [my italics]. ANDREW GRAHAM-DIXON


The Weaver of Grass said...

Love Howard Hodgkin - alwayshave done. He was one of Mike's favourites too.

am said...

Travelling, we study the world more inquisitively and alertly than usual.We look at it as intently as if it were art

Thank you for this wonderful introduction to Howard Hodgkin and Andrew Graham-Dixon!

Hodgkin's use of color is kindred to Marc Chagall and deeply moving to me.

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, indeed — he also has a kinship with Matisse, too, I think. A wonderful artist, very moving and involving.

Susan Scheid said...

Great post, lots to think about here. Hodgkin's comment that "They want to be distanced from the feeling, to look out at the storm through a window, or a frame," is such an interesting observation. When I am out walking, I'm often drawn to looking through an opening in a shed or through tree-limbs for that framing of the natural world. As I think of this in light of Hodgkin's comment, while I don't think so much of distancing, but something akin to it: a sense of control, that nature is contained.

Ruth said...

Yes to all of that. And we also learn much about ourselves abroad and bring back things that shape our identity.

The Solitary Walker said...

I think there are two different things in play here, Susan: one, the (perhaps middle-class) deliberate recoiling and distancing oneself from emotion and a preference for safe and placid scenes; two, the control and order an artist tries to put onto nature through composing and framing a turbulent scene in a photograph or with a picture frame etc. Despite his commitment to portraying raw emotions, Hodgkin does compose and order, though he tries as far as possible not to distance the viewer and to invite him/her into his pictures — by making most of them quite small and intimate, by painting over the picture frame, and other techniques.

Yes, that old cliché 'travel broadens the mind' is certainly true, Ruth. If we allow ourselves to be open to new experiences. Some travellers I know seem to come back completely unchanged and unimpressed!

Friko said...

Goodness, that painting is breathtakingly beautiful. And exciting.
To my great shame I admit that I’ve never heard of Hodgkin before. I shall have to remedy that fault in me instantly.

I love that painting.

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes — do go and see this painting in Tate Britain, Friko. Hodgkin is a tremendous artist.