Howard Hodgkin unfetters a new lingua franca
with earth tones and organic brushstrokes
Occasionally a painter reaches a height in their emotive abilities where the penetrating communication of their feelings becomes the subject of their work. It’s a rare occurrence when virtuosity and freedom merge with formal success to birth a new language.
Such a moment has come together for the English painter Howard Hodgkin.
An exhibition of about 25 works, created in the last three years, showcases paintings varying in scale from 12 inches to well over 12 feet. A sense of personal space and vision reaches out and over the frames, embracing us with landscapes remembered, friends forgotten, and an awareness that time is fleeting. What’s so important about these works is that Hodgkin illustrates nothing, but constantly returns us to the physicality of his materials of expression: paint, wood, light, and color. His fearless brushstroke constantly reminds us that we are alive, delivering us to the same height of sensory experience he must have felt before he put down his brush and left the studio.
Known for his brightly-colored paintings of oranges, blues, and reds, in this show Hodgkin introduces a somber palette of browns, rusts, umbers, and dusty blacks, recalling paintings from a more romantic era. These moody notes capture the more chromatic moments and render them dramatically.
Hodgkin’s paint quality is fresh. It is a rarity for a painter to be so free and so specific in the same context. “Under Tones of War, 2003,” a large soupy-brown painting framed by a raw wooden ballast, contains the exploding glare of bombs in the distance. The colors recall paintings by Goya and Turner. “A Long Goodbye, 1997–2002,” a painting in landscape format, feels like we’re looking out the rear window of a car after saying goodbye to a loved one as memory fades like a setting sun.
In “Come Into the Garden, 2003,” broken-up paint dabs of flickering pinks, greens, and blues obscure a vermilion blurriness and invite us to enter a garden, and allow ourselves to bathe in the luscious marks of the canvas.
This show reminds us that the craft of painting is thriving and that signature art doesn’t have to be cynical and solipsistic.