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Howard Hodgkin

Modern Art Oxford

This exhibition contains one of the spookiest paintings I have ever seen. Mud is a small picture smeared with brown and grey that creates a peculiar sense of miasma and vanishing. Is it conjuring the trenches of the first world war, a walk in the East Anglian countryside or just a bleak mood? It is as bizarrely compelling and darkly pleasurable as a story by MR James and immediately had me hooked on Howard Hodgkin's power to tell stories in paint.

Quite a few of the tales are horror stories, culminating in the astonishing Blood, in which a fresh, green world is overwhelmed by a red tide. Again, is the story personal or political, or both? It has you by the throat, and if you ever thought of Hodgkin as a slightly genteel artist, now is the time to eat your words.

Hodgkin's life work is comparable with that of Cy Twombly as an exercise in controlled poetic disclosure. He speaks of the secret life of the self in colours that conceal nothing. Art is more eloquent than a diary. Paint is more personal than language. Hodgkin's ability to alarm colours by introducing them to one another makes his paintings uniquely fresh and unsettled: it is hard to imagine them ever going stale. They are exciting in the way that rain on a leaf in the morning light is exciting. Hodgkin paints in that British tradition going back to Thomas Gainsborough of aliveness to the colours of nature. That simple vision, twisted by experience, makes for the demonic power of these life-enhancing paintings.

Rating: 5/5 © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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