Howard Hodgkin, 'Leaf', 2007-2009. Oil on wood, 25.1 x 28.9cm. Private Collection. © Howard Hodgkin. Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd.
Howard Hodgkin's new exhibition 'Time and Place' at Modern Art Oxford is something of a stylistic departure.
Hodgkin is a reputedly private man. Rarely does anyone see him in the act of making, even his long-term partner Antony Peattie. His work, as a result, emits a kind of intimacy that underscores his bold marks and colours. The 25 paintings on show in Oxford have been made within the last ten years, 11 of which have never been exhibited before.
Hodgkin remains elusive, and even though each work is associated with a personal event and identifies a time or a place, one can never quite get to the bottom of what he is saying or showing. The work intrigues: composed of bright, boldly-painted, colour, the paintings are made of fewer layers and re-workings than are apparent in his earlier work. These works touch the figurative more closely, but remain essentially abstract in gesture.
Howard Hodgkin, 'Saturday', 2005-2008. Oil on wood, 121.9 x 194.3. © Howard Hodgkin. Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd.
'The frame is an active ingredient for Hodgkin,' says Paul Luckraft, exhibition organiser for the show, which is immediately obvious when looking at works like Saturday (above), where an old, decorative frame borders a two-tone abstract: not the kind of frame you would expect to frame this sort of painting, but Hodgkin breaks the mould, often fitting the work to the frame, not the frame to the work.
Howard Hodgkin, 'Privacy and Self-Expression in the Bedroom', 2004-2006. Oil on wood, 114.9 x 153.7cm. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid. © Howard Hodgkin. Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd.
The only work in Oxford showing any similarity to his earlier works with their layer upon layer of bright brushstroke, is this picture (above). Fluorescing dabs of orange and red peep through from behind the rich navy blue brushstroke-frame.
Ultimately, Hodgkin gives us fun with feeling: when colour predominates we are left musing as to what lies behind his seductive brushstrokes. And just to add some icing to an already delicious cake, the Ashmolean is displaying Howard Hodgkin's collection of Mughal elephant drawings: another ingredient to add to the mix.
Elephant in rut, Kota, 1680–1700. Male elephants become frenzied and aggressive during their rutting season when they are said to be mast (‘drunken’, ‘intoxicated’). This mast elephant tears wildly at his tethering chains, while the mahout and attendants with spears and firecrackers strive to control him. Image © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford