‘Hodgkin’s Venice is not really a place, but rather a set of ideas, attitudes and feelings’
(A. Graham-Dixon, Howard Hodgkin, London 1994, p. 62).
‘I’m very conscious of the past, and I once made a very glib remark in an interview with someone saying the past is the only home we’ve got. It is a silly remark, but it’s also true. It’s amazing how so much modern art is a comment on what has gone. For obvious reasons nobody can comment on what is to come. But I’ve always thought that art breeds art. Art comes from art, and that’s why the past is so important’
(H. Hodgkin, quoted in Art Now: Interviews with Modern Artists, London 2002, p. 30).
Painted over a five year period, Howard Hodgkin’s Rain at Il Palazzo pays tribute to the artist’s lifelong fascination with the city of Venice, inaugurated in 1984 when he represented Britain at the forty-first Venice Biennale. This first trip gave rise to a series of paintings that capture the city’s eternal spirit: a vision that has endured throughout Hodgkin’s career. Executed on a grand scale in a vibrant palette of verdant green, deep cerulean blue and sunset orange, Rain at Il Palazzo is one of the largest of Hodgkin’s Italian paintings, presenting a magnificent impression of the intoxicating city. In 2001 the work was exhibited at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in a much lauded exhibition of Hodgkin’s work, alongside the gallery’s permanent collection of Old Master paintings. Hodgkin was delighted by the effect of the present work, which was hung between two landscapes by Aelbert Cuyp. In a review in the Financial Times, William Packer observed, ‘Do these two small Cuyps by their sympathy not bring out in the Hodgkin a structure and an order that otherwise, perhaps, we might not have looked for and does not the Hodgkin bring out, perhaps, a romantic elegiac amplitude and generosity of feeling that in Cuyp ... too often goes unnoticed?’ (W. Packer, quoted in E. Juncosa (ed.), Writers on Howard Hodgkin, Dublin 2006, p. 198). Conscious of the canon of artists in whose legacy he paints, Hodgkin’s Venice paintings follow in the tradition of such illustrious artists as Canaletto, J.M.W. Turner and Lucio Fontana, evoking the tumultuous atmosphere and fluctuating illumination of the city with extraordinary precision. With its bold colour and form rendered through thick, freely-applied brushstrokes, Rain at Il Palazzo 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 paint. Through his complex use of colour and evocative, sweeping brush strokes Hodgkin addresses those elements of human experience whose expression is beyond the means of traditional representational painting. While his atmospheric paintings articulate moments past, or a transient memory, Hodgkin remains conscious that the medium of paint is an inadequate substitute for an irretrievable experience. His Venice paintings encapsulate ‘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). As Andrew Graham-Dixon has observed, ‘Hodgkin’s Venice is not really a place, but rather a set of ideas, attitudes and feelings’ (A. Graham-Dixon, Howard Hodgkin, London 1994, p. 62). With its burst of explosive light and colour, and evocative atmospheric effects, Rain at Il Palazzo pays homage to Turner’s Venetian pictures, capturing the reflections that play across the rippling, broken water. Yet while Turner’s Venice is a place constantly in flux, viewed through a haze of sprayed water and grand elemental conditions, Hodgkin’s Venice, as Graham-Dixon has noted, differs significantly. It ‘is a place where things are seen, dimly, through veils of dense obscuring atmosphere, where objects metamorphose into barely perceptible apparitions’ (A. Graham-Dixon, Howard Hodgkin, London 1994, p. 62).
In Rain at Il Palazzo with swift, assured brushstrokes Hodgkin spans the height of the canvas with streaks of chalky green. Casting a glow over the painting a burning orange sphere is cut across with panels of dramatic black and white. Despite the immediacy of these 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. Frequently painted over a period of several years, the vigorous brushwork and non-representational use of colour captures shifting viewpoints and the changing perspectives caused by the passage 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 there 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).