On Sunday I made the pilgrimage to ‘Ye Oldie Tatey’ to see the Constable show. It’s the first and potentially only chance to see Constable’s ‘Six Footer’ landscapes alongside their corresponding full size preliminary canvases.
The difference between the finished pieces and the worked up studies is immense. Where the finished canvases are majestically detailed and highly finished, the sketches are vigorous, with a rough-edge. They are as compositionally correct as the finished pieces but the studies look more like real life. The skies have a distance and movement, and because the brushstrokes are unpolished and racing all over your eye travels around, like in real landscape, rather than a stilted hopping from detail to finished detail and thinking how well painted they are.
The big sketches make the finished paintings look as dull as old boards. Maybe at the time the sketches would have been seen as unpracticed and messy but the life is there. Amazingly (or rather perhaps not) the ‘Constable Shop’ hasn’t got a single postcard of one of the sketches, but loads of the dullards. Extraordinary.
I scrawled some notes about the sketches on my ticket:-
“View on the Stour”
White Paint Hurtling Out
Roaring Skies Eating into the Landscape
The Sketches are Alive
“Sunlight on the Lock”
This is Noisy Countryside, there is WORK going on
In the SKETCH
the Muscles of The White Horse are ready to move
Toiling; Smell of earth; Dappled Sky
FEEL THE DAY
in these Autumn Afternoons
Then I went round the Hodgkin. I didn’t enjoy this show as much as the one the Hayward did ten years ago, mind you its worth going to experience the shock of the slightly muddy-salmon-pink washed walls that make the first room look like sort of Mediterranean themed café. HH picked the colours himself apparently but why someone so interested in colour would wish his pictures to sink into the walls is beyond me. I didn’t think the walls did anything to assist the pictures at all. They sort of sucked them up.
I’ve never met him but have an idea of his temperament and sensitivity and I think that the fact that he’s a shy and emotional man is a good starting point for these paintings.
I think the earlier work is interesting as information but it’s only in the late ‘80’s that he really hit his stride and the shapes and dots became fluid and free. I admire him for sticking to his guns. He’s a definite example of hitting on a language, developing it and keeping to it.
One of my favourites is the ‘Sad Flowers’ painting, where I think that his curious language comes together successfully. I also like ‘Lovers’, which I call ‘the fucking picture’ or the ‘Spermy Fried Egg’. Amazing that it took him eight years to paint a lustful lunge that would have lasted only moments. I also like the smaller studies that seem like rememberances of love affairs or dinners in far-flung hotels.
As if by magic, as he got more celebrated, the paintings got bigger and he got quicker at them, and I thought the last room was deeply disappointing. ‘Come Into the Garden Maud’ makes no sense to me, it doesn’t tell me anything. I wouldn’t have remembered it if it wasn’t for the title. It’s very big, and a sort of sketchy not quite there garden, with odd shapes in charcoal and some faint gestures of grass and roses over almost bare plywood. Perhaps that’s Maud for you, but it leaves me feeling flat.
I cant’ remember anything much about the other paintings at the end of the show. On the other hand, the pictures in previous couple of rooms are heavyweight emotional slabs.
Personal Memory Art.
Remembering the glint of an eye
Reflected Restaurant Walls in Glassware
Only he knows the origination of the green surround in “Clean Sheets’,
or the gash of tulip red.
Some are easy to read
The colours are his but most mean nothing unless you were there
Romances are played out in the Plazzo Albrizi
Whose are the shorts in ‘Bermudas’?
Whose indeed!… in fact I realised that the paintings made me think more about HH’s life rather than considering them in the light of my own, which I think most good emotional painting does because it can jolt you into remembering.