STILL LIFE IN A RESTAURANT 1976/79
Howard Hodgkin (1932 – 2017)
- 92.7 X 118.1 CM
- OIL ON WOOD
- Accession number
Howard Hodgkin’s work, at first, appears daringly simple. Yet those splurges, slicks and virulent marks are the results of a mas¬ter manipulator, who goads and entreats the paint into doing his bidding. Hodgkin has always sought to represent personal encounters, emotional experiences and memories of the places he has visited. As a young artist he made portraits of friends and fellow artists, and a per¬sonal style evolved slowly, becoming, in time, a heat-sealed concentra¬tion of image, idea and form. Applied to the conversation pieces he has often painted, talk, setting and personality coalesce and re-emerge in purely pictorial form. Some of Hodgkin’s style can be traced to his great love of India, a country he not only knows well, but whose art has influ¬enced his own: his interest in non-Western perspective, for example, which gives equal weight and focus to all parts of the picture; the bright¬ness and density of colour; the border and pattern being on equal terms with the subject-matter. The titles of his works have always alluded to his experiences, whether travelling or being in the company of others, and these make for an intriguing narrative, compelling the viewer to search for clues amid the overlapping abstract planes of colour.
Still Life in a Restaurant was painted while Hodgkin was artist in residence at Brasenose College, Oxford, and it was included in ‘Critic’s Choice: An Exhibition of Contemporary Art selected by John McEwen’ at the ICA in 1978. The painting marks the beginning of a radical trans¬formation in Hodgkin’s working method. In 1976, he came across a chemical called Liquin, which reduces the drying time of pigments. It allowed him to build up layers of oil paint without muddying the sur¬face, and as a result his pictures developed a new level of emotional intensity just as the painted surfaces deepened and the density of pig¬ment became more profound. At the same time, Hodgkin virtually eliminated figures from his paintings, clarifying and simplifying his marks so that they appear as no more than dots, stripes, dabs, and the heavy stroke of the brush itself. Still Life in a Restaurantis a vibrant work of red, blue and yellow dots hovering over a mottled sea of black, white and grey. It sits, illuminated, inside a heavy dark frame and a thick border of black paint, which Hodgkin explains very simply: ‘The more evanescent the emotion I want to convey, the thicker the panel, the heavier the framing, the more elaborate the border, so that this delicate thing will remain protected and intact.’ This early work foreshadows Hodgkin’s magnificent mural commissioned for the British Council’s New Delhi headquarters in 1993. A fixed frame on an immense scale, Hodgkin’s mural covers the entire façade of the building, and features a stylised banyan tree and the shadows cast by its leaves. Made out of small rectangular hand-cut tiles of white Makrana marble, and black, locally-quarried Cudappah stone – a technique often used on Mughal buildings – this formidable work by one of the most acclaimed col¬ourists at work today shows Hodgkin’s ability to marry the composi¬tional order of European classical art with the intricacies of Indian art. ‘Sometimes when I’m in India,’ he has said, ‘unlike when I’m anywhere else, there are little glimpses when you see encounters between people – compared with the way we all behave, they behave with the utmost cir¬cumspection and so forth. It has obviously influenced my painting a lot come to think of it. Because there are glimpses of encounters and things that are almost offstage which suddenly impinge on you very clearly because of the general tempo of life there. There are sort of passionate moments.’
1. Hodgkin quoted in Deepak Ananth, ‘Hodgkin’s Poetics’, in Howard Hodgkin: Small Paintings 1975–1989, exh. cat. (London: British Council, 1990), 84.
2. Hodgkin quoted in John McEwen, ‘Howard Hodgkin’, in The Proper Study: Contemporary figurative paintings from Britain (London: British Council, 19
Published in Passports British Council Collection, British Council, London 2009