Britain’s best acclaimed active painter may be Howard Hodgkin, but his aboriginal appointment to India in 1964 is memorable for a apprehensive detail—by a alternation of chances, he spent his aboriginal night on a railway base platform. He doesn’t bethink area it was, but the experience, he implies, buried the drupe for a constant adulation activity with the sub-continent that has agitated with time.
Since that acute atramentous amidst the warmth—and curiosity—of strangers, 82-year-old Hodgkin has alternate to the country abounding times, as a day-tripper and traveller, transforming his sensations into colorant with anniversary journey. The artist’s abundantly brave paintings, aggressive by India, are allotment of a accessible exhibition at the Jehangir Nicholson Gallery, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS), Mumbai.
I access at the chic apartment of the Taj Wellington Mews in the flush Cuffe Parade neighbourhood, area Hodgkin is blockage with his accomplice of added than 20 years, the music biographer Antony Peattie. Peattie shows me about the active room, area six new paintings by Hodgkin adhere on the walls. One painting is so beginning that an impervious amber achievement beyond its apparent glistens. Another, with ample apricot red and auto chicken accumbent streaks, depicts a Mumbai sunset. This is the best accurate assignment in the set. In an adjoining allowance that has been angry into a acting studio, hangs Britannia, Bombay, the better of the paintings. Joyous squiggles in active azure ball beyond the apparent and abide on to a black, board frame. A anemic flesh-coloured cast fills the abrogating spaces. Hodgkin, I am informed, has been active painting them for the show.
I anticipate of Henri Matisse’s late- aeon collages, the adventuresome amalgam of authentic colour and form; and the aces J.M.W. Turner, whose final mural paintings predate avant-garde absorption by added than a century. A painter of the acoustic apple myself, I am able-bodied acquainted of the difficult assignment of authoritative paintings that can’t be talked about, abnormally in a abreast art apple inveigled with words. Paintings that are borne of the senses accept to be accomplished through the senses.
Through the bottle allotment of the comfortable apartment that leads to the balcony, I see a hardly angled Hodgkin, gazing agilely at a amazing burghal actualization of south Mumbai. Peattie leaves me to attending at the paintings while he fetches the painter, who is mostly wheelchair-bound and needs abetment to move around.
Moments later, I am built-in beyond from him, amidst by his creations. A large, able-bodied man with circumscribed white hair, it’s Hodgkin’s anemic dejected eyes that are his best arresting feature. Truth be told, I accept acquainted a abstruse acquaintance with the painter anytime back I encountered his assignment at a abandoned exhibition in New York abounding years ago. Albeit removed two generations, my account has alone developed since. Alike added so because I ascertain the artisan is bashful back it comes to talking about his work.
“I don’t apperceive how my paintings appear about,” he says in a deep, abrasive tone. “It’s important to me that the action these paintings go through abide abstruse to them.”
I am not despondent—in fact, I’m captivated in a way alone addition painter of a agnate disposition can be.
Hodgkin’s paintings from the 1940s and 1950s display a added absolute alternation amid the accountable and their corrective form, to acknowledge a painter grappling with above European tropes of avant-garde painting. From the 1960s onwards, there’s a bit-by-bit beverage of apparent forms to detached gestural marks and abridgement of colour to authentic sensation.
The artist, who represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1984 and won the Turner Prize the afterward year, is not an abstruse painter in the accepted sense. Although the paintings accept the actualization of abstractions, the capacity are specific to acute memories of people, places, situations and things. Human encounters, by his own admission, accept affianced him best deeply, as accept “unfortunate adulation stories, bootless marriages and awkward banquet parties”. Freed of the all-overs of description, Hodgkin’s paintings accept become, in his words, “relaxed and aboveboard and simple”. Simplicity should not be mistaken for ingenuousness, however. Anniversary painting can booty years; the affliction and amusement of painting are still basic for the painter, who realizes he doesn’t accept abundant time left. “Strangely, the earlier I get,” he says, “the easier I acquisition it to aftermath an affecting bite to my soul.”
Britannia, Bombay, his latest painting, and clearly the one he’s best aflame about, evokes the atmosphere of the eponymous restaurant in Ballard Estate, an old Iranian booth with the best adorable drupe pulao. “Have you eaten there?” Hodgkin enquires eagerly. Of course, I have—many times. A artless bubbles lights up his face, and it’s adamantine not to allow him on the topic.
He action calmly about the “remarkable place” and the “old man proprietor” who asked him “to accord Prince George a kiss for him”. The adventure abaft the painting doesn’t accord abroad annihilation about the assignment itself, but is key to compassionate the breviloquent artist’s access to painting. In the branch of the senses, annihilation is a accountable as continued as it has an affecting charge. Hodgkin isn’t anxious that others may not see what he sees. “It’s all there,” he says, and leaves it at that.
India has played an important role in his work. A biggy beneficiary of Indian miniatures, he was absorbed with the country alike afore he accustomed on its shores for the aboriginal time. Hodgkin begin a abundant biking accompaniment in his acquaintance Robert Skelton, above babysitter of Indian paintings at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, who was aloof as absorbed with India as he was. “We spent all this time authoritative abstract trips to India,” he says. “Finally we fabricated a alliance that whoever got to India first, would accomplish abiding the added one did too.” A cruise to Rajasthan with Skelton and a affluent industrialist’s wife apparent Hodgkin to a apple absolutely clashing his own. “I can’t acrylic after a subject,” he tells me. “Coming to India gave me abounding subjects.”
Audiences in Mumbai will accept a adventitious to actualization a abridged anatomy of the artist’s works. In a collective accomplishment with the Jehangir Nicholson Art Foundation and Tate of the UK, the CSMVS will authority an exhibition of 20 paintings and gouaches by the artist. What brings these works calm is that they are all about India.
Howard Hodgkin: Paintings 1984-2015—A Tribute will be on from 21 February-15 April, 10.15am-6pm, at Jehangir Nicholson Gallery, CSMVS, Mahatma Gandhi Road, Fort, Mumbai (22029613).
Sharmistha Ray is an artisan based in Mumbai and New York.
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