Monday, March 26, 2007

Hodgkin's Disease



One of James Thurber's seminal thoughts on the creative process went something like this:

The hardest part of my job is convincing my wife that staring out the window is part of it.

You can tell this isn't an exact quote. He was far too sharp a stylist to double up on the word "part" in so short a space.

Anyway, all of which brings me to the need for painters to look at paintings as part of their work (other people call this "going to museums"), and to Hodgkin's Disease, not as a type of cancer but as the fascination I have with the British painter Howard Hodgkin that took me, this weekend, to a place as far-flung as New Haven, Conn.

This, of course, would be a Hodgkin:



You can see how it can be congtagious.

Here's another:



It's called "In the Bedroom" for reasons that escape me. Likewise the opacity of the titling of "After Degas" (not shown), which apparently has nothing to do with the oggling of young women in tutus.

Oddly enough, the top one is called "In Bed In Venice", which, if you give it a gander, may make some sense.

Me? I'm working on something called "Big Maria I (Plane Too Many)". Which is pretty straightforward: The painting is pretty big (4'x5'), her first name is Maria, it's the first one I've done of her (as indicated by the Roman numeral I), and, of course, the joke in parantheses. It's a phonetic joke in that the name of the painting, if read aloud, sounds like "Big Maria, One Plane Too Many." This is a reference to Maria Bartiromo's much-publicized, alleged mile-high dalliance with Citigroup biggie Todd Thompson (who subsequently lost his job over the thing) in the company jet.

So that's a pretty straightforward title.

Further to Hodgkin, Wikipedia offers, in part:
Hodgkin's paintings often seek to convey memories of encounters with friends and frequently carry titles alluding to specific places and events such as Dinner at West Hill (1966) and Goodbye to the Bay of Naples (1980–82). Hodgkin himself has said that he paints "representational pictures of emotional situations".
Okay, I'll bite on that. But it goes on:

Despite their apparent spontaneity and usually small scale, many of Hodgkin's paintings take years to complete, with him returning to a work after a wait and then changing it or adding to it. He often paints over the frames of his pictures, 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, rather than canvas. A number of his works not shown in frames are surrounded by rectangles of simple colour.
Here, the boys at Wikipedia go off the track a bit. What they should have said (and which I'd add, but I can't figure out how to contribute to the damned thing) was that Hodgkin's choice of painting over his frame is, in fact, an effort to take ownership of the framing of the painting by otherwise defining the space within the larger whole (i.e. with paint, rather than with a frame). You could argue that his work has more kinship visually with theatrical production than with traditional 2-dimensional painted imagery. Look at "In Bed In Venice" and tell me if it doesn't seem like there's a curtain being drawn aside, revealing whatever the hell it's supposed to reveal.

This man has more curtains than Carter had liver pills. To wit "Going For a Walk with Andrew":


Disregard the white border and remind me to tell you about the hamburgers.

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