Artists in Shirts in Studios: Clive Hodgson

Artists in Shirts in Studios: Clive Hodgson

 

Continuing our self-explanatory series of interviews, we stopped by the East London studio of painter Clive Hodgson, sitting down to discuss how a painting begins life, the quality of engaging art, and the real meaning of an artist’s signature.

Photography by James Harvey-Kelly.

 

Nathan Sharp, Drake’s: How do you decide what to put on the canvas?

 

Clive Hodgson: That’s a horrible crisis, because it’s a very difficult thing to be faced with an empty rectangle. And I sit here for hours - as you can see there are quite a lot of empty rectangles around here. I try and project things, as if I might do this, or I might do that, but it’s very tricky. And then I do hundreds of little drawings, and they’re never anything that I act on. And at some point, out of desperation, I have to make some kind of action, you know? Because thinking clearly doesn’t really work, even though that’s the only process I have. 

So I get up, and I think, ‘Okay, well I’ll paint it red,’ or something. And it never turns out like you expect, the red is not the right red, or it’s got fluff in it, or it’s got bumps, or it dribbles. But you know, you sort of set it going. 

 

NS: You’ve spoken about a moment of impulse, or a moment of attack.

 

CH: Yeah, that’s right. I think I work in quite a reactive way, so I’ve been working on a certain series of things that have a family resemblance, and I feel as though I’ve come to the end of that set of ideas. And then I’m trying to think what the next set of ideas would be, in relation to that, as a kind of criticism of those previous ideas. So it’s not a continuous thing, it’s like an idea that’s explored, and then a criticism of that idea and that set of paintings.

NS: I know you’ve mentioned that your paintings are about painting, and you’ve also said that your abstractions in some way reference abstraction. So is your work interrogatory and questioning?

 

CH: Yeah, exactly. But behind all that is a drive to have an object which has a certain character in the world. So what you’re proposing is that this object has qualities, and you want it to be in the world as a kind of odd thing, a noticeable thing. If you give it qualities that you think are very banal and you don’t like them anyway, there’s no point in having it in the world. But if you feel like it has some kind of presence that has a character you want, then that’s a good thing. But it’s difficult to find that character, and it’s very easy to slip into platitudes, and banalities, and repetition, and shit in general. 

I think these qualities are, let’s say, beautiful, or moving even. Or at the very least interesting, fascinating. But it doesn’t follow that anybody else would see that, because that’s a question of taste. Other people might just think, ‘So what? It’s a load of spatters.’ It can seem extremely banal, or without signification. It’s difficult to know whether those aesthetic qualities are shared. I don’t consciously think of beauty or happiness or anything like that [when I paint], but I do think of [the paintings] having a kind of lightness to them, rather than a heaviness, and I don’t want them to look like I tried really, really hard. Equally, I don’t want them to look like a sort of facile airhead has done them [laughs]. So it is striking a balance between lots, and lots of qualities like that. And that’s why I get depressed, you know, I come in and I think, ‘Ah shit, this looks like you’re an idiot who’s tried really hard,’ or then it looks like something that’s stupidly flash, and just trivial. 

 


NS: Are there any thematic links between your paintings? Is there anything you’re exploring in the background?

 

CH: Thematic… [sighs]. That’s very difficult to know. I don’t think in terms of themes, but it may be that there is a kind of repetition of certain motifs, or gestures, or techniques, or colours, even. But I don’t see them as a theme, I don’t really know what a theme is, in your terms [laughs]. 

NS: That’s fine. Can I ask you about your name in the paintings, and the dates? They’ve become more prominent over time.

 

CH: I see it as just a kind of content. I understand why people react to it, but it’s a relatively small percentage of the painting, and so there’s a lot of other stuff there apart from the name. I don’t really know why it came about, but the story is that I made some paintings that were very un-done, un-developed, and I felt the need to assert that I meant it, that they were not just not done. And so I resumed a practice that I’d hitherto had of signing the paintings, and I wrote on these little paintings discreetly in the top right hand corner. And I looked and thought it was so stupid, because it was as if I was apologising, and also it was [signed in] a very different manner to the way in which the paintings were painted. So, I felt as though if I put my name on them then that had to be, in some way, a thing that was similar in spirit to the way the painting was painted. And so I wrote the name bigger, and with the same kind of brush that I’d been using. And I found it interesting what happened, because it got letters into the painting, and numbers, because I added the date for a bit of extra content [laughs]. But I liked the look of the numbers, and also somehow it changed the status of the painting. It’s hard to explain, but it’s as if the painting was, to some extent, supporting the name, rather than the name being on top of a finished picture. It was as if there was some kind of strange relationship between the two things. Or that the writing had become a picture. And the idea of writing becoming a picture, or pictorial, is also interesting. You see it everywhere in the world, like the Lidl logo, or Tesco or whatever. We’re very familiar with the idea that writing doesn’t just stay as writing, it becomes either sculptural or pictorial.

The other thing to say is, there are a lot of artists who’ve used numbers, and their names, and letters to make paintings, throughout the whole history of art. Robert Ryman wrote his name in big goofy letters in 1953 or so, which is the year I was born. Everybody loves [Giorgio] Morandi, and I love the way that Morandi writes his name, as well. It’s not clear what Morandi writing ‘Morandi’ on his still life paintings does, but it does something, and it’s a peculiar thing.

I have thought about what other words or numbers could go in. But then you get into a realm of thinking that they’re all significant. The thing about a name is that it doesn’t refer to an object. 

 

NS: The signifier is arbitrary.

 

CH: Exactly.