Howard Hodgkin is a master print maker. Scarborough Art Gallery’s summer exhibition of his work is a wonderful feast for the eye, full of exuberance, colour and texture. It is hard to believe that some of the works are actually prints thanks to the hand colouring techniques that he uses, painting directly onto the printing plate with carborundum. They are not reproductions of anything but their own selves, glowing with presence and light, a direct spontaneous expression of the artist’s feelings. While they don’t always represent objects as such, none of them are abstract. They all recall memories of people, places and events. They are pure emotion transferred onto paper and they sing out from the wall.
My favourite images were the four large Venice prints, morning, afternoon, evening and night which form an enchanting record of the city showing how the light changes through the day. The shimmering water reflects the light and the buildings along the edge of the water. The depth of colour draws you in and shows you the essence of the city rather than an exact visual record, a tantalising glimpse of beauty shimmering just out of sight. They have great power and presence and also represent a considerable technical achievement, the first three are each made from sixteen separate prints which are arranged in rows of four to form a single image.
Monsoon is a blaze of colour and movement. You can feel the intensity of the rain and the effect of the downpour. This is not the weary dull rain of the North. It is rain that has been long waited for, rain which brings joy and rebirth, the kind of rain that makes you want to go outside, hold out your arms and celebrate. The surface of the print seems wet with riotous splashes of it.
There are several images of palm trees in the exhibition, each of them a celebration of the explosive shape of the tree as it shoots upwards and bursts into life. This one, Night Palm, is shown as if it is illuminated in the darkness, perhaps by streetlights. It has its own grace and prescence, just as a real palm tree does, towering over everything around it.
This print, seafood, is the essence of the sea. Blues and whites foam and undulate in swirling shapes of foam and bubbles. In the centre the white highlights on the deep blue and the dark green bubbles suggest the effect of light on water. The whole print seems to be on the move, like the sea itself.
Another print full of movement. You can dive into this one! The water has just been disturbed by someone going into the pool head first and we are seeing the first large splash as the water spills up into the air and out over the tiles around the pool. This also draws you into the centre of the print, into the darker deep water away from the sunlit green tiles around the edge. There is a sense of mystery alongside the simple joy of the dive.
This was another of my favourites. The colours are stunning and the whole image seems to have an inner light of its own. The title gives you little clue what prompted Howard Hodgkin to make the print so we are left to draw our own conclusions. We can lose ourselves in the vortex of colour which draws us into the darkness at the centre of the print and stand there in that central patch of sunlit yellow, ready to leap off into who knows where.
This exhibition is a wonderful selection of a master printmakers work and we are lucky to have it in Scarborough for a while. The visitors book was a real mixture of joyful admiration and blinkered incomprehension- typical of a backward looking, slightly pompous but down at heel seaside town which doesn’t always deserve the delights that are served up for it. Nevertheless people who would really rather be looking at the lid of a chocolate box have been made to think- whether they like it or not. I have a feeling that the children who were thronging into the gallery entrance while I was there, dressed in painting shirts and ready for action, might have had less trouble engaging with it.