Why paintings don't need to be explained

What is the role of an artist?

 

This is a big question. Or is it?

According to the filmmaker, Martin Scorsese, “the artist’s job is to make people care about your obsessions and see them and experience them as their own.”

This view may be shared by Sir Howard Hodgkin, the 76 year old British painter and Turner prize winner who I met yesterday, at his private view of Prints, in London.

He’s recovering from surgery so looked quite frail, but his Prints, which hung on the walls of the PM Gallery, did not.

As I walked around the exhibit I was lost for words, and reminded of the quote from the essayist Susan Sontag that: ‘a way of feeling is a way of seeing.’ * This applies directly to Hodgkin’s work. Although the print titles provide clues to what each print is about, the ‘stories’, are really contained in the feelings they evoke.

Howard Hodgkin describes himself as ‘a representational painter of emotional moments’, but he has always resisted describing what his paintings are about, because he claims the true knowing and meaning comes to the viewer through his/her engagement with the work; to know why he painted it, is to really miss the point altogether.

Staring at these prints, some of which I have seen before, stirs up feelings of loss, grief, desire, passion, tenderness, so that I am left, for the first time, speechless, and yet more engaged than ever.

I think Howard Hodgkin would approve.

The Susan Sontag quote is taken from the essay, ‘About Hodgkin’ by Susan Sontag, first published in Howard Hodgkin Paintings Abrams Inc, Publishers in association with The Modern Art Museum of Forth Worth 1995.

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Painting Emotional Moments

Artist and Author Amanda Seyderhelm

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