The work of Howard Hodgkin, one of Britain’s greatest artists, will go on show at the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath from 14 October 2017 until 7 January 2018.
Until his recent death, Howard Hodgkin had a special relationship with the Victoria Art Gallery. He exhibited publically for the first time at the Gallery in 1952 and presented a major print to the Gallery last year. Hodgkin had strong links with the area having studied at Bath Academy of Art, where he later became a tutor (1955-1966). Many of his early portraits were of fellow teachers at Bath Academy of Art.
The earliest work in the exhibition is a previously unseen portrait of Clifford Ellis (1965), Principal of Bath Academy of Art. The Victoria Art Gallery discovered the portrait in the Clifford Ellis family archive after the death of Ellis’s daughter in 2016 – where it had been lying unidentified for many years. Hodgkin was full of praise for Ellis’s gifts as an art teacher, as shown in several letters on display in the exhibition.
The earliest of Hodgkin’s Indian themed prints on show is Indian Room (1967), which will be shown alongside an unpublished trial proof from the Victoria Art Gallery’s collection that hasn’t been exhibited before. Other subjects covered in the exhibition include the Indian Views (1971), a series of screenprints evoking scenes glimpsed through the windows of railway carriages; two very large prints, Delhi and In India (2012); and the Indian Waves series of 1990-91, which were painted onto sheets of handmade Indian paper.
In India (2012) is one of the most important prints in the exhibition. One of an edition of 10, it was made in Hodgkin’s 80th year, directly on his return from India. Made using a vibrant blend of yellows, orange and reds by applying the sugar-lift solution to the printing plate with a brush as large as a broom, this daring print admirably conveys the intense heat of India and the undiminished expressive rigour of Hodgkin’s own creativity.
The exhibition also includes paintings from the Indian Leaves series. In 1978 Hodgkin was invited to India to stay with the Sarabhai family in their compound in Ahmedabad. Whilst there he worked on a series of prints using vegetable dies on wet, recently handmade, Khadi paper bought from the Gandhi paper mill across the road. Hodgkin loved the paintings so much he decided to make a second set for himself but on leaving India he left his set on the roof of a taxi, believing them lost forever. Several months later he received a letter from the Indian police saying they had found the paintings and asking whether they were his!
Hodgkin was 32 when he first visited India in 1964. The trip was a revelation and he returned almost every year, moved by a quality of openness in the daily life of the subcontinent, where “everything is very visible, somehow, there. Life isn’t covered up with masses of objects, masses of possessions”. Hodgkin visited and worked in Mumbai until early this year, painting pictures using the richest tones and colours.
India On Paper also features unique works from the Indian Waves series, many of which will be reunited for the first time. Whilst teaching at Bath Academy of Art, Hodgkin met fellow teacher Jack Shirreff, who ran the 107 Workshop in Shaw, Wiltshire. Hodgkin and Shirreff developed a close creative partnership in which Hodgkin would make prints and Shirreff would hand colour them to his instructions.
In 1990 they created a set of prints that reversed the process. The resulting sequence of prints, called Indian Waves, ended up forgotten on a shelf in Shirreff’s print workshop, before being rediscovered in 2014 when the workshop was cleared after he became ill. They went on to be exhibited in London and all sold in one weekend.
India on Paper has been curated by the Victoria Art Gallery, Bath.