Sunday, March 12, 2017
The great British painter Howard Hodgkin died last week at the age of 84. He was never quite the celebrity that Francis Bacon was or Lucian Freud. Fame and success came to him relatively late in life. I can't think of any other contemporary artist whose work is such a pleasure just to look at. These lush beautifully colored paintings are such a joy, that it is surprising to learn how much effort they cost Hodgkin. The easy unforced quality of these paintings is an illusion. He would spend months and even years struggling with these pictures, building up their rich surfaces with slow painstaking effort.
Hodgkin fit into contemporary art only with great difficulty. No claims are being made. There is no novelty, no expensive technological effects. There are no clever quotations or samplings from other art. There are no volumes of text. They are just paintings and nothing more. And yet, painting was seldom more beautiful or so rich an experience than it was in Hodgkin's work.
Though he has now passed away, his work will be around to delight and inspire generations to come. Critics pronounced the death of painting and wrote its obituary as early as 1839 when photography came along (an invention of painters). Hodgkin was one of those artists who remind us why we still value painting, why Duchamp's prophecy of someone someday using a Rembrandt for an ironing board has yet to come to pass. There are just some areas of experience and feeling that only painting can reach. Thus, even in an age saturated with imagery, with increasingly vivid illusions created by technology, painting flourishes everywhere in all cultures, among all races, and in all classes. Seldom did it flourish so richly as in the hands of Howard Hodgkin.
Posted by Counterlight at Sunday, March 12, 2017