The National Portrait Gallery presents Howard Hodgkin: Absent Friends which explores the late British artist’s unique approach to portraiture. The exhibition features over 50 works from collections around the world and dating from 1949 to the present, the exhibition illustrates the development of Hodgkin’s portraits which examines what constitutes a portrait and explores key themes within Hodgkin’s work including colour, memory, emotion, process and imagination.
Although not widely known, Hodgkin was considered one of Britain’s leading artists, winning the Turner Prize in 1985, the year after representing Great Britain at the Venice Biennale.
Whilst on the surface, Hodgkin’s work seems abstract, the artist is concerned with evoking specific individuals in particular situations. Fellow artists, Peter Blake, Stephen Buckley, Patrick Caulfield, David Hockney, Philip King, R.B.Kitaj and Richard Smith are some of Hodgkin’s friends and colleagues who are featured in the exhibition.
Exhibited for the first time are some early drawings from Hodgkin’s private collection including fellow student, Blondie, his landlady Miss Spackman and Two Women at a Table.
In the 1980’s, the artist began to experiment with a series of self-portraits including Self Portrait (1983), the Spectator and Portrait of the Artist ( both 1984 -7).
Many of the portraits are brightly coloured abstract paintings which provide some insight into the personality and the situation that captured Hodgkin’s imagination. With his use of colour and imagination it can be presumed that most of these situations were positive and full of humour and warmth. If in some way Hodgkin’s art can be seen as providing memorials for people, many of whom were friends, they are a fitting tribute.
The same might be said of a recently completed self-portrait by the late artist that is on public display for the first time in the exhibition. Portrait of the Artist Listening to Music was completed by Hodgkin in late 2016 with the National Portrait Gallery exhibition in mind. The large oil on wood painting is Hodgkin’s last major painting, and evokes a deeply personal situation in which the act of remembering is memorialised in paint.
If artist’s recent death may have cast a dark shadow over the exhibition, this was soon dispelled by the warmth and vitality of the paintings. Hodgkin’s portraits are more concerned with memories and emotions rather than physical representations and provide a fitting tribute to the absent friends and the late artist.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
To find out more about the exhibition, visit the National Portrait Gallery website here.
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