“The pictures with the heaviest historical load to bear, however, are arguably those like Memories and In Raimund Stecker’s Garden, where Hodgkin has painted directly on to the backs of very larger, antique frames (“my one luxury”) he explains).”
-Richard Kendall in ‘Panel Discussions: Howard Hodgkin’s Large Paintings’ from Howard Hodgkin Large Paintings, 1984-2002, p. 28
"All Hodgkin's pictures can be thought of as the grit of some experience pearled by reflection. They begin where words fail, evocations of mood and sensation more than visual records, but descriptions indubitably of the physical as well as the emotional reality”
(J. McEwen, "Introduction" in Howard Hodgkin: Forty Paintings, exh. cat. London 1984, p. 10).
Howard Hodgkin’s In Raimund Stecker’s Garden, translates into painterly form the complex myriad of colors contained within a brief memory. With the characteristic flourish of his gestural brushstrokes, Hodgkin suggests natural phenomena without a strict adherence to the confines of figuration. Evocative of a sublime pastoral, variegated swathes of verdant green, yellow and blue paint flood the pictorial space, the tactility of the sumptuous paint introducing a sense of pictorial depth and movement into the composition. Painted directly on the artist’s frame, the push and pull of the contrasting colors pulsate beyond the traditional boundaries of painting.
Hodgkin’s paintings are almost always inspired by the memory of a place or travel distilled in Hodgkin’s mind’s eye. Honoring Director of the Arp Museum in Remagen In Raimund Stecker’s Garden was painted during Stecker’s tenure at the Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen, Düsseldorf several years after Hodgkin’s exhibition there in 1995. Nothing however is made explicit: the remarkable air of the work is articulated purely through Hodgkin’s extraordinary sensitivity to the effects of color and his uncanny ability to stimulate an emotive response in the viewer. The result is a rich and complex series of painterly layers of color and form that hints at representation without ever defining it. Rather, Hodgkin creates and expansive and emotive allusion to the garden of the museum director. 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.
The journey of Hodgkin’s hand across the surface of the board can clearly be seen in the sweeping trails of his brushwork, which escape the traditional confines of the frame specifically chosen by the artist. It is through the artist’s intentional concealment and repetition of layered images that Hodgkin elicits a complex relationship of responsiveness between artist and viewer. According to Andrew Graham-Dixon, “The frequent references to travel in Hodgkin’s art, the countless allusions to places that are foreign, alien or unfamiliar, record the painter’s movements, but only imprecisely, and they do not stop at that. They amount to a statement of ambition for the paintings themselves. They say that to look at a picture should itself be to travel, to be transported, to be taken somewhere else. Every painting is its own self-sufficient world to be experienced as we would experience a foreign place travelled to for the first time: radiant, uncanny alien... This may partly explain Hodgkin’s preference for colors that are clear and fresh and unclouded, colors as seen by someone who approaches the world with the attitude of the one travelling, who sees it unveiled and undimmed” (A. Graham-Dixon, Howard Hodgkin, London 1994, pp. 103-104).
Despite the immediacy of his gestures, it often takes months of preparation for Hodgkin to execute a single brushstroke. While the colors may be vivid and the brushstrokes energetic, the actual process of laying down the layers of paint may take a number of years and only end when the original inspiration finally appears in the artist’s mind. Painted over a prolonged period of time, the energetic brushwork and non-representational use of color incorporates the scene from shifting viewpoints and with the changing perspectives caused by the passing of time. This non-representational depiction is further enhanced by Hodgkin’s refusal to contain his reminiscences within the confines of the traditional painted surface. His brushwork escapes the restrictions of the edge of his support (in this case, wood) and advances his gestures out towards and through the traditional painterly boundary of the frame. ‘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 the 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).