Two Young Figurative Painters, by Conroy Maddox

Art Review, 14th June 1962

Two Young Figurative Painters

These two painters, Howard Hodgkin and Allen Jones, may be attempting to mark a stylistic turning point in figurative painting, on the other hand some might just as easily consider them to be hovering on the verge of abstraction without entirely going over it. Anyway its an interesting combination, for they have enough in common stylistically to make them agreeable companions, while in general direction, sufficiently different to give contrast. Of the two, Hodgkin makes greater use of the figurative, with the images brushed in with a casual mussiness against bright, hard colour shapes which are ‘abstract’ in the sense that they are painted flatly. Whether this treatment is responsible, or the use of a repeat pattern, some of the compositions tend to sag, dissolve, would perhaps be a better word, into a disturbing uncommunicative welter of shapeless forms, still I imagine Hodgkin’s is still in an experimental stage investigating the possibilities of his venture. Yet for all the faults, and the very obvious references to Sharn and Bacon, he is able in the best, to impart to his work a sort of enigmatic significance. One is arrested by the role of these figures that retain their human status, although at great cost to their ‘normalcy’.

What troubles me, I think, in the work of both these painters, is a slight sense of the contrived, of the overly elaborated, and this might easily, I realise, be due to their involvement in the contemporary art drama of transition between the pure abstract and the explicitly figurative. There is a greater abstract quality about Jones, but again one is brought up against influences, in this instance Kandinsky, Hard Edge and even geometric Cubism in the treatment of the figures. The majority of his canvases incorporate highly coloured arrangements of the fixed and invariable elements; the triangle, the small rectangle, the irregular curve, the ‘confetti’ skilfully scattered across the surface to terminate in squared off sections that hold the figurative images.

What is interesting is that these two young painters are developing a point of view, and a method of expressing it that holds promise for the future.