Howard Hodgkin

Howard Hodgkin feels his way through the world in colour. It conveys desire, longing and loss in equal measure. And in the new work it has outgrown its intimate frame (although the frame remains, as a container of vision and experience), to embrace the viewer more wholeheartedly. If ‘As Time Goes By’ is the subject of the work it also suggests the time taken to resolve the image (the patient assembly of inks and processes in the printer’s studio), as well as the nature of its visual reception, simultaneously rapid and instinctive and slow and cumulative.

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The sensory pleasure it evokes (appropriately for an artist long preoccupied with the light and colour of India) is comparable to that of the Marwari paintings now showing at the British Museum (‘Garden & Cosmos’: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur). It is there in the sensual expanse of their walled gardens and pavilions, and particularly in the vivid depiction of the Holi festival, in which splashes of  colour are released over the elegant pale surfaces with the same joyful abandon that Hodgkin achieves. The riot is all the more striking for the orderly confinement, physical and psychological, within which it is enacted.

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He is one of many artists drawn eastward, although his work belongs more to the garden than the cosmos, to the realm of appearance rather than the reality that exists beneath and beyond the temporal surface. The golden emptiness of ‘The Emergence of Spirit and Matter’ recalls James Lee Byer’s gilded chamber (currently on display at the Guggenheim New York), and draws inevitable parallels with other kinds of numinous space (Newman, Rothko) in which form arises from the formless.  Emptiness suggests timelessness, and the final extinguishing of that desire which shapes our conscious hours. If Hodgkin’s painting celebrates the garden’s momentary splendour, those of the Jodhpur court reveal their illusory nature, and indicate the stateless void that lies beyond it’s fecund enclosure.

Howard Hodgkin: ‘As Time Goes By’. Alan Cristea Gallery, to 11 July 2009.

Garden & Cosmos. British Museum, to 23 August 2009.