SARAH MAYHEW views a new exhibition of abstract paintings by the great Howard Hodgkin – a man who excels in saying so much with so little.

It’s all about Howard Hodgkin! Royal Elephants from Mughal India is an exhibition of paintings and drawings from Howard Hodgkin’s private collection that has opened in the Ashmolean’s temporary exhibition space, Gallery 29, and continues throughout the summer.

This exhibition of 20 elephants coincides with another exhibition of paintings previously unseen by the public.

A new major exhibition of paintings by Howard Hodgkin himself, Howard Hodgkin: Time and Place opened at Modern Art Oxford yesterday and continues until September 5.

A veritable artistic force to be reckoned with, Hodgkin’s exhibition at Modern Art Oxford spans the last 10 years of his career, and offers a fresh view of the artist’s work, while revealing his continuing relevance as one of the most vital, radical and compelling painters of our time.

Famed for his seemingly spontaneous approach, and the vaguely recognisable shapes that he presents in bright colours and bold forms, Howard Hodgkin has enjoyed a career as rich in recognition as the colours on his palette. Now 78 and with work in some of the greatest galleries and collections the length and breadth of the globe, Hodgkin had the honour of representing Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1984, won the Turner Prize in 1985, and in 1992 was knighted.

But it doesn’t end there – in 2003 the Queen appointed him as a Companion of Honour for his outstanding achievements in the arts, and in 2006 The Independent declared him one of the 100 most influential gay people in Britain.

This major exhibition of paintings explores the acclaimed British artist’s use of abstraction as an expression of subjective experience.

It’s emotional, and as with all of Hodgkin’s work, it’s impossible not to be moved, standing before the artist’s cacophony of sumptuous colour.

Possessing a tangible connection with nature, truth and revelation, Hodgkin often works on wood, much of which is frequently embraced and pulled through time and function into the painting’s composition.

While associated with the genre of abstraction, Hodgkin’s approach to his practice is consciously seated within the tradition of European easel painting.

The majority of Hodgkin’s paintings are modest in scale, his paintings are planned, and the compositions carefully considered.

The clarity of the original imagery is often obscured, or pared down, as Hodgkin invites the spectator to decipher the finished image as a poetic riddle of the subject that originally spurred his inspiration.

As with many great artists who have mastered the ability to say so much with so little, Howard Hodgkin also displays a sense of fun and humour in his works.

This is an exhibition that everyone can enjoy, and to my mind, that’s what makes an artist a master.

As majestic as the mounts (elephants) from his collection on display at the Ashmolean, Howard Hodgkin: Time and Place is another collection of expressive studies and scenes, and a rare treasure to behold.

AHoward Hodgkin: Time and Place continues until September 5 at Modern Art Oxford, Pembroke Street. The opening hours are Tuesday, Wednesday 10am–5pm Thursday, Friday, Saturday 10am–10pm; Sunday 12pm-5pm. Closed Monday. Admission free.

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