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  • Writer's pictureHaydn Dickenson


The great English abstractionist Howard Hodgkin passed away in 2017. Had he lived, he would have been 91 on 6th August this year. Apart from leaving us an exceptional corpus of highly individual work, he also uttered a beautifully damning indictment on his art-school experience as “ like being squeezed out of the wrong end of a tube of toothpaste”.

Hodgkin occupies a similar place in my gamut of inspirational luminaries to Patrick Heron. (I am still proud to know that both I and my friend and colleague Helen Long – do read Helen's wonderful 'guest' article here - went to the same school as Patrick Heron, albeit somewhat later!) Both Heron and Hodgkin produced work that was typically exuberant, joyous and unpretentious, abundant with strong, often fierce colour, and which demonstrated a bold, swashbuckling, painterly quality.


Howard Hodgkin liked to paint on materials other than canvas; board of course, but also objects or parts of objects gleaned from outside the serious, even pretentious 'archival' sphere with which art materials are so often associated – doors, reclaimed pieces of wood, and so on. He also liked to offer the support up to the frame before painting, thus incorporating the frame into the support itself and painting on it (see image above).

Before I encountered Howard Hodgkin's work, I had already experimented with painting on the frame myself. The image immediately below was loathed by one prominent art dealer (though that did not prevent its subsequent sale!) who thought it 'hideous, like some awful barge ware'! They were probably right!

UNTITLED - Haydn Dickenson, 2010

In the painting below, I utilised fragments of discarded nude drawings from my studio floor, pasting them onto the board, and then gouging into the frame with a knife and painting on it.

DECONSTRUCT - Haydn Dickenson, 2010

I have remarked before in this column of my intense interest in the frames which surround many of my favourite paintings. It is far from unusual to find me sorely challenging the alarmed 'trip-wires' that enclose works of art in galleries, as I strain forward to inspect in detail the mode of framing as much as the mode of painting.

The writer GK Chesterton opined that “The most beautiful part of every picture is the frame”, a questionable statement, but one that takes on an entirely new significance when considered in relation to the work of Howard Hodgkin and others who painted 'on the frame'. Perhaps I might explore a few of these, in a future post.

Copyright Haydn Dickenson 2023

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Helen Long
Helen Long
Aug 27, 2023

I love "Deconstruct" Haydn! Framing a picture is not a passive act. It is a bold statement and integral to the art within. It can confine and restrict, both with negative connotation: Or it can contain and protect (same action, positive notion). Or, as with your piece, it can facilitate the subject of the art to expand beyond the natural limits of the picture. 🤔

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