Three Painters from Across the Pond: Hodgkin, Walker, and Scully / by Chris Hall

Howard Hodgkin, Learning About Russian Music, 1999.

Howard Hodgkin, Learning About Russian Music, 1999.

Sir Howard Hodgkin

Sir Howard Hodgkin (1932 - ) is a British painter and printmaker.  Despite often being small in size and deceptively simple,  Hodgkin spends a considerable amount of time with each work, some taking years to complete.  Hodgkin's work are associated with abstraction, in its original understanding, as he abstracts from nature.  His paintings are rich in color, and are often compared with the work of Henri Matisse.  In 1984, Hodgkin represented Britain at the Venice Biennale and in 1985 he won the Turner Prize (a reminder that the Turner Prize was once painter friendly and not so favored toward conceptual art).  In 1992 Hodgkin was knighted.  In 2003 he was appointed by Queen Elizabeth II as a Companion of Honour, as if the title “Sir” wasn't fancy enough.  In September, 2010, Hodgkin and five other British artists including John Walker (who I will discuss next) participated in an exhibition entitled The Independent Eye: Contemporary British Art From the Collection of Samuel and Gabrielle Lurie, at the Yale Center for British Art. 
 


John Walker

John Walker (1939 - ) is a British painter and printmaker whose earliest works are inspired by Abstract Expressionism and Post-Painterly Abstraction.  Rendered in acrylic paint, they often combine three dimensional elements with flatter elements.  Starting in the late 70's Walker moved to using thick impasto oil paints, while making pictorial allusions and quotations from earlier painters, such as Francisco Goya, Edouard Manet, and Henri Matisse.  During this time Walker also started to collage pre-painted canvas cut-outs to his work.  After spending time in Australia, Walker got a position teaching at Victoria College of Art in Melbourne.  It was during this time that he produced his Oceania series, incorporating elements of native Oceanic art.  Walker won the 1976 John Moores Painting Prize in 1976, and was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1985, which went Howard Hodgkin instead.  Walker is currently the head of the graduate painting program at Boston University.  

Sean Scully

Sean Scully (1945 - )  is an Irish-born painter and printmaker, raised in South London, but who now lives in the United States.  He was nominated for the Turner Prize twice, in 1989 and in 1993.  Scully's paintings are often made up of a number of panels, which when assembled, form an abstract pattern.  Painted in thick layers of oil paint, his colorful works have heavily textured surfaces which need to be seen in order to be properly appreciated.  In an 2005 interview Sean Scully had this to say of his work:

“I hold to a very Romantic ideal of what's possible in art, and I hold to the idea of the 'personal universal.' This is a complex agenda. My project is complicated in this way, and in that sense I'm out of fashion. I'm going against the current trend towards bizarreness, oddness; as you just called it, the 'esoteric', which of course was around in the 1930s. That's what is being revisited now. In between the two great wars, there was a very strong period, particularly in Europe, of a strange, bizarre, distorted and perverse kind of figuration, with freaks in the paintings. Very disturbing twins, subjects like that. These paintings were mostly coming out of Italy and Germany. Now we have a return to that—again in a strange period, after the end of Modernism."

Scully's statement is interesting to me, and I think it is a fair assessment of art between the World Wars, and also the current state of contemporary art.  Personally, I look upon Hodgkin, Walker, and Scully's works as an ideal.  Somehow they transcend the nasty, ugly, cold, and soulless work being produced today.  But every work has a place and purpose, and every age gets the art it deserves.  The nasty, ugly, cold, and soulless work is a reflection of our times.  Ah, but to escape!