Sunday 17 December 2017

Going for a Walk by Howard Hodgkin (born 1932)

Niall MacMonagle

Sad and cheerful is how 80-year-old Howard Hodgkin describes As Time Goes By, that unforgettable song from Casablanca, a title he also used for one of his etchings because, says Hodgkin, "it describes life itself". But cheerful almost always wins out when it comes to Hodgkin's brilliant compositions.

Hodgkin paints 10-12 paintings a year, usually on wood, and has shown his work worldwide – Hong Kong, Rome, New York, Beverly Hills and, right now, Galway, where his hand-coloured prints are on show.

The biog is colourful, too: Hodgkin ran away from several schools, including Eton, spent the war on Long Island, contemplated suicide in his 30s, married and had two sons in the 1950s, was a teacher for a while but thought teaching "a substitute life", separated in 1975, declared himself homosexual and is now a gay icon.

Though honoured by the establishment – he is both Sir Howard and a Companion of Honour – Hodgkin dismisses HRH Prince Charles who viewed a commissioned, monumental Hodgkin in New Delhi, one of Hodgkin's own favourites. The best Charles could manage was: "When you get closer to it, it's really striking".

He also dismissed Margaret Thatcher who, when Hodgkin told her that the re-roofing of the National Gallery was dependent on "the kindness of strangers", claimed it was "a quotation she naturally didn't recognise – perhaps fortunately". But he cherishes the moment at his retrospective at New York's MOMA when a man told him "Stop driving my wife mad!" People are seduced by his gorgeous colours, his mysterious, alluring narratives.

In Going for a Walk the image says look, come on, let's go. The reds give way to a deep blue, yellow and green world beyond with its dramatic black, a world contrastingly and invitingly at ease; the frame is never an ornament or a distraction. Hodgkin incorporates it into the work.

He works every day and "about 90 per cent of the time in my studio is spent on a contemplation and analysis of my work and only 10 per cent on actually painting". Memory is a key to Hodgkin's world. He recreates in his painting "emotional situations" that are intimately personal and prefers the word "marks" to "brushstrokes".

Unique from the word go, he's still making his marks.

Howard Hodgkin's exhibition continues at the Absolut Festival Gallery, Galway Arts Festival until July 28.

Irish Independent

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