Howard Hodgkins at the National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh. LISTINGS: GLASGOW 62 EDINBURGH 66 MUSEUMS 69
Abstract, yet rooted in the real, utterly English, yet engaged with Venice, Howard Hodgkin’s work contains major paradoxes. Andrew Patrizio previews his first major exhibition since 1984.
Howard Hodgkin is often perceived as being an abstract painter. His art exemplifies emotional discreteness and control. a clipped exuberance
things,but his own
where aggressively painted passages of bright colours can. over years. he covered up. or boxed in. or perforated with yet more dots.
Yet. whatever the initial appearance ofhis paintings. they are primarily figurative works. rooted in the artist‘s personal experience. with at least a tangential relation to perceived reality. It is just that he uses an abstract painter‘s ‘tool kit‘ in order to realise and develop his paintings. ls this using the wrong ‘tools‘ for the job‘.’
In the exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. small paintings in acres
of space ﬂoat like islands across the walls. As their subject is chiefly Venice. this in itself acts as some kind ofvisual pun. That city has long beguiled English artists. most notably Turner. and in this century Walter Sickert. Certainly Hodgkin has looked to both for inspiration. and unlike Thomas Mann's Mahler. he has found nothing but Life in Venice. There must be something which strongly connects these two independent island mentalities of Venice and Britain and has caused the latter‘s painters to seek a variety of metaphors and subjects in the former‘s mystique.
Turner. the most famous English artist to visit the city. made the very air around Venice palpable. vibrating with steamy colour. Hodgkin too. is at his most profound when he attempts to paint the three-dimensional space. in his case. usually that which surrounds people. Sickert. in his densely opulent Venetian interiors. used such a powerfully decorative method ofpainting that the rooms are almost too full to accommodate people. The way that Hodgkin piles on layer after layer ofcolour within a strongly delineated box gives each work a theatrical. even operatic, ﬂair. His is a very staged kind ofspontaneity — again chiefly due to his use ofabstract techniques to articulate real scenes.
In Sickert‘s art. the mystique was chiefly sexual and Hodgkin is at the very least full of sensuality. however self-consiously controlled. Another source for tightly restricted. but formally inventive sensuality is in Indian art. which feeds into Hodgkin’s work and has been developed through his many trips to India. There are more poetic associations here back to Venice - when it acted as Europe‘s gateway to the East. These ‘Byzantine' connections are encapsulated in a work such as Venetian Glass ( 1984—7). which draws on a detail ofa rich piece ofstained glass.
In both the works and titles. Hodgkin has encouraged a jokey romance - rooted in biography and Pop Art — for example. In the Honeymoon Suite ( 1983—5 ). None but the Brave Deserves the Fair ( 1981—4). Clean Sheets ( 1982—4) and most coy of all. A Small Thing but My Own (1983—85). ()nly (‘lean Sheets is in this exhibition and although the ‘honeymoon‘ has moved to Venice. the romance has continued. albeit on a more sublime level. Landscape as a subject is particularly strong in the Venetian series and not surprisingly Turner's reﬂections. horizons and dancing lights come to mind readily in Venice Shadows ( Niall—8) and Small view in Venice ( 1984—5).
Hodgkin's hedonism may not be to everyone's taste and his acceptance into established circles within the art world in itself raises more questions than it answers. Yet Hodgkin is no naive painter. and his sophistication has an edge and a rigour which makes for an engaging show.
Howard Hodgkin .' Small Paintings 1975—1989 are at the National Gallery of.’llorlern A rt.
Edinburgh. 8 [)ee 1 990-24 Feb I 99/. The List 7 — 3U December [090 63