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Howard Hodgkin at IMMA

A major retrospective of the work of Howard Hodgkin, one of Britain’s leading post-war painters, opens to the public at the Irish Museum of Modern Art on Wednesday 22 February 2006. Howard Hodgkin is a comprehensive survey of the artist’s work, presenting recent works alongside those from earlier decades. It brings together some 50 key paintings, from the 1960s to date, which epitomise the qualities which have made Hodgkin one of the most popular painters of his time – his original use of colour, his ability to straddle so effectively the boundary between representation and abstraction and his masterly evocation and distillation of emotions, memories and events. The exhibition is presented in association with The Irish Times and H&K International.

The opportunity to view works from throughout the artist’s career is particularly important to a full appreciation of Hodgkin’s art. In a catalogue essay for his 1995 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Chief Curator Michael Auping argues that “to appreciate Hodgkin’s ultimate accomplishments requires us to look at his early career almost as closely as his later, highly-prized work.”

Howard Hodgkin began exhibiting in the 1960s, mainly portraits and domestic interiors focussing on specific events. Even at this early stage his interest in reconciling figuration and abstraction, and in representing events and memories with painterly symbols, was becoming evident in works such as Mr and Mrs Robyn Denny, 1960. It was during this period that Hodgkin also made the first of many visits to India, which was to become the subject of many subsequent paintings, such as Bombay Sunset, 1972-73, and Foy Nissen’s Bombay, 1975-77. These visits also saw the beginning of a passionate interest in collecting Indian paintings and drawings, and aspects of classical Indian painting – such as its bold colouration and its intimate settings – are seen by some commentators as influencing Hodgkin’s own style.

In the 1970s, the various elements with which Hodgkin had been experimenting came together in a more complete way. His interest in creating zones of space within a painting and using this not just to suggest depth and texture, but also to direct the viewer through the picture and any suggested narrative, became more evident. In Talking About Art, 1975, a varied selection of shapes and colours are employed to suggest the animated conversations frequently heard in discussions of art. As in so many of Hodgkin’s images, at the core of this and other works from this period is a recollection of something the artist experienced in a particular setting. The now famous Hodgkin trademark of painting on the picture frame, and making it an integral part of the work, also began to appear about this time in, for example, Sad Flowers, 1979-85.

Hodgkin work underwent a further transition in the 1980s, with his technique becoming looser and more gestural. In many of the works from this period, heated emotional – often erotic – subjects permeate his pictures. Figures and props disappear, as raw emotional states are depicted in pure colour. Visits to exotic locations continued, especially to India, Africa and the Mediterranean. His Venice paintings, such as Venice in Autumn, 1986-89 and Venice Sunset, 1989, although created with a series of broad brush strokes like other paintings of this period, are, nonetheless, surprisingly exact depictions of their titles. Another feature of these works is the unusual thickness of the frame, which Hodgkin compares to Turner’s use of a similar device for some of his smaller pictures. “[it] has to do with my instinct that the more tenuous or fleeting the emotion you want to present the more you feel you have  to protect it.” These echoes of previous generations is a further fascinating aspect of Hodgkin’s oeuvre. His use of colour, for example, has been likened to that of Matisse, and his ability to conjure up moods in which figures merge into their surroundings to that of Vuillard and Bonnard.

In the 1990s Hodgkin began experimenting with larger formats, which allowed him to use even bolder and more expressive brush strokes, and more open spaces. This development continued into the new millennium and was seen to spectacular effect at an exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in New York in 2003, in Come into the Garden, Maud, 2000-03, Undertones of War, 2000-03, and other works. These more recent works also strike a new and darker note, confronting such complex emotions as the passing of time and the loss of friends.

Howard Hodgkin was born in London in 1932. He was evacuated to the United States during the Second World War, living on Long Island from 1940 to 1943. He studied at Camberwell School of Art and at the Bath Academy of Art, Corsham, where he also taught. Following shows in Britain and Europe in the 1970s, he represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1984 and was awarded the Turner Prize in 1985. He was knighted in 1992. A retrospective of his work was organised by the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas, and toured to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Kunstverein fur die Rheinlände and Westfalen, Düsseldorf, and the Hayward Gallery, London, in 1995-97. The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, mounted an exhibition of his large paintings to celebrate his 70th birthday in 2002.

Howard Hodgkin is curated by Nicholas Serota, Director, Tate, and Enrique Juncosa, Director, IMMA. It will also be shown at Tate Britain in London and at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (MNCARS) in Madrid.

Howard Hodgkin will be in conversation with Enrique Juncosa at 5.00pm on Tuesday 21 February in the exhibition space. Admission is free, but booking is essential. To book please telephone the automatic booking line on Tel: +353 1 612 9948 or email: [email protected]

An illustrated catalogue with new texts by the Irish novelist Colm Tóibín and Enrique Juncosa, plus specially selected existing texts by novelists Julian Barnes, William Boyd and Alan Hollinghurst, critic Anthony Lane, travel writer and novelist Bruce Chatwin, essayist Susan Sontag and poets Bruce Bernard and James Fenton, accompanies the exhibition (price €21.95).

Howard Hodgkin continues until 7 May 2006. Admission is free.

Opening hours: 
Tuesday to Saturday 10.00am – 5.30pm
except Wednesday 10.30am – 5.30pm
Sundays and Bank Holidays 12 noon – 5.30pm
Closed Monday and Friday 14 April

For further information and images please contact Monica Cullinane or Patrice Molloy at Tel: +353 1 612 9900; Email: [email protected]

12 January 2006