Ivor Braka, London
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 2004
London, Anthony d’Offay Gallery, Howard Hodgkin, 1999, n.p., illustrated in colour
Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Howard Hodgkin: Large Paintings 1984-2002, 2002, p. 51, no. 11, illustrated in colour
Jim Manson, 'Viewpoint', A & I, February 2000, p. 24, illustrated in colour
Amber Cowan, 'Amber Cowan's Choice', Play, August 2002, p. 1, illustrated in colour
Moira Jeffrey, 'A Brush with the Big Blue', The Herald, 9 August 2002, illustrated
Nicholas Cranfield, 'Polka Dots are Poetry in Motion', Church Times, 6 September, p. 32 illustrated in colour
Matthias Thibaut, 'Der Maler der Erinnerung', Weltkunst Moderne, October 2002, p. 31, illustrated in colour
Marla Price, Howard Hodgkin: The Complete Paintings, London 2006, p. 312, no. 319, illustrated in colour
Hodgkin’s pictures have suggestive titles and are created with people, places, and situations in mind. However, they are never illusory. They are designed to be objects in their own right – alluding to specific subject matter without trying to recreate it. It is for this reason that the artist uses old wooden frames as his ground: by painting over the edges, for instance with a border of brown in the present work, he stops his viewer from using the frame as a perspectival window, and stops them from trying to glimpse an imagined world beyond. His pictures are thus flat panels to be considered at a surface level on the merit of their own appearance. In his own words: “I am a representational painter, but not a painter of appearances. I paint representational pictures of emotional situations” (Howard Hodgkin quoted in: Marla Price, Howard Hodgkin: The Complete Paintings Catalogue Raisonné, Fort Worth 2006, p. 14).
Indian art has long been one of Hodgkin’s greatest passions. He was introduced to the tradition by a school teacher, and it has been at the heart of his creative consciousness, whether as collector or creator, ever since. Its influence certainly came to bear on the creation of the present work. We might consider the flatness of his illusionistic space, with the background of the left hand side of the panel appearing as separate blocks of geometric colour, stacked in vertical juxtaposition. Putting his aforementioned eschewal of conventional representation to one side, this depictive characteristic appears redolent of the lack of linear recession in Indian art, where figures appear to climb up the picture plane rather than recess beyond it. However, the greatest Indian influence at play here is the heat and intensity of the colour: regular trips to the subcontinent have afforded Hodgkin a lifelong propensity for saturated hues, which he might not have discovered in the drab grisaille of West London.
This is not to say that Hodgkin was immune to European precedent. In the dabbed daubs that pepper the present picture, Hodgkin approximated the mark-making of Pointillism. View of Le Crotoy, from Upstream by Georges Pierre Seurat uses similarly juxtaposed passages of contrasting colour to create an illusion of depth and space, and even features a comparably painted frame. The Nabis school are also relevant. In the blur of blue that dominates the right-hand side of the canvas we are compelled to think of Pierre Bonnard, an artist loved by Hodgkin for the way that he used “colour from inside his head” and propagated a sort of “geometric abstraction” – both traits that might aptly apply to Chez Stamos (Howard Hodgkin speaking in: BBC Two, Talking Tate: Hodgkin talks about Pierre Bonnard’s ‘The Bath’, 19 July 1997, online resource). Thus it is evident that this painting, which appears, at first, so instinctive and gestural, is not only borne out of personal emotional significance, but is also articulated using considered art historical reference from disparate creative cultures.
Howard Hodgkin thrived in painted colouristic abstraction during decades when Pop and Conceptual Art were the establishment norm. Through fusing diverse precedent with his own immutable artistic voice, he has formulated an oeuvre based on immovable tenets of vitality, vivacity, and vividness. Chez Stamos is a brilliant example of impressive size.
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