Clive Hodgson, untitled, 2010, oil on canvas, 10 x 14".

Clive Hodgson, untitled, 2010, oil on canvas, 10 x 14".

Clive Hodgson

42 Carlton Place

Clive Hodgson, untitled, 2010, oil on canvas, 10 x 14".

The title of Clive Hodgson’s recent exhibition “Signed Paintings” was doubly significant: On the one hand, all the works were literally marked by the painter with his name, and on the other, as in the work of Robert Ryman, Hodgson’s moniker here became simultaneously a decorative emblem, a formal element, and a mark of authorization. In the
late 1980s, having decided that viewers were not seeing his paintings as such but instead interpreting the actions of his depicted figures, Hodgson abandoned the figuration for which he was gaining renown and returned to abstraction. His works are neither entirely nonobjective nor nonrepresentational in the traditional sense, however; they play with decorative motifs and other pictorial elements. But they eschew narrative and, seemingly, content or even purpose. In this exhibition, for example, curated by the Scottish painter Carol Rhodes at the project space she runs with fellow painter Merlin James, the painting Untitled, 2012, seemed to depict a flower or feathery pink, blue, and white rosette on a central axis, with the artist’s name—c. hodgson—inscribed in a circle above it. Yet this representation is ambiguous; the stem of the flower could also be an arrow pointing downward. These few elements all float on a gray washy field, the centralized nature of the composition denying any dynamism. In the end, this is neither still life nor a conceptual statement. Only the artist’s name offers any semblance of declarative certainty.

Speaking of such works, Hodgson says, “I have always been attracted to the rampant vacuity of decorative painting and its contiguity with the world of ideas and sense. The decorative offers a potential for blankness, a counterpoint of unfathomable effects, to set against meaning, narrative and sense.” These “unfathomable effects” include decorative curves, geometric shapes, and architectural ornaments, as well as names, dates, and arrows. Their use creates the sense of wavering ambiguity, of an interruption of meaning, that is the trait of Hodgson’s best work.

This quality of doubt is not restricted to Hodgson’s subject matter. His surfaces and painterly gestures also seem to test painting itself, as if to ask what, most fundamentally, constitutes a painting. Splatters, dabs, and painterly touches appear casually brushed on, and this sense of ease fosters an impression of dilettantish experiment. His diffident strokes and bubbly gray washes recall the work of Raoul De Keyser. But where the Belgian artist took anecdotal inspiration from the world around him, Hodgson uses the artifice exemplified by these motifs as a starting point; anecdote is not an external reference but a result of the activity of paint and mark-making. In a small, untitled violet-gray work, his name is signed boldly in purple across the middle, with the year 2010 below and WEDNESDAY scratched faintly next to it. A wavy brushstroke creates a swaglike effect of little semicircles all along the four edges; Hodgson has filled in a few of these lunettes, thus transforming the negative shapes into positive. Though subtle, this is a major event in the spare painting. With so little incident, a tension arises between the name, the date, and the shape created by the painter’s gesture. The work seems entirely existential, in that it is declarative of existence—both the artist’s and the work’s. Assembling paintings from the medium’s most basic elements in this moment of the expanded field, Hodgson opens a space for unspecific but powerful resonances.

Sherman Sam