If I were to run an art school I should take a tall house, and I should put the model and the beginners in the top storey; and as a student’s work improved I should send him down a floor, until at last he would work upon the level of the street, and would have to run up six flights of stairs every time he wanted to look at the model’ (Howard Hodgkin)
For Hodgkin working from life was negligible, instead memory played a vital role in reshaping experience and understanding. He would often not finish painting a single moment he had witnessed until months or even years later, allowing time to warp the emotional ethos of the subject. Despite the titles of Hodgkin’s works often hinting at their theme, we are left with few visual indicators. Described as a deeply passionate person by contemporaries such as Nicholas Serota, it is no wonder Hodgkin transformed his experiences into coherent physical objects that contain an evanescent and emotional sense of realism, with which he would rather move the viewer than convey the nature of an extract from his life.
‘I am a representational painter, but not a painter of appearances. I paint representational pictures of emotional situations’ (H. Hodgkin, quoted in M. Price, Howard Hodgkin: The Complete Paintings Catalogue Raisonné, Fort Worth, 2006, p. 14).
Once More with Feeling, is characteristic of the artist’s output in the late 1990s. Hodgkin shows an audacious confidence as he begins to abandon all representational forms and works purely in his own language of bold painterly abstraction that he is so revered for. In the 60s and 70s the subjects of his work are reflected in his composition and subject; small identifying features of faces are distinguishable in his portraits; architectural spaces are built up in structural planes and the smooth fluid horizontal planes of his Venice scenes conjure up the reflections of Italianate Facades on the acqua alta. By the early 90s Hodgkin’s confidence in his practice is clearly building, no doubt aided by major career milestones. In 1984 Hodgkin represented Britain at the Venice Biennale, in 1985 he won the Turner Prize, and in 1992 he was knighted. Despite this road to recognition Hodgkin cited a major exhibition of his works at London’s Hayward Gallery in 1996 as a “gigantic step” in his career, which marked the moment “when I began to feel like yes, I could.” It follows that works created after this emotional watershed are perhaps the most honest and personal of his oeuvre - pure expressions of the artist’s creative instinct. Once More with Feeling is a perfect example of Hodgkin’s new found confidence, and as such is rather fittingly titled.
Great swathes of emerald green sweep over the bird’s eye maple veneer of the 19th Century pine frame, interrupted with the occasional flecks of neon pink and turquoise. As Hodgkin observes, the inclusion of a frame imbues his work with a sense of protection: ‘I sometimes go to immense lengths to, as it was, fortify them before they leave the studio. The more evanescent the emotions I want to convey, the thicker the panel, the heavier the framing, the more elaborate the border, so that the delicate thing will remain protected and intact’ (H. Hodgkin, quoted in ibid., p. 33).
Once More with Feeling is incredibly contemporary in its vitality and must have shone like a gem in the artist’s infamously desolate studio: a white cube flooded with natural light in Bloomsbury. Hodgkin’s palette is explosive. He was strongly influenced by Indian artists, whose work he had been obsessed with while visiting the country regularly for years. He identified with their representational techniques that do not follow Western Art's conventions, and more specifically don't break the picture planes with 'false' perspective.
‘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’ (H. Hodgkin, quoted in J. McEwen, exhibition catalogue, “Introduction” in Howard Hodgkin: Forty Paintings, London, 1984, p. 10).