Sotheby’s, New York, The Red Auction, 14 February 2008, Lot 67 (consigned by the above)
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Painted over a two-year period between 2005 and 2007, House is a radical re-imagination of the modern European tradition of colour. With its unbridled spontaneity and carefree dots that recede back into an almost enveloping sense of depth, Hodgkin has freed the technique of pointillism from its dogmatic restraint as previously championed by George Seurat and Paul Signac. A drastic departure from those early Impressionist experiments where the dot was in controlled servitude to a greater figurative aim, Hodgkin elevates the dot by granting it a form of artistic soliloquy, yielding it space to stand alone as the sole pictorial protagonist. From the bold wallpapers of Matisse’s rooms that hover on the edge of abstraction, to the warm, energetic atmosphere of Degas’ ballet studios, House reveals Hodgkin’s indebtedness to both artists’ explorations of interior spaces. More broadly, it speaks of an artist more in tune with the oeuvres of history’s great masters than the ephemeral developments of the contemporary present. Speaking on this subject, Hodgkin noted that his paintings speak to “the classical wall of feeling that Degas has built for us, [they are] representational pictures of emotional situations” (Howard Hodgkin cited in: Jackie Wullschlager, ‘Howard Hodgkin, painter, 1932-2017’, The Financial Times, 9 March 2017, online). In its non-figurative, representational force, House is a well of emotion – decidedly romantic in nature – poured from the depths of Hodgkin’s memory.
With its epic sense of scale and optimism, House evokes a very specific set of memories drawn from Hodgkin’s early years spent in New York as an evacuee during the Second World War. The experience would have a profound effect on Hodgkin, best summed up by his simple words on his time there, “I could go to look at pictures” (Anthony Lane, ‘True Colours’, The New Yorker, 24 November 2003, online). Spending his days between the Met and MoMA, Hodgkin soaked up American culture, particularly its music. Exhibited as part of Hodgkin’s first exhibition for a decade in London at Gagosian in 2008, many of the works on show, including House, were specifically infused with Hodgkin’s memory of the famous American folk song, Home on the Range. As he said, “when I was a child in America it was played on the radio all the time”, he goes on, “it was a time when the myth of the West, with those huge empty spaces, was part of the scenery of ordinary life" (Howard Hodgkin cited in: Karen Wright, ‘Howard Hodgkin: the later, greater Hodgkin’, The Daily Telegraph, 5 April 2008, online). It is here that House takes on its sense of epic proportion, finding companionship with the great artistic mythmakers of the American landscape tradition, from Ansel Adams to Georgia O’Keefe. Part Turner, part Constable, this image is a memory-scape of the American West as seen through a decidedly British lens – that of the Romanticist and foreigner. If India held sway over his adult life, America can lay claim to his youth. The subject of House, along with his first two major works Tea Party in America (1948) and Memoirs (1949), Hodgkin’s American paintings rank as some of the most important of his well-travelled oeuvre. On a more personal level, they show a painter desperate to immortalise the precious memories of his youth in paint.
A child of migration, Hodgkin made work profoundly rooted in notions of place as culled from his kaleidoscopic memories. As painting spills over onto the frame in his trademark style, House takes on an almost architectural form. For Hodgkin, colour provides a portal through which to explore his memories of specific places, such as America, with a latent potential that the figurative tradition could never encapsulate. In House, this potential speaks to Hodgkin’s view of an American household in which he found comfort during the war, a shield to the great expanses of the American landscape. As Andrew Hollinghurst noted in the catalogue that accompanied the 2008 exhibition at Gagosian: “House is painted all in reds and oranges, a tremendous storm or swarm of dots, as dense as humanity in its migration, its collision and overlapping. The central board can’t help but seem an opening, or portal, through which the richly coloured motes swirl and stream. The house, as if read by thermal imaging camera, glows with occupation, activity, the incessant comings and goings of the moment and of the years" (Andrew Hollinghurst, ‘Howard Hodgkin’ in: Exh. Cat., London, Gagosian Gallery, Howard Hodgkin, 2008, p. 15).
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