Howard Hodgkin, born in London in 1932, was a popular British artist known for his abstract paintings, many inspired by his regular travels to India as well as his friends and family.
Now on show at Gagosian gallery, Grosvenor Hill, Howard Hodgkin: Last Paintings exhibits the paintings Hodgkin made during the last years of his life, before his death in 2017, including the last six paintings he completed in India. The exhibition runs until 28 July 2018. Find out more here.
The exhibition is spread across two large rooms with a walkway between them, also displaying work. As you enter the first room, you are confronted by Portrait of the Artist Listening to Music, 2011-16, the largest painting in the room. The vibrant yellow and green, as well as the highlights of white, contrast with the darker tones of brown and grey which make up the majority of the painting. Arcs of colour create a sense of movement and the viewer is allowed to experience the creation of the painting through its visible brush marks and layering of paint. The direction of brush stroke and the particular marks made — such as the splodges of paint on the lefthand side spilling onto the frame — can easily be imagined as music; crescendos, the buildup of musical texture, the light and shade.
Known for painting expressive abstract works on wood, often covering the frame as well as the board itself, towards the end of his life Hodgkin began to leave more of the supporting panels exposed, applying less paint. Though his work did not become less expressive, there is a change of mood, a certain dialogue created between the exposed wood and the paint. This is especially noticeable in paintings such as Don't Tell a Soul, 2016 and And the Skies Are Not Cloudy All Day, 2007-8.
Don't Tell a Soul, 2016, oil on wood
There is a great sense of movement in much of Hodgkin's work, large brushstrokes with subtle changes of colour creates depth to his paintings. Indian Sea, 2016-17 is a good illustration of this; the flow and direction of the marks brings to mind the calm flowing of the sea as well as the seamless flow of different shades of blue.
Indian Sea, 2016-17, oil on wood
Leading into the next room, there is a small corridor which houses three paintings: My Only Sunshine, 2014-15, Now, 2015-16 and Knightsbridge, 2009-11. As I stood looking at My Only Sunshine I overheard a father ask his son what Now made him feel. The child responded that it made him feel happy. Hodgkin's paintings have the effect of making us feel when we look at them. They are full of emotion, deliberate marks creating a sensory experience. Now is a very strong painting. The yellow is made bright and fiery by the underlay of red, the bristles of the brush visible in the paint creating a three dimensional depth which stands out against the flatter colour of the red and the wooden board. The painting creates a immediacy, capturing a moment in time.
My favourite painting of the whole show is Knightsbridge. The thin, washy texture of the paint evokes mood, creating a sense of a rainy Knightsbridge. The layering up of paint gives depth, the dripping brown helping to reflect the mood, the colours representational of what the painting depicts.
Knightsbridge, 2009-11, oil on wood
As you enter the second room, your attention is drawn to And the Skies Are Not Cloudy All Day, 2007-8 on the far wall. It is the biggest painting in the entire exhibition, a collection of green brushstrokes. There are a mixture of marks: short, quick strokes intermingled with longer squiggly marks. In some instances, these latter marks echo the grain of the exposed wood creating a relationship between the two. The painting puts in mind a field of grass on a sunny day; the green paint acting as the areas where the light hits, the exposed wood perhaps indicating shadow.
And the Skies Are Not Cloudy All Day, 2007-8, oil on wood
As I walked around the second room, it struck me while looking at the paintings that even though they are very abstract, they somehow manage to perfectly evoke the thing or experience they are trying to depict. For instance, Toffee, 2012 with its velvety smooth brushes of paint, the dark burnt umber intermingled with caramel yellow and red.
The exhibition as a whole was very enjoyable and a fantastic display of Hodgkin's late works. I think it pays to look round the exhibition at least twice; I got a lot more from my second viewing than I did from my first. It was nice to see also some of the paintings from our book Howard Hodgkin: Painting India on the walls: Red Sky at Night, 2001-11, Indian Veg, 2013-14, Hello Bombay, 2016 and Darkness at Noon, 2016, amongst others. Our book, published last year in association with The Hepworth Wakefield, explores the influence India had on his work. It is available to buy from our website here.