‘The surface of In the Green Room… seems to break out in large, freely applied brushmarks of scintillating orange paint and due to their joyful intensity, the resulting surface gives an impression of freedom. Yet Hodgkin has worked on the pictures for at least three years, adjusting the relationship of one section to another. The effect of spontaneity is achieved by controlled and painstaking effort which fnally results in a composition which combines logic and sensuality in a unique way’ (N. Rosenthal, ‘Three Painters of this Time: Hodgkin, Kitaj and Morley’, in British Art in the 20th Century: The Modern Movement, London, 1987, p. 382).
‘Hodgkin creates, through… spaces heavy with emotion, the texture of a dream – the way dreams are made of dangerous fragments of life slipping into and out of one another’ (D. Sylvester, quoted in Howard Hodgkin: Time and Place, exh. cat., Modern Art Oxford, Oxford, 2010, p. 83).
Executed over a three year period of unprecedented success for Howard Hodgkin during which he represented Britain at the XLI Venice Biennale in 1984 and was awarded the Turner Prize in 1985, In the Green Room is one of the largest paintings made by the artist in the first thirty-five years of his career. Rendered in a vibrant palette of forest green and royal blue, overlaid by a dappled pattern of brilliant, sunset orange brush marks, In the Green Room is a stunning, large scale example of Howard Hodgkin’s extraordinary commitment to painting and its emotive potential. Referring to the pistachio green paint with which he decorated the walls of his partner Antony Peattie’s sitting room in Cornwall shortly after they first met, the present work evokes the personal and professional happiness enjoyed by Hodgkin at this time. With thick, freely applied brushstrokes and bold use of pure colour and form Hodgkin evokes an intimate interior scene, constructing a fragmented reality that both reveals and conceals his subject. Through his complex use of colour, evocative, sweeping brush strokes and loosely geometric structures, Hodgkin addresses those elements of human experience whose expression is beyond the means of traditional representational painting. With its dynamic mark making and invigorating colour scheme, In the Green Room reflects the artist’s vivacity and self-assurance at this stimulating moment in his career. Contemplating the present work Norman Rosenthal has written: ‘The surface of In the Green Room…seems to break out in large, freely applied brushmarks of scintillating orange paint and due to their joyful intensity, the resulting surface gives an impression of freedom. Yet Hodgkin has worked on the pictures for at least three years, adjusting the relationship of one section to another. The effect of spontaneity is achieved by controlled and painstaking effort which finally results in a composition which combines logic and sensuality in a unique way’ (N. Rosenthal, ‘Three Painters of this Time: Hodgkin, Kitaj and Morley’, in British Art in the 20th Century: The Modern Movement, London, 1987, p. 382). Featured in the Royal Academy’s landmark exhibition, British Art in the 20th Century: The Modern Movement in 1987, In the Green Room is an outstanding expression of Hodgkin’s unique artistic language that treads the boundary between abstraction and representation.
Hodgkin’s paintings are inspired by non-representational moments distilled through the artist’s mind’s eye, transforming the oneiric quality of memory into the tactile medium of painting. Eluding explicit figuration, the remarkable air of In the Green Room is articulated purely through Hodgkin’s extraordinary sensitivity to the effects of colour and his uncanny ability to stimulate an emotive response in the viewer. The result is a rich and complex series of painterly layers of colour and form that hints at representation without ever coming into focus. Hodgkin, in his own words, addresses the ‘evasiveness of reality’ (H. Hodgkin, quoted in ‘Howard Hodgkin interviewed by David Sylvester’ in Howard Hodgkin: Forty Paintings, 1973-84, exh. cat., Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, 1984, p. 97). David Sylvester has observed, ‘Hodgkin creates, through … spaces heavy with emotion, the texture of a dream – the way dreams are made of dangerous fragments of life slipping into and out of one another’ (D. Sylvester, quoted in Howard Hodgkin: Time and Place, exh. cat., Modern Art Oxford, Oxford, 2010, p. 83). The trace of the artist’s hand across the surface of the wooden board can be seen in the sweeps of rose pink and silvery grey superimposed over the network of orange impressions. It is through the artist’s intentional concealment and repetition of layered images that Hodgkin elicits a complex dialogue between artist and viewer.
In the Green Room presents us with a domestic interior, a recurring subject within Hodgkin’s work. From the combination of the environment depicted, the objects contained and the social interactions remembered, the artist creates paintings that reflect the psychological moment, using vivid colour and expansive form. From beneath the fanned out imprints of the artist’s brush emerges a blue vortex, directing the viewer’s gaze inwards towards a tantalising palimpsest: a green triangle is nestled in the underlying layers of paint, mirrored identically in the top left hand corner of the painting. This internalising gesture embroils the viewer in Hodgkin’s struggle between fatness and depth, drawing them into the composition as though entering a room, reminiscent of the spatial discontinuities of Matisse’s The Red Studio (1911), an artist that Hodgkin has long admired. The result is a total vision in which he concentrates the effects of the colours at the centre while also allowing the amplified Pointillist dots to add another layer of information to the picture. Hodgkin explains: ‘I would like to paint pictures where people didn’t care what anything was, because they were so enveloped by them’ (H. Hodgkin, quoted in A. Graham-Dixon, Howard Hodgkin, London 1994, p. 178). Hodgkin’s fascination with the domestic milieu, alongside his use of dense colour and irregular perspective has often drawn comparisons with French Intimist painters such as Édouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard for whom the artist has in the past professed admiration.
Despite the immediacy of his gestures, it often takes months of preparation for Hodgkin to execute a single brushstroke. Whilst the colours 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. Painted over a period of several years, the vigorous brushwork and non-representational use of colour incorporates the scene from shifting viewpoints and with the changing perspectives caused by the passing of time. ‘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, quoted in D. Sylvester, Howard Hodgkin: Forty Paintings, exh. cat., Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, 1984, p. 97).