Howard Hodgkin, ‘Clean Sheets’ 1979–84
Howard Hodgkin
Clean Sheets 1979–84
© Howard Hodgkin

I am a representational painter, but not a painter of appearances. I paint representational pictures of emotional situations.

In 1976 Hodgkin discovered a medium called Liquin which transformed his method of working. It reduced the drying time of his pigments and allowed him to build up layers of oil while preserving the paint’s luminosity and fluidity, as visible in the overlapping marks of Red Bermudas 1978–80 and the translucent glazes in Clean Sheets 1982–4.

Howard Hodgkin Red Bermudas

Howard Hodgkin
Red Bermudas 1978–80
The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Hodgkin’s work of the late 1970s reached a new level of emotional intensity as his subject matter grew more personal and intimate. Reflecting his admiration for the painter Edouard Vuillard and the Symbolist poets, Hodgkin uses pure colour to depict transient moments not by describing them, but by suggesting them indirectly. The pictures present reality through fragmented glimpses – they both reveal and conceal their subject.

Howard Hodgkin Waking up in Naples

Howard Hodgkin
Waking up in Naples 1980–4
Private collection, London

In addition to moments of anger, jealousy or pain, certain pictures explicitly refer to erotic situations. The unpainted curve of wood in the lower register of Waking up in Naples 1980–4 models the contour of a reclining nude.