Arts: Howard's way

Even the most anti-establishment artists eventually get their dues. And that time seems to have come for Howard Hodgkin, one of Britain's greatest abstract painters. He even has a postage stamp coming out this Christmas
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Sir Howard Hodgkin seems bemused by the media frenzy surrounding this year's Turner Prize: the jerky videos, the dirty knickers. "As with all forms of art, some is terrific and some isn't," is the nearest this country's great abstract colourist gets to a criticism of the continuing hegemony of art-school cleverness at The Tate and elsewhere. Hodgkin himself won the Turner, in 1985. It's a measure of how much the art scene has changed since then that he is now viewed by some as establishment: his paintings grace government buildings, he is to be spotted at gatherings of the great and the good, while recent public commissions have included the giant mural for the British Film Institute's new Imax cinema in London and New Worlds, for the Post Office's millennium stamp series. In fact Hodgkin, now 67, is if anything anti-establishment, and dismissive of the Government and its vaunted promotion of Britain as a hothouse of creativity. "Politically, art is nobody's priority," he asserts. Most of all he regrets the low regard in which painting is held, although he says there are signs of a resurgence. "It is still done so much by amateurs," he notes. "I don't think it helps it to be taken seriously."

New works by Howard Hodgkin can be seen at the Anthony d'Offay Gallery, 9, 23, 24 Dering Street, London W1, 12 November to 15 January 2000 (0171-499 4100).

`End of the Day', 1999 "All the paintings in my exhibition are oil on wood but they vary in size. End of the Day is quite small, and refers to a particular end of day. I'm often asked about my brushwork. I try very hard to limit the kind of marks I use, they are very simple, very straightforward, they're what I call my language. My paintings sometimes take a number of years to complete. My friend Patrick Caulfield says painters never stop working, and I do work very hard. Some artists are quick developers and get stuck in a groove early on, but it took time for me to develop. My

work is a personal view on what painting is and can do."

`Memories', 1997-99, and `Theatre', 1998-99

"These two works are combinations of particular events and of generalised experiences. Memories (above) is like most people's actual memories, an accretion of things. Theatre (right) is a conflation of two or three real theatres and the feeling of being in a theatre, the anticipation. I like working in the theatre very much. I designed the backdrop for the Mark Morris dance group which came to Sadler's Wells in October, which was an amazing commission. Mark sent me the music from America which I listened to and then I sent him the design, which was made into a backdrop, and then he choreographed using the music and the backdrop. The first time I ever saw a theatre design I'd done, for Covent Garden, I just couldn't believe the scale, a tiny brush stroke ends up huge. You have to be very aware of scale whatever the size of the piece you're working on. A mark which is out of scale in a small painting will be just as out of scale if it's enlarged 60 times. For my stamp commission, I produced a work that was about 20 times the stamp size, and the end result was quite manageable, I'm very pleased with it. I think the perforated border works. But the proof of the pudding will be when it's used." n