Sir Howard Hodgkin b. 1932

Provenance

Knoedler & Company Gallery, New York
Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
Acquired by the present owner in 2007

Exhibitions

New York, Leo Castelli Gallery, The Foundation for Contemporary Performance Art, Drawings, 30th Anniversary Exhibition, 1993 (details untraced).

Description

`I have read you don’t like talking about your work?

I think it is partly the English obsession with words, what the picture’s about. That it should speak for itself and it mostly does. I just paint pictures with emotional situations. But all the colours and shapes I use have some sort of meaning to me. The subject matter of my pictures is something I feel very much a professional secret because if I didn’t have that subject I couldn’t paint that picture. I’m trying to show it. I never try and understand anything I do it’s a waste of time’. (Tate Shots video, 14 November 2014)

Hodgkin does not set out to paint what the world looks like, but what it feels like. Painters are to some extent a product of the time in which they paint and an artist’s idea of what realism could or should be is twinned with modern day experience and the styles of painting that have preceded them. Since the age of seven, Hodgkin has always had a plethora of ideas. However it is only memories that he chooses to paint with a powerful emotional punch that convert into works of art. Hodgkin is not a colourist as colour is not the dominant feature of his work; colour is used to communicate his emotional situations.

Works on paper by Howard Hodgkin are rare for the simple fact that he has made far more works on canvas. In a Green Mirror, 1991, was donated by Hodgkin to the Foundation of Contemporary Performance Arts 30th anniversary benefit exhibition held at the Leo Castelli Gallery, New York in 1993. The foundation originated in 1962 when Jasper Johns, John Cage and Robert Rauschenberg came together to help Merce Cunningham and his dance company finance a proposed season on Broadway by arranging for a sale of their artworks. Their fund-raising efforts were so successful that they set up the Foundation of Contemporary Performance Arts in 1963.

It is important to note this work was not simply conceived for this selling exhibition. It was executed two years prior to the exhibition and remained in Hodgkin’s possession until then. It is clearly an essential work as it is only one of thirty-five works on paper that Hodgkin illustrates as representative of his oeuvre on his official online website.

In a Green Mirror, 1991, is one of the first examples of Hodgkin’s works that feels like a dark mirror. Discussing what is meant by the term dark mirror and the significance of the green in the work, Andrew Graham-Dixon explains:

`Many of the later pictures offer – as the title of one of them has it – a kind of Dark Mirror (1999) Looking at them can sometimes feel like trying to look at what you see when your eyes are closed. Perhaps Lawrence Gowing was onto an important truth about Hodgkin’s work when he remarked – in a characteristically light but penetrating aside - ``His paintings make me dream about appearances…’’

Joham Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) wrote in his diary one day in 1833:

“I had entered an inn towards evening, and, as a well-favoured girl with a brilliantly fair complexion, black hair, and a scarlet bodice, came into the room, I looked attentively at her as she stood before me at some distance in half shadow. As she presently afterwards turned away, I saw on the white wall, which was now before me, a black face surrounded with a bright light, while the dress of the perfectly distinct figure appeared of a beautiful sea-green.”

Goethe was interested in colour theory, and intrigued by the way in which the experience of staring at one colour can subsequently produce the sensation – once that first colour has been removed or, as in this case, has absented itself – of staring at its complementary. Thus, green being the complimentary of red, the figure in the scarlet bodice still registers on the eye, after she has left the room, as an after image of ‘beautiful sea-green.’

But for all the acuity with which he describes the striking effects of complementaries, Goethe hardly emerges from the inn that evening as a model of empirical objectivity. He writes about staring at a pretty girl. In other words, he writes about what emotion can do to a visual experience, and about the ways in which feeling – as well as the laws that govern perception – can complicate and alter what you see, or think you see. After all, if Goethe had not been staring so intensely (if the waitress had not been so pretty) he would never have experienced the phantom figure of the complementary. The experience doubtless changed in the remembering of it, too’ (A. Graham-Dixon, Howard Hodgkin, Thames & Hudson, London, 2001, pp.184-5)

It is moments such as this, when vision, inner vision and emotion merge, that Hodgkin’s paintings continue so powerfully to evoke.