Hodgkin and Constable

I recently went to see Howard Hodgkin and Constable: The Great Landscapes at the superior of the Tates (Tate Britain).

I have never particularly liked any of either Hodgkin or Constable’s output. I thought Hodgkin was just some guy whose gimmick was that, shock, he painted over the frame, and whose work was a favourite to hang on the wall of a boardroom or in the rooms of pretentious novelists.

Constable on the otherhand was a victim of overpraise and overexposure being printed on the front of biscuit tins and laminated shopping bags- a cliche, with nothing of interest except clouds. The exhibitions have changed my opinion of the two. Well, changed them a bit.

Hodgkin first. This was my favourite work which I have colour adjusted as best I can to capture the colours I remember seeing as opposed to the print colours:

fisherman's cove

Fishermans Cove 1993 28.3 x 38 cm

Mmmm… colour. It’s a small work, small when compared to the other works on display but it encapsulates my new found appreciation of his work. Yes he’s painted on the frame, but the electric green and the kingfisher blue and the tiny sliver of orange are not just smeared in a swathe across the canvas.

Looking at all the works I found myself analysing what colours and textures went on in which order and why the artist made that decision. Why did he decide to put that opaque lozenge there? Why that veil of red across that curve? Aside from the beautiful array of colours I think this is what I enjoyed the most- the mechanics behind the paintings. Painting on the frame of course gives the impression of the colour spilling out of traditional containment yet it serves at the same time as added interesting form and texture and highlights the piece as required.

However, when I look at a work by for example the artist I simply love to hate Leonardo Da Vinci, I do not find myself wondering how he constructed the painting. Sure, he did studies, plotted his composition etc and drew pretty, unchallenging pictures. Both artists made work that illustrated something- a place, an event, an emotion. However the outward simplicity of Hodgkin’s work forces me to think about how it is put together and how does this earn value; the value is different.

It requires more contemplation than the quick payoff of representational work, of course you can project your various thoughts and emotions onto the “blank” canvas. But then I would say that, wouldn’t I; she of the conceptual installation. I also love thinking too much, and non-representational works to me are more challenging.

Of all the works in the Constable exhibition I only liked one finished painting:

wivenhoe park

Wivenhoe Park, Essex 1816 56.1 x 101.2 cm

I think I like this because of the brilliant sun on the green grass. That simple. The to-scale oil sketches are by far the most interesting works displayed; Constable was an innovator of producing these very large (six feet plus) sketches. They are full of movement and life, with the layers of thick paint helping to form impressions of sky and landscape. So much more ineresting than the finished pieces. Compare the sketches and finished piece of The Leaping Horse.

Writing about art- What the hell is wrong with me? This is more Dave’s cup of tea.

I woke up today with a sore back. It hurts when I breathe and when I move. Maybe it’s because of the art.

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