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“Howard Hodgkin, Whose Paintings Were Coded With Emotion, Dies at 84,” By William Grimes

Howard Hodgkin in 2010, in front of a detail from his painting “Where the Deer and the Antelope Play” (2001-2007). Credit Christopher Furlong/Getty Images


“Howard Hodgkin, Whose Paintings Were Coded With Emotion, Dies at 84”

By WILLIAM GRIMES


Howard Hodgkin, a British artist whose lush, semiabstract paintings, aquiver with implicit drama, established him as one of the most admired artists of the postwar period, died on Thursday in London. He was 84.

The Tate Galleries announced his death but did not specify a cause.

Mr. Hodgkin was a relative latecomer to fame. A slow, methodical worker who could spend years building up a painting’s surface, he did not have a solo show until he was 30, and for years thereafter toiled against the grain, his work at odds with prevailing fashion.

His globs and stipples and smears — seemingly brisk and impulsive, but painstakingly applied and endlessly revised — ravished. On the Tate’s website, Nicholas Serota, the departing director of the museums, called Mr. Hodgkin “one of the great artists and colorists of his generation.”

But his coded emotional settings seemed elusive, even baffling, as did his stylistic relationship to current art. In Britain he was seen as an abstract painter, in the United States as representational — a puzzle.

“I never expected anyone to be interested in my pictures, and there were years when I couldn’t even get my friends to look at them,” Mr. Hodgkin told The New York Times in 1990.

His paintings in the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1984 propelled him into the top echelon of international artists. Seductive and arresting, they showed an artist at the height of his powers, and audiences responded.

“Not since Robert Rauschenberg’s appearance at the Biennale 20 ago has a show by a single painter so hogged the attention of visitors, or looked so effortlessly superior to everything else on view by living artists,” the critic Robert Hughes wrote in Time magazine.

He added: “Here the wearisome traits of much contemporary art, its honking rhetoric, its unconvincing urgency, its arid ‘appropriations’ of motifs, are left at the door, and the slow-surfacing complexities of mature, articulate painting greet the eye.”

“Going to America,” 1999.  CreditHoward Hodgkin, All Rights Reserved

“Going to America,” 1999.
CreditHoward Hodgkin, All Rights Reserved

Link to New York Times slide show: https://nyti.ms/2m7TJSY

Mr. Hodgkin won the Turner Prize a year later, and as major gallery and museum exhibitions in Britain and the United States followed, one after the other, his distinctive blend of bravura brushwork, emotional depth and sense of mystery began to hold sway. He came to be seen as a highly original interpreter of the dramas that unfold in intimate, interior space, an heir to Bonnard and Vuillard.

“On the subject of sitting rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms and balconies neither Hodgkin’s eye nor his hand has ever failed him,” the critic John Russell wrote in The New York Times Magazine in 1990. “He is all-seeing on the subject of hotels, restaurants, private collections, public parks, costume jewelry, human exchanges of all kinds and day-to-day weather reporting. Manners and mores, ups and downs, ins and outs — all have their place in his paintings.

“He can make a wet afternoon in summer feel like the most blissful thing that ever happened,” he continued, “and when he summons up the quintessence of a restaurant (in London, by the way, not in Paris) he makes us want to stand up and shout for the menu.”

Gordon Howard Eliot Hodgkin was born in London on Aug. 6, 1932, to a Quaker family with an illustrious pedigree in the arts and sciences. His father, Eliot, was a manager at Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) and a well-known horticulturalist. His mother, the former Katharine Hewart, daughter of the Lord Chief Justice of England, Gordon Hewart, was a homemaker and botanical illustrator.

With German air raids looming, Howard was evacuated in 1940 with his mother and sister to Long Island, where he stayed with family friends for three years.

After returning to Britain, he attended a variety of expensive schools, including Eton, and ran away from most of them, finding little encouragement for his determination to become an artist — his goal since the age of 5.

He painted on his own, and during a return visit to Long Island in 1947, he began going to galleries and museums in New York City, looking closely at the work of Matisse, Degas, Bonnard and Vuillard. One of his earliest works, the 1949 gouache “Memoirs,” served as a marker for the themes that would preoccupy him in the coming years.

Judith Higgins wrote in Art News in 1985, “Highly stylized, fiercely outlined and angular, humming with erotic currents, ‘Memoirs’ announced the subject of all Hodgkin’s subsequent work: the great tradition in French painting — figures in an interior — transmuted, in Hodgkin’s case, by memory.”

In 1949 he gained admission to the Camberwell School of Art in London, where he studied briefly under Victor Pasmore and William Coldstream, the leading figures in the Euston Road School. He spent four years at the Bath Academy of Art in Corsham, where he studied with Clifford Ellis.

“Chowpatty Beach,” 1990-1991. Credit Howard Hodgkin, All Rights Reserved, via Gagosian

“Chowpatty Beach,” 1990-1991. Credit Howard Hodgkin, All Rights Reserved, via Gagosian

In 1955 he married Julia Lane, a fellow student at Corsham. They later separated. He is survived by their two sons, Louis and Sam.

Mr. Hodgkin was given a one-man show at Arthur Tooth and Sons in 1962, but for years he depended on teaching to make a living. In the mid-1950s he began lecturing at Charterhouse School. He later taught at the Bath Academy of Art and the Chelsea School of Art.

He produced mostly small-scale works until late in his career, on canvas at first but, beginning in the late 1960s, only on wood, usually old boards scavenged from London antique shops. In violation of the tenets of American abstraction, he embraced the frame, emphasizing its presence by painting on it directly, or including framing rectangles in the painting.

The strongly geometric forms of the early painting evolved into looser, brushier images that teased the idea of figuration. In “Jealousy” (1977), a red mass, barely human, coils angrily within a frame-like rectangle. The leaning, spotted rectangles in “Dinner at Smith Square” (1975-79) suggest, just barely, two people conversing over a table.

“I am a representational painter but not a painter of appearances,” Mr. Hodgkin told the critic David Sylvester in 1976. “I paint representational pictures of emotional situations.”

His reputation grew. He had his first show in New York in 1973, and in 1976 Mr. Serota organized his first museum exhibition, at the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford. In 1995 the Metropolitan Museum of Art organized the traveling exhibition “Howard Hodgkin: Paintings 1975–1995,” and in 2006 Tate Britain mounted a 50-year survey of his work.

If Mr. Hodgkin never quite rose to the celebrity rank of Lucian Freud or David Hockney, by the time he was knighted, in 1992, he stood at the threshold of “living treasure” status.

“To be an honest artist now, you have to make your own language, and for me that has taken a very long time,” he told Mr. Sylvester for the catalog to “Howard Hodgkin: Forty Paintings, 1973-84,” a traveling exhibition that incorporated many of the paintings from the Biennale.

Mr. Hodgkin was an interviewer’s nightmare, notoriously reticent about his work and unhappy analyzing its meaning. He made it clear that art was a slow and painful business. At the same time, he confessed to feeling a sense of exhilaration in his final years.

“I don’t care a damn about what happens when I’m dead, but I do have a sense of increased urgency,” he told The Guardian in 2001. “And I think it’s made me more courageous.”


By William Grimes, Reprint from The New York Times, 9 March 2017, © 2017 The New York Times Company.

Adrift in a dreamworld – the genius of Michael Andrews… By JONATHAN JONES

‘Melting in the heat’ … Permanent Water Mutidjula, by the Kunia Massif, 1985, by Michael Andrews. Photograph: © The Estate of Michael Andrews. Courtesy James Hyman Gallery, London and Gagosian.


“Adrift in a dreamworld – the genius of Michael Andrews makes us doubt our own eyes”

‘He left behind 1950s Soho to spraypaint wondrous landscapes full of rocks, shadows and mystery. This show finally captures the brilliance of Michael Andrews’

By JONATHAN JONES


In his painting The Colony Room I, Michael Andrews pays homage to two giants of British art. You can’t miss them. One is a short, orange-haired figure in a bomber jacket turned away from us with his paunch spilling out of his trousers. This is unmistakably Francis Bacon. “Champagne for my real friends, real pain for my sham friends!” the gutter genius is no doubt declaiming, as was his wont. From the group around him, a keen angular face stares out of the painting – and you sense with discomfort that you are being sized up by the all-seeing eyes of Lucian Freud.

It might seem dangerous to open a Michael Andrews exhibition in this way, given the artist often gets dismissed as one of the so-called School of London painters who worked in the shadow of Freud and Bacon. And this work isn’t just a reminder of their fierce glamour – other Soho bohemians mill around in this louche history painting, too. So is Andrews just part of that crowd, an interesting bit player in the story of modern British art?

Perhaps, at the end of the 1950s, he was, having just turned 30 (he was born in 1928). Yet this beguiling exhibition at the Gagosian in London takes us on a hot-air balloon ride far from the madding Colony Room crowd, into realms of quietness and vastness where he truly found himself as an artist. It is the rare kind of show that changes a reputation for ever. By hunting down a dazzling array of his very best paintings and displaying them in perfect light with plenty of space, the Gagosian is doing what a public gallery should have done by now: proving that Andrews, who died in 1995, is the poetic equal of Bacon and Freud.

‘Fierce glamour’ … Bacon and Freud glimpsed in The Colony Room I, 1962, by Michael Andrews. Photograph: © The Estate of Michael Andrews. Courtesy James Hyman Gallery, London.

‘Fierce glamour’ … Bacon and Freud glimpsed in The Colony Room I, 1962, by Michael Andrews. Photograph: © The Estate of Michael Andrews. Courtesy James Hyman Gallery, London.

I recently met the owner of his masterpiece Lights VII: A Shadow (1974) at a party. Lucky bastard, I said. This painting has haunted me ever since I was a teenager, when I knew it as the cover image of The Penguin Book of Contemporary Poetry, published in 1982. The book’s designer made a brilliant choice – because this is painting as post-modern poetry. The shadow of a hot air balloon is moving gently across a beach. Painted in flickering yet precise detail, the dark image cast onto bright sand is beautifully real, but it’s not real at all. It is merely a shadow.

To paint an object just by its shadow recalls the ancient philosopher Plato’s claim that we are like prisoners in a cave where a fire burns, seeing not real things but only their shadows on the wall. Andrews seems to be saying that art too is just a shadow, a secondary glimpse of a life elsewhere. When you look at the painting in its opulent frame, you realise that reality is failing in other ways, too. For the great turquoise expanse of sea that laps the beach is not quite in perspective: what at first seems to be a literal depiction looks, on second glance, more like two expanses of abstract colour, blue over sandy yellow. It could be a Mark Rothko abstraction but for the shadow of the balloon. That shadow is all that makes this moment real.

Who is in the balloon? In other paintings in the Lights series, we see the actual balloon, but it is just as elusive, just as coolly distant. In one, a black balloon passes over the Thames by night in an echo of Whistler’s Nocturnes. In another, a yellow balloon glides above the soft green English countryside in summer.

Gradually you realise why these paintings are so eerily tentative and dreamlike. They are done with a spraygun. Today, sprayguns are often associated with in-your-face street art, yet in the 1970s Andrews began mixing acrylics and water in a spraygun to create landscapes of a Japanese delicacy. His visions of countryside passed over on a hot summer day, or seen from such a high viewpoint he might be in a balloon’s basket himself, have a frozen wonder that makes me hear pastoral psychedelia. Were some of these used as 1970s album covers? No, but they should have been.

‘Coolly distant’ … detail of Lights VII: A Shadow, 1974, by Michael Andrews. Photograph: © The Estate of Michael Andrews. Courtesy James Hyman Gallery, London.

‘Coolly distant’ … detail of Lights VII: A Shadow, 1974, by Michael Andrews. Photograph: © The Estate of Michael Andrews. Courtesy James Hyman Gallery, London.

Andrews’ art may ache with alienation but it glows with awe. In Australia, he found landscapes so strange and colossal that, to question the very foundations of reality, all he had to do was paint them. The vast rocks of the Olgas and Uluru rise up in spray-painted stains of redness, marked with black holes of caves and swirls of vegetation, above trees that look like they are melting in the heat.

These huge paintings do justice to nature at its wildest in a way that bears comparison with Turner – yet the geology they reveal, under an empty blue sky, is so bizarre it mocks the very act of representing. Andrews does what all the School of London artists in postwar Britain were trained to do: he just paints what he sees. And the result leads us to doubt our own eyes, as the ochre masses of Australia’s rocks turn into abstract shapes, coloured stains.

There is something rare and enigmatic happening in Andrews’ art. From 1970 onwards, he appears to withdraw from the crowd, to stand back from the world. The spraygun method he used perfectly mirrors his decision to abandon portraits for landscape, for it removes his direct physical touch from the painting surface. He is not pressing a brush down, not making his mark. The paintings appear to be made passively, in a reverie. They well up out of the light and shadow. Looking at the world from far away, with a mystical scepticism, he sees it as marvellous but not quite real. Just a shadow on the shore.


Exhibition:

“Michael Andrews: Earth Air Water”
January 20 – March 25, 2017
Gagosian, London
20 Grosvenor Hill, London
http://bit.ly/2jCxeZ6


By Jonathan Jones, Reprint from TheGuardian.com, 22 January 2017, © 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies.