The rhythmic osmosis between mind and matter
Hodgkin in Dhaka
Howard Hodgkin stepped into the British art scene in the swinging 60s with a palette of bold colours and a flourish of brushstrokes; with an acumen more akin to that of a craftsman, he exploited the tonality of his colours while engineering animated surfaces, where both forms and contents are deftly manipulated with the intention to transmute the subjective and emotive into an objective (picto)reality.
Hodgkin, an artist with a passion for his craft, is primarily a painter who often delves into printmaking displaying a penchant for capturing the temporal in a diction that bears the marks of an atemporal vision. The received sensory data is translated into an emotion-laden spatial construction with the playfulness of an expressionist whose creative impulse seems to arise out of a stoical truce with the inner self that unshackles one from the trauma of mental disquiet.
For the first time the art buffs of Bangladesh came face to face with the British artist, though in a reductive representation of his works, at Bengal Art Lounge, through a cooperative venture by Bengal Foundation and British Council, Dhaka. For artists and the public alike experiencing Hodgkin amounted to a renewal of the pleasure of looking. In Dhaka, the pleasure of the visual has been marred by both politically or aesthetically motivated anti-art and an onslaught of repetitious and failed surface paintings seen in the last couple of decades. Hodgkin, in this context, seemed to have redeemed the loss of vitality of the painted surface with an array of works that bespoke his encounters with the real filtered, as it is, through a poetic sensitivity.
Hodgkin's ties with the subcontinent dates back a long way through his passionate and long-sustained collection of Indian paintings and his frequent visit to India. His self-proclaimed 'realism' is heavily informed by an 'illusionism' which is 'evanescent, frail and difficult to establish' , as explained to David Sylvester, British art critic and curator. To him reality presents objects in the shape of ideas perceived out of an interplay between thoughts stimulated by a variety of fortuitous empirical conditions which makes the entity appear rather 'glancing and dematerialized'. Like the subtle architecture of a Sufi poem, his works become a palimpsest of his experience of the world translated and transformed into a mental image that seems to celebrate the very externality it depicts. The surface becomes a conduit – sparsely but voluptuously rendered – sending forth an invitation into the labyrinthine underbelly of reality by way of a mysterious but alluring alchemy of expressions.
Hodgkin's tryst with colour has a touch of the flanuer's absorption with objects of interest; the naïve intensity and irreverent abandon with which he 'appropriates' colour emerges in a unique manifestation of a desire to overturn all known semiotic associations of colour. Colours that vibrate, sizzle, seethe and are never stable seem to yield themselves to impressionistic 'marks' of varied textures or degrees of solidity that appear on canvas or wooden boards in direct correspondence to his own nuanced encounter with the subject-matter.
A passionate reveller of primal colours, his blotches, splodges and daubs – resembling the elemental units of an audio-visual register arrayed across the surface in an incandescent dance – appear to be perpetually engaged in the act of an ontological eruption, celebrating an originary arrival – testifying to his inviolable faith in the moment of epiphany. In works like Still-life in a Restaurant or Souvenir, each stroke though simple in execution speaks of an aesthetic gesture steeped in a psycho-physicality that is both stark and intuitive and wont to consciously forfeit the gambit of premeditation and contrivance. Yet, the spatial expanse of these strokes contains within its pale a mnemonic temporality that is both momentary and extant at the same time. The sweeps and swirls of colour stretch, curl around and interlock each other as an extended analogue of the artist's endeavour to arrive at the moment of 'truth', to strike a balance between colour and shape, fluidity and structure, between memory and living history. His works, thus, appear to be the outcome of an aesthetic volition wishing to bring an idea, a gesture to fruition by mulling and nurturing it over a period of time, yet, all the while anxiously evading the anticipation of a finality.
A romantic, no doubt, he is endowed with a rare clarity of perception as he unlocks the warp of time in lending visual existence to emotional experiences of a bygone moment with an evocative intensity that injects the past into the present, thus, creating a physical analogy of a plasma of sedimental memory wherewith, colours become visual metaphors for changing moods brought on by the flux of time.
Since the 80s, Jack Shirref has been his partner in the printmaking studio, a collaboration which resulted in complex techniques (the use of carborundum to achieve a surface relief) rendered into spectacular pictorial architecture. His paintings and prints complement each other, each assimilating the other's characteristics. His desire to explore printmaking, however, was prompted by a mathematic of multiplication. He claims to derive his creative inspiration from the pragmatic state of 'being in commission'.
Hodgkin is widely regarded as one of the most significant artists at work in Britain today. Renowned for his mastery of colour, Hodgkin was awarded the Turner Prize in 1965, was knighted in 1992 and has been the subject of many major retrospective exhibitions around the world.*
Howard Hodgkin's prints and paintings were showcased at Bengal Art Lounge, 12 April - 5 May, 2013.
* Quoted from an introduction of Hodgkin by the British Council, Dhaka.
Photo courtesy: the Bengal Art Lounge