Howard Hodgkin was a British painter whose abstraction blurred the boundaries between gesture, decoration, support, and frame to explore the role and manifestation of memory and emotion.Read More
Born in London, Hodgkin moved during the Second World War with his mother and sister to the United States, where they lived on Long Island. Hodgkin spent three years in New York, where he was deeply influenced by the paintings of Stuart Davis, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso in The Museum of Modern Art. Returning to the United Kingdom in 1943, he cut short his ensuing education at both Eton and Bryanston School in Dorset to pursue a career in art. Between 1949 and 1950, he attended the Camberwell College of Arts, followed by Bath Academy of Art in Corsham, graduating in 1954.
Throughout his career, Hodgkin remained on the fringes of popular artistic movements, from the Euston Road School to the swell of Pop art in the 1960s. His first solo exhibition was in London in 1962 with Arthur Tooth & Sons. By 1976, when Nicholas Serota organised his first museum show at Modern Art Oxford, Hodgkin had established his signature style of fluid strokes in highly pigmented colour.
Hodgkin’s distinct abstract style was preceded, however, by an earlier, more angular, geometric composition. Painted at the tender age of 17, Memoirs (1949) is one of the artist’s earliest recorded paintings, capturing him listening intently to a female figure with long red fingernails as she lies on a sofa—a painting that he cites as having helped him realise that his work would always revolve around notions of memory.
Having first developed an interest in Indian miniatures at Eton, Hodgkin first visited India in 1964 and would regularly return there throughout his life. He was an avid collector of Indian art, amassing over 115 paintings and drawings, many from the Mughal period (c. 1550–1850). In 1978, the artist spent a long period in Ahmedabad in Gujerat experimenting with vegetable dies on handmade Indian Khadi paper, producing richly hued works featuring abstract and organic forms. In Mango (1978), for instance, the pointed shape of a mango is framed by broad bands of red, overlaid in green. Later, in 1992, he designed a mural for the British Council in India’s Charles Correa-designed headquarters, creating an expansive monochrome banyan tree.
In 1984, Hodgkin represented Britain at the Venice Biennale, and that exhibition—Forty Paintings—was restaged in 1985 at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, the same year he won the Turner Prize. He was knighted in 1992, and a further series of important museum exhibitions took place up until his death in 2017. In 1995, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York opened a major solo exhibition for the artist, which later travelled to the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas; Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen, Düsseldorf; and Hayward Gallery, London. A major exhibition of his work was mounted in 2006 at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, followed by Tate Britain, London, and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid.
Tessa Moldan | Ocula | 2019