Paintings 1991-1992 Eagle Gallery
Charlotte Hodes - Paintings 1991-1992 Eagle Gallery
Paula Rego in conversation with Francesca Rossi
PR Pattern is like an incantation. You fill in whole areas compulsively like a magic doodle. It is the opposite of modelling a form. When you model a form you have to use light and it becomes sculptural, and it implies that inside that form there are guts and intestines, ovaries and what-not if it is a woman; if you use a pattern it is one way of filling in the outline. But in Charlotte’s pictures the pattern does not stay within the outline. It overlaps and takes on an existence of its own. So you get a lack of adjustment of the object – a lack of focus – everything is pulling away from everything else.
FR And this creates the uneasiness that we feel…
PR It is this lack of integration that creates uneasiness. In one of the paintings, Water 1991, there is a great deal of turbulence where there is a crumpled handkerchief and over it the outline of a woman’s body in red. It’s as if the woman’s body is projected onto a mountain range which fights against the contour of the woman’s body, so the whole picture is pulled apart, creating a sense of vertigo of being on high seas of something. And then suddenly she introduces into the picture a set of taps that focus your mind. You are still aware that the taps are made of brush marks, but in this case the brush marks come together to create an illusion of taps; but in the rest of the painting the marks all come apart and do not create an illusion of solid objects. It’s as if a poltergeist had entered the picture and thrown all the elements around the edges and back again.
FR And do you think this is the case in the most successful pictures?
PR To my mind in the best pictures there is a lot of chase which is just held there.
FR Even in the women themselves. In the earlier of the female paintings there is a great solidity of form, their assertiveness conflicts with their sensuality and the almost flirtatious nature of their pose, so that there is a fragile combination of the ‘contemporary’ woman with her more traditional role.
PR I think they only appear to be coquettish as they are playing the presumed traditional role of being a woman, but now that is all breaking up and there is only a very slim outline of the traditional figure left in the picture.
FR Charlotte has said that the core of success in her painting lies in the colour, and that the emotional quality comes out through the colour. How do you think she does this?
PR The disquiet of the paintings is emphasised by the beauty of the colour. You can always have something uneasy painted in murky colour, but her colour is fresh and glowing.
FR And you feel that it is this which heightens the disquiet in the paintings and conveys the emotional turbulence. This freshness of colour gives the paintings an initial decorative quality. They have an immediately beautiful appearance which is pleasing to the eye, and yet they are not decorative, which make them difficult for people to categorize.
PR They remind me of pictures by two artists, Odilon Redon and James Ensor, who painted still-lives of shells and various objects in very sweet colours and they have a kind of unease about them, a kind of symbolist feeling, but also a feeling that they might disintegrate into nothing. Everything is trembling as if it were alive and pulsating, and you have the same sensation in some of Charlotte’s paintings. They seem to be shimmering and yet you would not call them symbolist paintings because they don’t represent anything other than themselves. Her use of paint is very varies, thick bits then thin bits, so she jumps all over the surface. It’s never a smooth transition, it’s like a frog jumping, so you get this jolt, the surface is constantly being moved about.
FR And this ‘jumping’ is emphasized by the movement in space, so that you have elements which stress the flatness and others which create a sense of depth. You are constantly being pulled back and forth ‘in bits’.
PR Yes ‘in bits’ so that it’s a funny journey across the surface of the canvas. Her pictures are very jangly. I remember I was very interested in doing jangly pictures once. I wanted to try and push pictures to the limits of disintegration, that things should be uneasy like mosquitoes dancing about on a very hot day, or something that would create a visual equivalent to a feeling of anxiety.
And I think that Charlotte’s pictures incorporate that which interests me a great deal.
FR In referring to this jaggedness or jangly, there is one particular early picture I am thinking of Flacon 1989 where there is no focal point. In this picture, you presume that the man on horseback is the focal point because he is the dominant character simply from sheet size, but he is not because you are moving away from him. With perspective you are continually pulled towards the central point, but perspective is not sued here so our eye travels back and forth across the canvas.
PR Yes, I think it is because the man on horseback is given the same importance as other things in the picture, he is not more special because he’s a man on horseback, he is part of a pattern.
FR Yes, it’s not a contained picture in that there is no beginning and no end, as if the figures have a life of their own within the painting which is going on somewhere else.
PR You mean a life going on beyond the frame of the picture, and you’ve put the frame on that bit.
FR Like a freeze-frame, though I don’t think this is true of these later paintings.
PR I think it is less true of the later ones because in the later paintings she uses cut-out bits of paper which she lays on the canvas and arranges into whatever shapes she needs. These bits of paper usually create the ‘outline of the figure’. She is then able to improvise in and around this basic structure.
FR You mean they are more consciously constructed.
PR Yes, that’s what it is. She is working in self-imposed boundaries, although they too seem to shift sometimes like the picture she painted of the woman being blown by the fan. (Fan 1991-92). I love that picture, it’s a funny picture.
The fan as a monkey face and there is this wind coming out of it, it’s a very windy picture, a bit like a futurist picture; it’s a really good painting. There you have the impressing of a woman being blown away about to go off the canvas, but she isn’t, she hovers, suspended and she keeps holding on.