The Art of Howard Hodgkin

The TimesOnline article says that many interviews with Hodgkin mention that he is reticent and intimidating, and he is widely reputed to be irascible and a bit of a pressure cooker. Sir Nicholas Serota, director of Tate Galleries, says: “He is highly emotional. It is not difficult to make Howard cry, but it is not an affectation. His emotions are very close to the surface and are there in the depth of colour he uses in his paintings.” Certain subjects seem off limits – no one writes about Hodgkin’s private life, beyond recycling that he was a married father of two when he came out as gay in the late Seventies. Last year, the critics gave him a kicking for a career-spanning retrospective at the Tate, so it’s surprising that he’s entering the fray again with this show. But he’s “exacting”, as he puts it, and determined to gain recognition, which amazingly he doesn’t feel he has, despite his public, if not critical, popularity and the large sums paid for his works. Some of the pictures take years to complete, like Ozone, which he started in 2004 and finished only last year. Serota tells me Hodgkin can sit for “hours, days, weeks” planning each painting. Four new works (Hodgkin has still to complete the fourth) are taken from the chorus to Home on the Range, a cowboy song he heard when he was eight. I ask Barker (tufty-haired, utterly discreet) if he enjoys working with Hodgkin. “Very much. I can’t unravel the mysteries of him. Twelve years is a long time, so I must enjoy it.” Hodgkin is dressed in black with close-cropped white hair and has a rich, honeyed, lugubrious voice. He won’t say if he’s happy with the new works (“That would make me a hostage to fortune”), but admits that he has been working hard. Why? “Old age,” he shoots back. “I think the time comes when you think, ‘Well there’s not much time left.’ When I was your age I thought time was endless and suddenly it becomes clear that it’s not.” We’re getting deep very quickly. Does he consider his own mortality? “Yes. I don’t have some terrible medical reason or anything like that. It’s just that there are so many things I want to have done and I haven’t done them all.” Julian Barnes, his good friend, has sent him a copy of his new book, Nothing to be Frightened Of, which is about death. It sums up Hodgkin’s attitude, too. He wants to do “better work”, and “more expressive” work specifically. This is said so laceratingly that I ask if he is hard on himself. “I think all artists are. That’s not unusual. It sounds very egotistical, but I think I mind what I think more than perhaps what anyone else does.” As he ages, he dislikes “losing control, which of course happens. I haven’t so far lost any physical control of what I use when I’m working, but I can’t walk as far as I once could.” And the hobble? “I’ve been ill,” he says. “Do I look frail? Two years ago I lost my balance, which was a very unnerving thing. I was in a house in France and the floor was concrete. I was leaning on a marble table. I slipped and hit my head on the floor. My balance has mostly come back but not completely.” Even when he’s having his daily afternoon rest he still paints and repaints, “in my head”. But he is happiest in his studio. “A picture is finished when it is finished,” he says when I ask about the duration of some of his works. “In the end the paintings subsume the subject.” Will he take me through any of the events that have inspired these works? “That’s something I always avoid doing, because it doesn’t tell you anything.” The picture does the job? “Exactly.” (For full source and full article click the Headline). Irish Art