I have only just thought that the title of this exhibition may well be a pun, as well as a reference to the Robert Frost poem of the same name. Howard Hodgkin is 80 years old, and is returning, after a long career, to the title of the first print he ever made, based on Frost’s poem. Now he looks back, having been acquainted with the shadowy business of making pictures, and delivers a series of bright and dramatic aquatints on a large scale in numbered editions. They are very interestingly made- carborundum is mixed with PVA glue and painted onto a printing plate. From this plate have come most of the works in this exhibition, aquatinted in different colours.
The result is a fascinating mix of painting and printing, with the constant, intense colour of printing, also its flatness, and the look of having seen a paintbrush. This painterly aspect is occasionally reinforced by a light hand-painted wash. This kind of stand-offishly painterly work I always find quite interesting- there is a kind of ur-painting someone, wholly colourless, made of an aluminium shape, that the rest have descended from: whether the individual work is In India, La Plume de ma tante (black), Attack, or etc. is entirely down to colour, putting an extraordinary and possibly unprecedented level of emphasis on colour to mean something, which is admirable, and seems to make a distinction between colour-as-sensed and a colourless formal framework: ‘I have been one acquainted with the night./I have walked out in rain — and back in rain./I have outwalked the furthest city light.’
Hodgkin has found something in the dark, beyond colour, and now brings it forth, brightly inflected with impressions of India and Norway and weather that have come out as and in colour. For some reason people are talking of this Robert Frost poem as being about depression, but Hodgkin, occasionally dark but always vivid, is not that. Hodgkin’s works are Aquatinted with the Night- an 80 year-old presence, with a certain shape, coloured now and again with emotions that have different colours and names, but the same underlying structures. I am reminded of Trevor Bell, who turned 80 last year, and his fondness for large scale, simplified, generous work. As another 80 year old, Derek Walcott, wrote, it is important to ‘Cherish the uninterpreted light/ of approaching eighty, let your ignorance increase/ as fashion fades, and cities decide what is right.’
Words: Jack Castle © ArtLyst 2012
Howard Hodgkin ‘Acquainted with the Night’ Alan Cristea Gallery
Until 7 July Visit Exhibition Here