British printmaker and supreme colorist Howard Hodgkin is considered by some critics to be one of Britain’s finest contemporary painters who fills the gap between representation and abstraction.
Howard Hodgkin, originally known as Gordon Howard Eliot Hodgkin, was born on August 6, 1932 in London into a prominent Quaker family of scientists, connoisseurs, collectors and classifiers. While his father served in the Royal Air Force, a young Howard was evacuated to New York and stayed in a former governor's residence on Long Island as a refugee of wartime London.
After the Second World War, Hodgkin was sent by relatives to Eton to study art under Wilfred Blunt. Unhappy with this arrangement, he frequently ran away until his parents had him transferred to Bryanston where he studied under Charles Handley-Read in 1949. He attended the Bath Academy of Art from 1950 to1954 where he went on to teach for the next ten years (1956-1966).
At the age of 17, the artist painted ‘Memoirs’ (1949), a portrayal of a woman lying on a sofa in a luxurious room. Although very different in style from his later works, the piece was a stepping stone for some of his later themes.
In1955, Howard Hodgkin married Julia Lane who bore him two sons. During this period, his subjects were emotionally charged figurative groupings that appeared embedded in the matrix of the picture, as seen in ‘Interior of a Museum’ (1956–9).
Though Hodgkin based his works on memories and private experiences, he always managed not to come off as illustrational. When painting on a smaller scale, he used flat colors in a gestural style that, although may have appeared spontaneous, often required years to complete. When asked by Novelist Colm Tóibín from the Guardian how he knows when a painting is finished, he replied; “A painting is finished, when the subject comes back, when what has caused the painting to be made comes back as an object.”
In 1962, he had his first solo exhibition in London. ‘Mr. and Mrs. Robyn Denny’ (1960), one of the works from this period, portrays a combination of figuration and abstraction that reflects how the artist is feeling in the couple’s presence.
In the 1970’s, Howard Hodgkin spent some time in India taking an interest in the traditional painting of that country. Upon his return to England, he suffered from amoebiasis, the result of a parasite he had picked up in India. The illness gave the artist time to reflect on his life and fueled in him a desire to live a more meaningful and honest life style. Upon his recovery, he informed his wife of his homosexuality and the couple split up shortly after. In 1983, after a few failed relationships, he settled down with music writer Antony Peattie.
In 1984, Howard Hodgkin represented Britain at the Venice Biennale, and a year later won the Turner Prize for contemporary art. In 2003, he was Knighted by Queen Elizabeth II, and appointed a Companion of Honor for "services to art" in the 2003 New Year Honors. In a more recent exhibition (2006), Tate Britain showcased a major retrospective of his work consisting of over sixty paintings, from the 1950’s to his present day accomplishments.