Despite achieving international recognition during the 1980s amidst the heyday of neo-expressionism, Hodgkin’s practice relates more closely to Abstract Expressionism than to his contemporary counterparts. Clearly visible in Hodgkin’s oeuvre are his appreciation for Newman’s saturated colours and Pollock’s complex illusions of pictorial space. Yet Hodgkin prefers jewel-like panels to the monumental canvases favoured by Pollock and Newman. Hodgkin’s choice of panels, perhaps a reflection of his British humility, enables him to channel the Expressionist emotional outpour through chromatic experimentation into an intimate pictorial space. Standing in front of Hodgkin’s paintings, the viewer is not dwarfed by the sheer size of the canvas and, consequently, the ego of the artist. Rather, one is invited to peer through the windows Hodgkin conjures from his picture frames at scenes which the artist saw during his travels. Rather, one is invited to peer at scenes witnessed by the artist through the window frames Hodgkin has conjured.
Hodgkin’s inclination to abstraction has not hindered the artist from asserting his identity as a representational painter. Instead of realising representation through figuration or realism, the artist’s pictures represent what he calls ‘emotional situations.’ As embodied by his travel series, Hodgkin’s paintings employ ingenious appositions of vibrant colours to capture certain emotions and feelings. By avoiding specific visual details in his paintings and by restraining the scene to a view through a window, Hodgkin’s paintings serve as prompts with which viewers could delve into their individual memories of past adventures.
Kerala’s tranquil ultramarine and vibrant orange conjure in one’s mind the pleasures of an Indian summer: the warmth of the sun baking their skin and seeping through their bodies, the shimmering silver of the sea and the rhythmic lapse of the rolling tides. Appreciating the fragile preciousness of these memory fragments, Hodgkin admits: “the more tenuous or fleeting the emotion you want to represent the more it’s got to be protected from the world” (Howard Hodgkin cited in: Exh. Cat., Fort Worth, Forth Worth Museum of Art, Howard Hodgkin: Paintings, 1995, p. 25).
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