Howard Hodgkin interviewed in 1978 cited in: Exh. Cat., London, Tate Britain (and travelling), Howard Hodgkin, 2006, p. 181
Executed in 1979-82, Howard Hodgkin’s Counting the Days is aglow with vivid swathes of colour. Surpassing the confines of language, the artist’s palette operates as a kind of visual encyclopaedia of instinctual emotion and guttural force. Dappled bursts of colour – in rosy pink, umber, cobalt blue, vibrant yellow and deepest black – disband from the centre of the work, seeping over the edges and spilling onto the richly saturated frame. Almost entirely submerged in painted torrents of sun-drenched yellow, dazzling orange and flaming vermilion, the frame appears to shroud the composition in a halo of iridescent light. Composed at the apex of Hodgkin’s career, Counting the Days is a resplendent example of Hodgkin’s visual idiom and was notably exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1984. Potently alluring and intriguingly profound, it is comparable to the many paintings held in prestigious museum collections worldwide, from the Tate Modern, London, to the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
The painted frame is the hallmark of Hodgkin’s aesthetic: it signifies both a literal and metaphorical overspill of paint and emotion that cannot be contained. In exceeding the parameters of his surfaces, the artist provocatively and emotively undermines traditional modes of representation, which position the frame as a perspectival window into an illusory realm. Redolent and hauntingly beautiful, his paintings are not so much a processed emulation of the physical world as they are a raw evocation of feeling and experience, recollection and nostalgia. Like the passing of time, they stir memories and awaken sentiment. As the artist himself expressed, “I am a representational painter, but not a painter of appearances. I paint representational pictures of emotional situations” (Howard Hodgkin cited in: Marla Price, Howard Hodgkin: The Complete Paintings Catalogue Raisonné, London 2006, p. 14).
Hodgkin’s paintings occupy an impalpable space that exists between figuration and abstraction. Though his suggestive titles allude to temporalities, topographies or people, his compositions remain loose and enigmatic, with defined clarity always just out of reach. The vibrant colours and swift brushmarks of the present work bring to mind Henri Matisse’s seminal painting from 1904, Luxe, Calme et Volupté. Matisse’s bold Fauvist colours and Neo-Impressionist forms, radical in their contemporary moment, seem to reverberate in Hodgkin’s own kaleidoscopic palette like hazy remnants of a fading recollection. This is further enhanced by the painting’s title, Counting the Days, which imbues the work with a poignant sense of ephemerality. Indeed, much of the poetic force of Hodgkin’s practice is his ability to conjure, in the very same moment, a myriad of memories, both personal and collective, universal and unique. Revealing the key to his method, Andrew Graham-Dixon remarks: “He has to create a pictorial language capable of balancing on that particular knife edge, a language that would enable him to create pictures that declare their dual status both as painted memories and as images of the imperfect nature of all remembrance” (Andrew Graham-Dixon, Howard Hodgkin, London 2001, p. 61).
The artist often thought of his ornately painted frames as the protectors of his sentient paintings: “The more evanescent the emotions I want to convey,” he wrote, “the thicker the panel, the heavier the framing, the more elaborate the border, so that this delicate thing will remain protected and intact” (Howard Hodgkin cited in: op. cit., p. 33). Enveloped in a blazing aura of colour, Counting the Days, then, is the very embodiment of Hodgkin’s transitory, reified sentiments.
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