29 September 2013

Susan Sontag on Howard Hodgkins #4

So many of the pictures refer to "abroad," as it used to be called. To sites of dalliance already consecrated by great painters of the past, which one never tires of revisiting: India, Italy, France, Morocco, Egypt. Seasons in their foreign plumage: fruit, palm trees, a searingly colored sky. And home pleasures consumed on foreign premises. (In bed in Venice... not in bed in London; the painter is not traveling alone.) There is love-making and dining and looking at art and shopping and gazing out over water. The sites bespeak an avid eye, and a taste for the domesticated; gardens and terraces, not forests and mountains. The evocation of sensuous, fortunate tourism -- dinner parties, nocturnal promenades, cherished art, memorable visits -- boldly affirms the idea of pleasure. 
   But the titles also intimate another relation to pleasure, with their naming of weather and seasons and times of day. The most common weather is rain; the season is invariably autumn; if a time of day is cited, its usually sunset -- which, apart from being in the thesaurus of melancholy.
   All the titles with "sunset," "autumn," "rain," "after....," "goodbye to.....," "the last time....," suggest rueful shadow cast on all pleasures when they are framed, theatrical-ized even , as acts of memory.
   Hodgkins may often be en voyage, but not as a beholder (the impressionist project). In the place of beholder, there is a rememberer. Both pursuits, that of the traveler and the collector, are steeped in elegiac feeling.

25 September 2013

Susan Sontag on Howard Hodgkins #3

Venice: once, again. Imagining the imagined. When you want to see Venice again, and you have seen it many times, rising out of the sea, in winter perhaps, semi-deserted, what you appreciate is that it will not have changed at all.
  Or you stand at the railing of the boat going up the Nile, a day's journey from Luxor, and it's sunset. You're just looking. There are no words you are impelled to write down; you don't make a sketch or take a photograph. You look, and sometimes your eyes feel tired, and you look again, and you feel saturated, and happy, and terribly anxious.
  There is a price to be paid for stubbornly continuing to make love with one's eyes to these famous tourist-weary places. For not letting go: of ruined grandeur, of the imperative of bliss. For continuing to work on behalf of it, in praise of, beauty. It's not that one hasn't noticed that this is an activity which people rather condescend to now. 
  Indeed, one might spend a lifetime apologizing for having found so many ways acceding to ecstasy.

24 September 2013


Dandelions open up 
As I write this down,
Morning sun.

22 September 2013


Sunday, nothing to do
But kiss dandelions-
White butterfly.

21 September 2013

Susan Sontag on Howard Hodgkins #2

Devolving now, the modernist tasks and liberties have stirred up a canny diffidence among painters of the largest accomplishment when pressed to talk about their art. It appears unseemly, or naive, to have much to say about the pictures or to attach to them any explicit "program." No more theories expounding an ideal way of painting. And, as statements wither and with them counter-statements, hardly anything in the way of provocation either. Decorum suggests that artists sound somewhat trapped when drawn out, and venturing a few cagey glimpses of intention. Complementing that vulnerable fortress of modernist taste, the white wall of the gallery, is a final redoubt of modernism under siege, the white mind of the painter. And the thoughtful - as distinct from inarticulate - may have good reason to be wary, anxious, at a loss (for words).

20 September 2013


Jumping crickets:
Looking for winter homes,
Or tiny caskets? 

18 September 2013


This, the season
Of plums! sweet bosoms
From the cradle.

16 September 2013


Green things
Whisper yellow-
Autumn song.

15 September 2013


From a sea of green-
Hello! from the sunflower
That could.

14 September 2013

Susan Sontag on Howard Hodgkins

Its not that the exotic, or the southern, is required to release the impulse of this 'northern' sensibility to paint. 

But it may be that this painter needs to travel. 

A trip is an intensifer, license to the avid eye (and other senses). You need the separation, from home. And then you need the return home, to consider what you have stored up.

In principle, the painter could make pictures out of everything he has lived through and done and seen. This creates an unbearable acute pressure to paint, and an equally acute feeling of anxiety.  Travel, the impression that one has ventured outside oneself, can be used as a filter and goad. It organizes the desire to paint. It gives it a rhythm and the right kind of delay. 

It is important not to see too much. (And there is nothing to reproduce). Hence Hodgkins doesn't sketch, doesn't take photographs, doesn't do anything obvious to commit to memory the scene or an interior or a view or a face -- instead trusting what will happen when the sight of something has burrowed itself deep down in memory, when it has accumulated emotional and pictorial gravity.

A way of feeling is a way of seeing. 

What is worth painting is what remains in, and is transformed by memory. And what survives the test of long-term deliberation and countless acts of re-vision. Pictures result from the accretion of many decisions (or layers, or brush strokes); some are worked on for years, to find the right exact thickness of feeling.

11 September 2013


It kills me
Killing butterflies
By car.

09 September 2013


Venturing out
To the open field,
The bamboo shoot.

08 September 2013


A beetle,
Even with wings
It climbs the wall.

07 September 2013


One by one,
Red fingers.

04 September 2013

02 September 2013


'I'm sad and lonely'
Said a friend today
By Skype.

Catching flies, René Burri

01 September 2013


A tractor spreading shit
Over wildflowers.
Morning breeze.