Copyright © 2000-2020 Paul Hodgson. All rights reserved.

PAUL HODGSON STUDIO


Home        Works        Bio        Texts        Contact


Notes on works from 2011 to the present.

 

In an ongoing series of works, I have chosen to use a relatively confined space in which to construct each scene and to simplify the elements within each image. Taking a reductive approach, my focus has been the placement and positioning of objects and figures in space (and in front of a camera) as a means to explore notions of gesture and intentionality within the process of image making. These works operate in an area between painting and photography, both in terms of the language that they employ and the process through which they have been made. All of the works are pigment prints on canvas with acrylic and oil paint. And the physicality of these works plays an important role in establishing a dialogue between painting and photography.

 

Both Untitled 7 and Untitled 9 employ different types of pictorial language within a single image. In Untitled 7, fragments of an interior (a stool, two drawing boards, the corner of a daybed and window) appear on the surface of a painted screen, creating an illusionistic space that hovers in front of the objects behind it. The screen and its painted image (seemingly transparent compared to the solid objects around it) could be read as a surrogate figure, bearing witness to the other objects. In Untitled 9, a partially seen object (a table) is used to interrupt our appreciation of the two coloured panels next to it, through its suggestion of a second, hidden space. In this work, as well as in Untitled 7, an emphasis is placed on the meeting point between physical objects and painted marks, in an attempt to intervene between the subject (the viewer) and the object in front of them (both the objects depicted and the object that is the canvas).

 

Paul Hodgson



Notes on works from 2008 – 2009.


 

Painting re-entered my work at around this time, when I began a series of works in which I combined paint with photographic and digital elements, focusing upon the material differences between them.

 

In the catalogue to my exhibition at Marlborough Fine Art London in 2010, the poet Andrew Motion used the phrase “honest doubt” as a possible “epigraph” to the show.

 

He goes on to describe how the large scale and bold presentation of the figure lifts a group of six pictures, towards a “heroic scale”, and continues by writing: “Yet in each of the six, what is conventionally regarded as heroic is countered by elements of doubtfulness, introspection and anguish. By the close of the series, indeed, we have been required to think that heroism might in fact arise from the struggle to embrace the opposite”.

 

The first work in this group of six pictures is entitled Dormant Figure (Portrait of Martin Luther).

 

Two things initially drew me to Luther as a subject. The first was the moral and intellectual certitude that he displayed in nailing the Ninety-five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg in 1517. Thereby initiating the Protestant Reformation.

 

The second was a reproduction of an engraving by Cranach the Elder, dated 1520, that depicts Luther as a young monk. This image was produced as propaganda for the cause, but rejected on the grounds that the deep-seated eyes aroused suspicion amongst some. As windows into the soul of the sitter, did they reveal a man who was experiencing strange fantasies? A man whose eyes (according to the Polish diplomat Dantiscus von Hofen) were “just like his books, sharp and glittering strangely, as in the case of possessed people”.

 

To my mind, the elements that sparked objection are exactly those that make the image so potent. Luther’s focus appears to be double edged, displaying both an admirable level of belief, and a narrowness of vision - the latter being betrayed, perhaps, in Cranach’s ‘naïve’ rendering of Luther’s right eye.

 

In taking Cranach’s engraving as a source, and reconstructing it in pale, bleached hues, with thick encrusted paint, my intention was to depict a head that had calcified and, by implication, the calcification of ideas within it.

 

Is it this transformation – from fluid to rigid - that causes his arm to lie heavily on his leg? An arm that, although static, appears full of latent action.

 

This work is a collage both of painted and photographic material. The process of making it began by photographing a model in the studio and using the images to begin a full sized painting and a series of studies. These paintings were then photographed and digitally collaged onto an image of the model and then printed onto a separate canvas – producing a digital pigment print. Areas of the initial full sized painting were cut and removed in order to incorporate sections of this digital print on canvas. I then continued to paint on the new, hybrid surface. Sometimes scraping back to reveal underlying information, sometimes cutting away further sections in order to introduce more of the photographic source.

 

Several of the figures in this body of work appear on the edge of action. To quote Andrew Motion again: “They catch their sitters at a moment of penultimacy”.

 

When deciding how to pose the figure in Binary (which was influenced in part by a sequence from the 1920 German Expressionist film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) I wanted to suggest the moment before a decision is made. A demarcation that might serve to separate two forms, two ideas - perhaps rendering one dark and one light. The figure’s classical looking head was deliberately chosen as a reference to antiquity, and was prompted by my interest in the Italian humanist, historian and statesman Leonardo Bruni (1369-1444). Of particular interest was his decision to label the period between the fall of the classical world, and his own time, as the Dark Ages. In doing so, he heralded a third and modern age, in which antiquity would be reborn to restore classical purity.

 

Having said this, it was not my intention to make an overt reference to this historical subject or, indeed, to make a history painting. Nor was it my intention to make a value judgement. My aim, rather, was to form a generic subject from a decisive moment in history; a subject that could be presented through the arrangement of pictorial elements - a subject that does not require either a historical text or an implied narrative in order to be appreciated. I think that the main subject of this work is the act of deciding. Black or white, right or wrong. A binary decision.

 

In terms of history painting, Dormant Figure (Portrait of Martin Luther) probably comes closest to this genre, through my having identified the subject of the picture in the title. It does not, however, depict an important event from history or mythology, (such as Luther actually nailing his Ninety-five Theses to the Castle Church door) which may have qualified it as a history painting.

 

I was attempting to communicate content through a certain economy of means -for the fabric of the picture to expose the decisions that had been taken in the process of making it. At the same time, for this economy of means to remain sufficiently open to the anomalous nature of the creative process. For there to be ample room for invention, for improvisation.

 

As much as I wanted to make use of pluralism in the work (different styles, techniques, materials etc.,) and use it to examine the value of my subjective response to the subject matter in these works, I did not want the finished works to appear as merely an arrangement of symbols or styles, waiting to be decoded by the viewer.

 

The work that I was making at this time could be described as a form of ‘meta-painting’, or ‘meta-image’ making. They are pictures about painting and about image-making. Paintings that are concerned with the limits of the subject


Paul Hodgson

Paul Hodgson – New works

Marlborough Fine Art, London

17 March – 23 April 2010

 

Catalogue introduction by Andrew Motion

 

 

This is the first significant gathering of new work by Paul Hodgson since ‘Cold Eye’, in which he responded to poems written by Dan Burt and collected in the book Searched For Text (2008). (Although not illustrated in the catalogue, the pictures in ‘Cold Eye’ are included in this show, and the book of the same name is published at the same time.) The phrase ‘Cold Eye’ comes from Yeats, and conjures an idea of detached clarity; in fact the ten images of the series found their most urgent life as they explored different kinds of uncertainty -  ‘Keys to narrative’, as Hodgson says, ‘rather than narrative itself’. In the opening frame we are shown the enigmatic bust of a male head – in profile, on a stand in the corner of what appears to be a studio, with a photograph behind it of two little boys in a pram that is being wheeled by – we are not sure whom. A mother? Some other relative? A nanny? The photograph is cropped so as to keep us in the dark. In the second picture we find another photograph of children – slightly older in this case, but shrouded by a similar sense of mystery: Hodgson has pixilated or stippled the surface in order to confuse precise figuration, and thereby also to convey a sense of identity being masked or becoming diffuse.

 

Initially this compels us to think about the ways that experience in general can threaten our sense of who we are. But as the series progresses, we begin to identify a more precise reference. Burt’s poems are largely and unflinchingly concerned with Jewish suffering during the c20; so too are Hodgson’s pictures preoccupied by memories of oppression. In ‘Inquisition’, for instance, representations of General Pinochet and a figure in Papal dress gradually emerge from a steam-cloud which is at once opaque and bleaching. In ‘’Sie Kommt’ a more plainly-shown female figure suggests a more confident placement in the world, yet everything about her suggests someone on the brink of action, rather than finally committed to it. It is a theme Hodgson maintains with variations throughout the remainder of the series. Individual character is at risk; figures retreat from definition (or are surrounded by reminders of how much is indefinite); the ordeals of a single observant consciousness are reflected in the larger damages of an entire people; explanatory texts are likely to be ‘searched for’ rather than definitive.

 

Many of these themes return in the recent work that Hodgson is exhibiting in this present show. But the much larger scale of the images, and the much bolder presentation of the figures they contain (the mist has burned away) lifts them towards a heroic scale. Yet in each of the six, what is conventionally regarded as heroic is countered by elements of doubtfulness, introspection and anguish. By the close of the series, indeed, we have been required to think that heroism might in fact arise from the struggle to embrace its opposite. The power and originality of these pictures – let alone their stamp of humanity – has to do with the way in which their strong personalities include uncertainty. They catch their sitters at a moment of penultimacy – a time which greatly interested Tennyson, whose ideas about the faithfulness of honest doubting might form an epigraph to the show.

 

‘Dormant Figure’, based on a portrait of Luther by Cranach the Elder and, like most of the series, using a combination of paint and photographic information, is a case in point. At first glance the figure seems immensely powerful and dynamic – the representation of what Hodgson has called an ‘angel of change’. Yet there is wariness in the facial expression as well as conviction, just as there is also latency in the seated posture, rather than activation. In addition, the pale, heavy painting of the face suggests something posthumous (the skull beneath the skin), as does the way the back of the skull slides into shadow. And those oddly modern-looking details, the shoes, and the cuffs? Although they indicate a connection with our own time, and therefore say something about the robustness of Luther’s preaching, they also convey a sense of the vulnerable – of the ordinary human and fallible man persisting beneath the costume of conviction. It is the portrait of questions, as much as it is the picture of a man who thinks he knows the answers.

 

‘Re-form’ presents us with a similar paradox in different terms. Here a solitary female figure stares at us, hands on hips, in a classic pose of confident confrontation. Yet Hodgson’s intention is once again ‘to get to the core of what we are underneath, in our subjective self’ – and when we contemplate the withheld gaze (as if character has been protected by the heavily-painted face), and the cold intervention of the table-corner, we realise that the picture and the sitter retain as much about identity as they put forth.  We can safely say that the woman looks uncomfortable with the fact of her depiction, and that a kind of strength shows in her refusal to become entirely comprehensible. But beyond that, most of her authority depends on her remaining unknowable: an emblem rather than a specific identity; a collection of elements, rather than a single narrative.

 

Discomforts latent in the show’s first two images are magnified in the third, ‘Kathedra’, in which the head is based on an engraving by Durer of one of Luther’s humanist contemporaries. Here, as elsewhere, the setting is dramatic and stage-like, as though filled (and more certainly executed) with complete conviction. But once again this air of authority is matched by its opposites. The empty stand, the seatless chair, the nervously-clenched right fist, the strangely-separate face: all these fill the canvas with uncertainties, and make us sense in the sitter an anxiety about the value of expression which more than matches the obligation to speak. And what about that background of green and blue, criss-crossed with branches? Does that prove that some natural process is breaking through the darkness, and will provide a resolution to the human conflict in the foreground? Its illuminations seem provisional and squeezed; they are too little to be reliable.

 

Just as they are again in ‘Binary’, where the interventions of the natural world occur on a larger scale, but where the pose of the sitter and the jutting table edge capture a stubborn awkwardness. Or more than merely awkwardness. The brooding figure proves an idea of concentration and mass, but he has adopted a pose that cannot be maintained indefinitely. His prayerfulness (if that is what it is) must end soon, and the time for decision and action must come. Action to what end we are not told – although, when we turn to the next image - ‘Untitled (Green and Blue’) - and to the final one of all  - ‘Untitled (Yellow, Grey and Red’ ) -we are encouraged to belief that it must have some connection with the growing visibility and power of the natural world. The similar pose, composition and expression of the figures in these two pictures seems settled – not into complacency, but into a world in which what is invented and what is naturally given seem to co-exist more peaceably. In which doubtfulness about the value of a subjective response, about the reliability and value of expression, and about the authority of belief in general, is assuaged by pleasure in cyclical returns and natural structures.

 

And, of course, in the contemporary environmental context, by anxieties about the stability of those returns and structures. Taken all together, Paul Hodgson’s six new pictures make a powerful address to perennial questions about the self and its ability to articulate an identity, and about faith and its reasonable limits. Their gleams of confidence derive from what they prove about the persistence of human enquiry, and the endorsement of natural process. Their impressive melancholy flows from their sense of the fragility of those things.

Paul Hodgson

born 1972


Imperial War Museum, London, 2006


 

Paul Hodgson is a contemporary artist whose work restages and re-examines history and progress.  The Somme brought new levels of mechanization and planning to warfare, elements that were to shape the worst conflicts and atrocities of the twentieth century, and that created a brutal and inhumane world for the new conscripts.  In three new images, Hodgson uses actors and props, like the setting of a scene for a film, to reflect on these changes in sometimes surprising ways. 

 

The demise of horsepower was symbolic of this new age.  In Slippage a horse has fallen on the chalky soil of the Somme.  The scene is strangely juxtaposed against the façade of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, itself an image of unchanging stability, power and influence, but which has been kicked and dislodged by the horse. 

 

The first carriage in Train, now horseless, is loaded with shells, wheels and redundant harnesses but in the following trailer these are represented in the style of the new modern art: a changed world needing a new language to describe it.

 

Isaac Rosenberg, an artist and poet of Jewish descent was killed in 1918.  In a man like Rosenberg, Hodgson imagines him alive twenty years on, a family photograph to hand, remembering the past and facing the unimaginable future of Europe.

 

Hodgson’s carefully constructed settings are a reminder that all images of the Somme seen by the British public, whether photography, film or painting, were made with a purpose.  Whether it was Beadle’s drama or Bone’s eye-witness studies of daily life, images were created to tell a particular story, to reassure their audience of bravery and efficiency, or to disturb with scenes of death and destruction.

 

The sponsorship and employment of artists by the British Government marked a new stage in the official development and control of news and information.  Hodgson’s photographs hang alongside Sargent’s Gassed, representative of the ambition and achievement of the British art schemes during the First World War.