- Howard Hodgkin
- Mural Design for British Council Building, New Delhi
- gouache on paper
From within the alcoves Hodgkin’s mural dominates the structure. Taking the form of a tree the design was originally conceive in collage and is faithfully executed to retain jagged edges made by scissors in the artist’s hands. Its form has a strong organic quality. Branches seem to push against the severe geometry of the building creating a dynamic tension as the strain to push their way free of its ridged confines.
The decision to use exclusively black and white was inspired, if unexpected. Hodgkin, of course is renowned for his use of colour and for a building in India, of all places, it would seem the obvious choice. However, a lot of Mughal architecture is decorated in black and white stone and as Correa noted, ‘The hotter the sun the blacker the shadow’ (Charles Correa in Alan Yentob, Imagine: Portrait of a Painter, BBC TV, directed and produced by Roger Parsons, shown at the time of Hodgkin’s retrospective at Tate Britain, 2006). The enormous tree of knowledge offers protection to those who wish to read below its bowers.
‘Perhaps I was influenced by a faint memory of overhearing an articulate dealer in antique Wedgwood who was trying to sell a vase to a client from the east and said, ‘Black-and-white is so cooling, so refreshing in the heat.’ Perhaps also it was the formalized black-and –white herringbone pattern in marble used as a metaphor for water in the lining of the channel that fed the internal pools and fountains of Mughal palaces. Once this decision was made – however arbitrarily – an enormous tree seemed the only possible subject. Black and white suggest shade and light, which in turn evoke foliage. So I decided on an ecumenical tree of no particular species and no specific symbolism. I am not a symbolic artist. But the building is part of a library, and the tree of knowledge means something to everyone – scholars sit under the tree reading and people hug the shade to talk, wherever the sun is hot enough.’ (Howard Hodgkin quoted in Eleanor Clayton (ed.), Howard Hodgkin Painting India, Lund Humphries, London, 2017, p.17)