Howard Hodgkin: Absent Friends at the National Portrait Gallery 23 March – 18 June 2017
The first thing to say about this retrospective is that it can be enjoyed quite simply as a thought-provoking exhibition of mostly abstract or semi-abstract colour paintings, even though the catalogue texts, titles and Hodgkin´s own remarks insist that they are portraits.
Hodgkin always maintained that the inspiration for each of his paintings was a very specific set of feelings concerning a particular person or situation. Accepting this, and also that he succeeded for himself in capturing these feelings in his art, does not however imply that we should have the same feelings on viewing it. The pressing of a visual button A to produce the specific emotion B is the modus operandi of kitsch, and these paintings are better than that. A painting has to work for itself, so whatever the specific situations that may have inspired Hodgkin, they are irrelevant to us here, and since it is hardly anywhere necessary to see figures in the paintings it is an unhelpful conceit for the viewer to regard them as portraits.