"Passion lies between one mark and the next, and also within all of them" -Howard Hodgkin, 1984
With the characteristic flourish of his gestural brushstrokes, Howard Hodgkin's Down in the Valley, translates into painterly form the complex myriad of colors contained within a brief memory of the countryside. Hodgkin's paintings are almost always inspired by an actual event--a memory of a time or place--and only when the artist has recalled the scene in his mind does he begin translating that memory and committing it canvas.
Once he begins painting, the process can take a long time. Whilst the colors may be vivid and the brushstrokes energetic, the actual process of laying down the layers of paint may take a number of years and only end when the original inspiration finally appears in the artist's mind. "My pictures are finished when the subject comes back," Hodgkin once told David Sylvester. "I start out with the subject and naturally I have to remember first of all what it looked like, but it would also perhaps contain a great deal of feeling and sentiment. All of that has got to be somehow transmuted, transformed or made into a physical object, and when that happens, when that's finally been done, when the last physical marks have been put on and the subject comes back-which, after all, is usually the moment when the painting is at long last a physical coherent object-well, then the picture's finished and the is no question of doing anything more to it. My pictures really finish themselves" (H. Hodgkin, interviewed by D. Sylvester, in Howard Hodgkin: Forty Paintings, exh. cat., Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1984, p. 97).
The result is a rich and complex series of painterly layers of color and form that, in Down in the Valley, manifest themselves as plains of vibrant and pulsating greens, interspersed with passages of electric blue. In a supporting role, passages of warm red and mauve peek through the openings left by these schisms of paint to add a sense of chromatic balance to the composition. The journey of Hodgkin's hand across the surface of the canvas can clearly be seen in the sweeping trails of his brushwork, which even escape the traditional confines of the frame specifically chosen by the artist.
His intention in doing this is to turn the painting into an object, rather than just a reconstruction of memory and object whose construction is clearly an important part of the end result, as the critic John McEwen points out, "Viewed from a distance of centimeters rather than meters the thickness of the paint, the anxious extent of his revisions, is often plain to see-the final coats, though lightly of the moment, incorporate all that has preceded them. Glints, not of underpainting, but buried entities that enliven the edges and gaps of these final images" (J. McEwen, ibid., p. 9).