Celebrated artist Sir Howard Hodgkin has passed away aged 84. Hodgkin was gay, despite marrying Julia Lane in 1955, with whom he had two children. Of course, at this time, homosexuality was still illegal in the UK. After the marriage dissolved, Hodgkin fell in love with music writer Antony Peattie, who he went on to live with for the last 25 years of his life.
Hodgkin found immense success during his career as a painter and printmaker. Known for his bright, abstract works, he had his first solo show in 1962. In 2006 he had a major retrospective at Tate Britain. He was knighted for his services to art in 1992 and later appointed as a Companion of Honour by the Queen. He won the Turner Prize, one of the most prestigious awards in British art.
His works are difficult to describe. It’s much easier – and more pleasurable – to simply look at them. His paintings are generally abstract, but with figurative elements. They are colourful, affective and undeniably emotive. He was influenced by many of the great modern artists: Matisse, in particular, explaining, “I wouldn’t be the painter I am if Matisse had never existed. I think he’s so great because he realised that when he was painting pictures, he was making things.” The New American Painting, a 1959 exhibition at Tate, was another major influence, exposing him to the work of Pollock, Rothko and Newman. Despite this, he often worked on a small scale, creating intimate works contrary to the Abstract Expressionists domineering, mural-sized pieces.
Hodgkin rarely spoke openly about his sexuality. In a 2009 interview with The Independent, he describes the pain of marrying,despite knowing that he was gay. In 2006, the same paper listed him at number 44 in their Pink List, the 101 most influential LGBT+ people in Britain, citing his “acutely atmospheric paintings [which] are often distillations of personal memories.” He climbed four places the following year and remained in the list for several more years.
Still, sexuality wasn’t entirely absent from his practice. In 1991, he collaborated with writer Susan Sontag to illustrate her story The Way We Live Now, a response to the AIDS crisis. These works were still abstract but carried weight with their poetry rather than overt politics. “Hodgkin’s paintings are always about love and loss,” explained Jonathon Jones. “Two themes that Aids made starkly political.”
A major exhibition of Hodgkin’s work, the first to focus on his portraiture, opens at the National Portrait Gallery later this month.