As he turns 80 this year, Howard Hodgkin shows no sign of slowing down. This exhibition of 22 recent oil-on-wood compositions, though uneven, was full of energy and contained some surprisingly adventurous works. There were several examples of classic Hodgkin, such as Dark Evening (2011). This medium-size panel (approximately 21 by 26 inches) appears to be a moonlit seascape overpainted—but not obscured—by more or less evenly spaced daubs of blue and white. As in the best Hodgkin paintings, a tension arises from the precarious balance of illusionistic space and the purely abstract, tactile richness of the surface. The London-based painter often encompasses art historical allusions in his work, and the spots of pigment that veil Dark Evening’s central image and spill out onto the frame echo the borders in certain paintings by Seurat.
In After Whistler (2010), one of the most haunting works in the show, Hodgkin offers a bravura painting performance. Somewhat in the manner of a Zen master, every brushstroke seems fresh and precise—apparently spontaneous, but clearly resulting from infinite accrued experience. Here, translucent washes of brown and yellow cover the frame and edges of a composition traversed at the center by a long horizontal band of narrow, richly textured lines of cobalt blue and white. Ostensibly an homage to Whistler’s “Nocturnes,” Hodgkin’s work flips back and forth between figuration and abstraction, as the bright, sumptuous lines and dark framing device hint at a distant seashore viewed from a shadowy interior.
The 1985 Turner Prize winner’s paintings are often referred to as “pictorial objects,” and in two of the most experimental pieces—and the largest here, at nearly 7 by 9 feet each—he lets the bare wood surfaces predominate. Inspired by childhood memories from the time the artist lived in the U.S. during WWII, And the Skies are not Cloudy All Day (2007-08) is a spare composition with only frantic brushstrokes of bright green clustered in the upper portion of the panel. Conveying a sense of exuberant physicality, the work suggests the movement of the artist’s body as well as a verdant field. Less successful, Where Seldom is Heard a Discouraging Word features dashes of cobalt blue in the upper section and sweeping strokes of orange and yellow below. The painting hints at an expansive landscape scene, but it is relatively schematic and less forceful than its monochrome companion.
Photo: Howard Hodgkin: After Whistler, 2010, oil on wood, 35 by 45 inches; at Gagosian.