Howard Hodgkin

In our notes we have a work of the artist, In the Bay of Naples, 1980-82 (oil on panel) which reminded me of the work of Adrian Ghenie and I decided to read about the artist and ask myself why this example was chosen as well as why I see the link between their works. I changed the captions as my tutor noted it was confusing at first.

Hodgkin was a British contemporary artist – 1932 – 2017. On the Gargosian website I read that he was deeply attuned to the interplay of gesture, colour, and ground. His brushstrokes, set against wooden supports, often continue beyond the picture plane and onto the frame, breaking from traditional confines and hereby emphasising the idea of the painting as an object. Several of his works are on wooden items, such as bread-boards or the tops of old tables, instead of canvas. The artist never belonged to a school or group and remained independent, initially marking his outsider status with a series of portraits of contemporary artists and their families. The examples of his painting on the Gargosian site shows his use of brush markings and how he applies paint on his different size brushes. Interesting is that he represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1984 where he chose to paint the walls of the British Pavilion eau de nil green, a colour similar to the walls of this gallery, to reflect and diffuse the shimmering light from the Venetian lagoon. I learn that he, just as Turner, was captivated by the Venice light and that atmospheric conditions played a big role in how he painted – his work demonstrates how light and weather can shape our moods and define our memories. Looking at his works, which appear spontaneous, they seem to be the result of an extensive process of layering and over-painting. He also printed and in his later years favoured the use of etching, aquatint and carborundum combined with hand-painting.

His colours are luminous and he was able to apply a stroke of paint in such a way that each of the individual colours mixed into it also seemed to be presented in isolation, in fine granular strands. This was an effect aided by his use of wooden panels rather than canvases as painting surfaces, allowing the paint to stand proud of its background in such a way that it almost became a sculptural material.

Adrian Ghenie

Ghenie is a contemporary Romanian artist who does not use traditional tools, but a palette knife and stencils. He draws from the past, such as key figures or events from history and then almost invents something new. It seems he has an intellectual approach/conceptual in his technique as well as his intention of meaning for the works he makes. His work is complex and multi-layered. I read that he starts with a small collage onto a board and use this as a guide and transfer it so his canvas. He like the crispness of Flemish painting and strives for energy and control. It seems his style would be described as Modernism with a contemporary element.

I was fortunate to see his work at Palazzo Cini in Venice during September 2019, in a show called The Battle Between Carnival and Feast. Here he has works that refers to a figure resembling President Trump, maybe as an archetype and the results of his actions? The works that come to mind is the geopolitical issues he addresses in the work. In The Raft (2019) – about the global immigration crises, we find the largest painting in this exhibition, that can even as the curator of this exhibition eluded to, see Dante’s Inferno and the links to history of human crises of time. In The Drowning- a figure is drowning, which to me links to the City Venice and or our own life dramas and ironies. There is also The Wall. One could come close up to the works and I like to think that I saw his thinking going into the process of applying paint to create gesture and construct his forms with mark-making, flowing and cutting of palette knife scrapes over his canvasses. In a brochure on the exhibition I read the following: ” The title also suggests a link with the city of Venice through the reference to Carnival. In his approach to the series, the artist thus clearly looks to tradition but does so without forgoing an interest in contemporary events. Characterised by an experimental use of colour with strong physical material connotations, Ghenie’s paintings depict personalities whose actions have influenced and continue to influence the course of the history of the world. “ and “The exhibition’s title is inspired by Dutch painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s “Battle between Carnival and Lent,” and suggests a link with the city of Venice through the reference to Carnival. Characterized by an experimental use of color with strong physical material connotations, Ghenie’s paintings depict personalities whose actions have influenced and continue to influence the course of the history of the world.”

Figure with Dog, 2019

I looked at this painting after a visit to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and wondered if this is not depicting Peggy Guggenheim walking her dog alongside channel in Venice? (I read that the director of the gallery said that many of the canvases are composed of images of which the artist appropriates, re-contextualizing them totally: from clothes to objects of the post-digital age, in a dynamic of synthesis and recomposition.)

The Drowning, 2019
The Wall, 2019

Conclusion:

I think both artists works are representational as well as abstract and mark making is very much part of the atmosphere the work creates. Genie uses a painterly style and is influenced by the Flemish painters.

My tutor commented in her written feedback on this writing that she saw it as an insightful point – that I choose to connect the two artists whom both are interested in colour and how this affects our reading of pictorial space. She suggested I work out how to credit the images in my log and what this reflection might add to my Baobabs. Here thoughts are about looking from simplicity to complexity. I am thinking of my own ideas on painting moments – ideas that I want to capture – whether it is a feeling, an object or and idea. I think I was touched by the intuitive ways both artists work, I also like the almost sensuous use of brush strokes and see these works as imaginative as well as expressive. Would the build up of layers bring the work from simplicity to complexity? I like to think this is so and this is where feeling and emotions, which are in the mind of the artist, are brought into the work, by mark making which could even become more abstract. Thinking back on the baobabs, which started as doing an exercise of monochrome studies and exploring both transparency and opacity of paint – I became intrigued with the abstract forms when looking at shapes and trying to modulate it.

Nicolas Poussin: A Dance to the Music of Time – c.1635–6
London, Wallace Collection
Born in Normandy and having studied in Paris, in 1624, by the age of thirty, Poussin had become resident in Rome. During his early years in Rome, as well as seeking patronage from the Roman ecclesiastical elite, he also mixed with other French expatriate artists, making sketching sorties into the countryside around Rome with Claude Lorrain and his brother in law Gaspard Dughet.

This picture has a strong claim to be thought of as the artist’s masterpiece. It was painted at some time between 1634 and 1636 for Cardinal Giulio Rospigliosi who later became Pope Clement XI. Rospigliosi was also a poet and a librettist for the newly emerging art form of opera and it is therefore probable that the subject of the painting was devised by him.

The dancing quartet represent the seasons. Spring wears a white tunic; Summer, clad in blue, has her hair decorated with roses; Bacchus personifying Autumn has his back to us; to his right Winter is wearing a head scarf. They are dancing to music played by Saturn on his lyre. The Roman god Saturn is associated with the Greek god of time, Kronos and to emphasise the point a small child plays with an hour glass at Saturn’s feet and another infant, in the opposite corner of the picture, blows bubbles, alluding to the ephemeral nature of human life. This child sits near a term, a pedestal which supports two heads, one youthful the other older. Above, Apollo, the god of light, makes his daily journey across the sky in his chariot, another reference to the passing of time.

There is a parallel interpretation for the identity of the dancers which encapsulates the human condition. Poverty (Autumn) triggers the need for Labour (Winter) which generates Wealth (Spring) leading to Pleasure (Summer). But too much pleasure may lead to excess which in turn leads back to poverty and the cycle starts again.

Rather than a flowing dance to music, the dancers look more as though they are somewhat frozen in time but Poussin is not striving to create a naturalistic simulacrum; rather he invents a self-contained universe ordered with mathematical precision — a pastoral idyll inhabited by gods set against the landscape of the Roman Campagnia.

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