‘[Hodgkin’s paintings] seem to keep colour alive and floating with the frame’
Dating from a triumphant moment in Howard Hodgkin’s career, Mirza’s Room is a sensitive accrual of colour, light and texture. Begun in 1995 – the year that saw the opening of his landmark touring retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York – the work demonstrates Hodgkin’s mastery of paint during a time of significant international acclaim. Characteristically for the artist, the work alludes to a friend, invoking a shared moment and place embedded in his psyche. With its richly expressive brushwork, Mirza’s Room conjures an interiority without directly representing any recognizable architectural setting; rooms, for Hodgkin, serve as ‘containers of memory and experience’ (H. Hodgkin, quoted in M. Gayford, ‘Beyond the Surface: Howard Hodgkin, 1932-2017’, Apollo, 9 March 2017). The result is an elaborate and luminous layering of colour: in the centre, a yellow rectangle glows brightly behind flourishes of black and electric orange daubs. Despite its spontaneous appearance, the work represents years of contemplation, every mark a deliberate act made to look like ‘a very free gesture’ (H. Hodgkin, interviewed by J. Tusa, BBC Radio 3, 7 May 2000). Hodgkin’s signature incorporation of the frame into the picture plane – a device explored throughout his oeuvre – serves to heighten this illusion. By extending the painting, image and support form a unified whole: an autonomous pictorial entity which affirms its own existence. Mirza’s Room omits a radiant, vigorous glow as the frame both protects against the outside world and seals in the act of memory-making itself.