Entertainment & Arts

Sir Howard Hodgkin: Turner winner who 'hated painting' dies at 84

Howard Hodgkin Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Sir Howard Hodgkin's work is held by major galleries around the world

British artist Sir Howard Hodgkin has died at the age of 84.

The Turner Prize-winner was well known for saying in interviews how much he hated painting.

"People have often said to me, 'aren't you lucky to be able to do this for a living' and I say no, thank you, I'm not lucky," he told the BBC in 2014.

"I may be lucky with the result but to go through the horrors of painting pictures is not something I ever look forward to."

So why did he carry on?

"It's what I do. I have no other skills. [But] it's always been agony," he explained to the New Statesman.

Image copyright Howard Hodgkin / Gagosian / Hepworth Wakefield
Image caption Mrs Acton in Delhi, one of Sir Howard's works going on display at The Hepworth Wakefield

The abstract painter and printmaker, who died in hospital in London on Thursday, was "a central figure in contemporary art for over half a century", Tate galleries said.

Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota said he was "one of the great artists and colourists of his generation".

Sir Howard won the Turner Prize in 1985 and represented the UK at the Venice Biennale the previous year.

He was knighted in 1992.


Image copyright Getty Images

By BBC arts editor Will Gompertz

Sir Howard Hodgkin was an important artist whose use of colour and memory gave his largely abstract works great potency.

He didn't leave you looking, as some do, for the art in his art - it was there, on the canvas, to see and be seen: immediate and memorable.

For me, he took the essence of Matisse and Degas, mixed it with European abstraction and Indian light to conjure up, through his own unique talents, beautiful, sensitive images.

His work is held by major galleries and museums around the world, including the British Museum, Tate and MoMA in New York, and two exhibitions of his work are opening in the UK in the coming months.

Sir Nicholas said: "His sensuous, intense paintings were infused with his love and understanding of late 19th-Century French painting, especially Degas, Vuillard and Bonnard, and by his feeling for the heat and colours of India, which he visited on many occasions.

"His characteristic subject, the memory of a meeting or a conversation with a friend, resulted in paintings that radiate the emotions of life: love, anger, vanity, beauty and companionship."

Sir Nicholas added that over the past 30 years, the artist's international standing has grown, with key exhibitions in Europe and the US.

Image copyright London 2012/IOC
Image caption Sir Howard designed a London 2012 Olympic Games poster

The Royal College of Art described Sir Howard as "one of the painters of our generation - who gave us emotion in the form of colour."

Paul Moorhouse, 20th Century curator at the National Portrait Gallery, said: "Howard is probably one of the truly great British artists of the last 60 years - a really distinctive voice, someone with his own artistic identity, someone who has really extended our understanding of the way artists represent the world."

His death comes days before the National Portrait Gallery opens the first exhibition of portraits by the artist. Howard Hodgkin: Absent Friends features more than 50 works, dating from 1949 to the present. His portraits include those of fellow artists David Hockney, Patrick Caulfield and RB Kitaj.

India inspiration

Works he produced on his latest visit to India are to go on display at The Hepworth Wakefield in Howard Hodgkin: Painting India, which opens in June.

Simon Wallis, director of the gallery, said the Hepworth was "deeply saddened" by news of his death, adding: "He was one of the most important artists of our time.

"We are enormously grateful for Howard's generosity with his time and his enthusiasm. We are proud to be realising an exhibition about the influence of India on his work, a place that he was so passionate about, and from which he drew such inspiration throughout his life."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Sir Howard Hodgkin at the Gagosian Gallery in London in 2014

At the time the exhibition was announced, Sir Howard said he was "excited" by the idea of it, adding of his work: "I fell in love with Indian art when I was at school, thanks to the enterprising art master, Wilfrid Blunt.

"I longed to visit India, but only managed to do so in my early 20s. It proved a revelation. It changed my way of thinking and, probably, the way I paint."

Sir Howard also designed one of 12 posters for the London 2012 Games. His poster, called Swimming, featured a figure swimming through the water.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A new work by Sir Howard Hodgkin, Where the Deer and the Antelope Play, was exhibited in 2008

Gordon Howard Eliot Hodgkin was born on 6 August in Hammersmith, London, in 1932.

In 1940 he was evacuated with mother and older sister, Ann, to the US where they lived on Long Island. He first decided he wanted to become an artist aged just five, and was inspired by seeing the works Stuart Davis, Matisse and Picasso at Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art.

When he returned to the UK he ran away from school to become an artist.

In 1952, he had his first show in a public gallery at the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath.

He later studied at the Camberwell School of Art and then Bath Academy of Art, where he went on to teach, and was a trustee of the Tate and National Gallery.

'Lonely occupation'

Speaking to Desert Island Discs in 1994 he said he had had a hard road to recognition in the UK, describing it as "enemy territory" for painters.

Sir Howard had told the BBC in a 2012 interview that he was looking towards the end of his life, adding: "Death is always hovering in the distance. I want to get out as much as I can."

And last year, he told the Daily Telegraph being a painter was a "lonely occupation", adding: "I don't consider myself successful. Being well-known or having lots of exhibitions has nothing to do with being an artist - those things are just chance."

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