Held for over twenty years in the collection of Jeremy Lancaster – whose group of works by Howard Hodgkin formed the core of his remarkable assembly of 20th century art, and spanned seven decades of the artist’s career – In the Middle of the Night (1996) is a painting that transforms memory into a blazing, jewel-like object. Its heavy wooden frame is brushed with fiery orange. A black silhouette looms from the right of the centre’s glimmering grey; a vivid flash of green illuminates the whole. The painting is condensed as a haiku, its small scale resounding with lyrical impact.
By enshrining his works in painted frames, Hodgkin sought to make them into autonomous, self-sufficient things, melding sensory impressions with feeling to create abstracted pictures of memory. ‘I am a representational painter, but not a painter of appearances’, he explained. ‘I paint representational pictures of emotional states’ (H. Hodgkin, quoted in E. Juncosa (ed.), Writers on Howard Hodgkin, London, 2006, p. 104). While some of his titles name people or places, In the Middle of the Night indicates a temporal moment, where any sense of event is ambiguous. Is this a memory of a dream, a sudden awakening, or a long evening stretching on into the dark?
If the specifics are known only to Hodgkin, the painting emits a rich nocturnal radiance. The slick black shadow, viridian gleam and pearly, moonlight grey are Turner-esque in their evoking of atmospheric effects, whether in a literal sense or as analogue to the stormy weathers of emotion. These shapes and colours might picture a human relationship, a remembered room, a complexity of longing, or love. The essential privacy of Hodgkin’s work is not at odds with its emotive power. ‘Obviously, my language of forms has far more than a physical purpose,’ he once said. ‘Alone in my studio, working on my pictures, more than anything, I long to share my feelings’ (H. Hodgkin, London, 13 March 1995, in J. Elderfield and H. Hodgkin, ‘An Exchange’, in Howard Hodgkin Paintings, London 1995, p. 80).