Sympathy for the subjective

Tes Editorial

Howard Hodgkin Paintings Hayward Gallery,Until February 23

Given the deeply subjective nature of Howard Hodgkin's paintings and the integrity of his long and ultimately successful search for a personal idiom, it is doubtful whether a more sympathetic pair of study days for teachers and tutors could have been chosen by the Hayward's education officer to accompany this retrospective.

Well-timed to coincide with the beginning of next term, the exhibition is aimed at teachers of key stages 1 and 2, and of GCSE and sixth-form classes, but is intended to enhance the teachers' personal and creative development as well as that of their students.

This is a welcome change. All too often teachers are treated as mere mediators, their role at special evenings and training days being to identify links between the exhibition and the national curriculum and build these into a programme of work back in school. Professional obligations like these will not be neglected here, but the intention is for the relationship between gallery visit, discussion and practical work to engage a good deal more of the teacher's interests and personality than is usual.

Hodgkin has repeatedly stated that for all the potentially exclusive aspects of his work, each person should make their own interpretations. Essentially concerned with the re-creation in paint of a recollected incident or place, he avoids almost all the illustrational means that help define subject and situation. To re-create the emotion, much more abstract configurations of colour and form have been developed, and, by responding to their connections and connotations, Hodgkin hopes we

will experience a comparable emotion.

The compelling seductiveness of Hodgkin's painted surfaces ensures that we engage with the pictures, but the often multiple framing devices he employs in pictures such as "It Can't Be True" not only pull us into the pictorial space but guide us towards the core of the subject. Once ensnared, we are further encouraged in our exploration by the discovery that however varied the effects of each picture, Hodgkin's vocabulary of colours is fundamentally small, essentially the same dabs, dashes and undulations of primary, secondary and tertiary colours characterising both the relatively straightforward "Bombay Sunset" and the complex "Patrick in Italy".

Relating pictorial language to subject, meaning and expression is not always easy, and it is partly in recognition of such difficulties that the study days will be jointly led by Louise Catrell, a painter, and Kim Jacobsen, an art historian. The teacher's pack is an additional help. Biographical and thematic material, together with extracts from an interview with Hodgkin, provide invaluable contextual information, but the issues raised in these and other sections are then brought to bear on closer study of four selected paintings.

Michael Clarke

Further information: Hayward Gallery Education, tel 0171 921 0951

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Latest stories