Howard Hodgkin, 'Rain' 1984-9

Howard Hodgkin
Rain 1984-9
Oil on wood
support: 1640 x 1795 x 51 mm
Purchased 1990© Howard Hodgkin

It is the size of this picture that stops you in your tracks. That and the energy of the paint applied with giant brushstrokes, big bits of paint, layered thin and thick with bites of brightness. Reproductions never prepare you for the shock of seeing a picture bigger than you are.

But the more you look, the less this picture seems to have a physical reality. Is it made of paint or of something else less tangible?

The terracottas and emeralds, framed by an uncertain grey, and then the singing, jumping blue, stir the memory, and suddenly this painting is Rain. Reminders of washed brick, wet foliage, damp umbrellas and dull stone lead to memories of the experience of standing in the dampness with the intense smells that come after a shower.

The edges of this picture flicker with relentless drizzle, the movement like that when we strain our eyes out of the window to judge if we need a raincoat. Then the wet slab of blue comes at us out of the darkness, just as objects do in the dull light of an overcast day when deep colours brighten. The black shutter above threatens a storm.

We look through the curtains of grey, small deluges of their own, to a brightness beyond. The raincloud will pass and the air will clear.

Not many pictures are able to evoke so many senses for me, and yet what are we looking at? Only paint. It is as if Hodgkin can record a shorthand of experience and allow us to play it back. I’ll visit again.

This article was originally published in Tate Magazine issue 1.