Shorelines - flux and revision
Decisions. Decisions. Do you follow your head or your heart? Stick with what you know or take a chance on what you might yet discover? Do you follow trends or remain faithful to your established themes and interests? It should be a simple thing really. But in reality, it is not. If there were a book, it would be a best seller…’How to Decide on your Subject-Matter in One Easy Step: and guarantee success in the process’.
It takes time and energy to make a final decision, but real courage to stick with it. Self-doubt niggles and gnaws at that decision, doing it’s very best to throw you off track with a cacophony of opinions from family, friends and the ghosts of artists - both living and dead.
Speaking with Carol Hodder in her studio, it became clear that like most artists, she has grappled with these doubts. In the past, she has reflected on what her art should mean to her and made the decision long since to remain true to her landscape subject-matter. And it is through this commitment, that these paintings are gathered at the Catherine Hammond Gallery, Skibbereen.
Hodder’s paintings reside in a metaphorical space between land, sea and sky. Their inspiration can at times be the result of trips away from the studio such as to Ballinglen in North Mayo, and
other remote places, but more often than not, they do not require a physical journey at all. These are paintings of nowhere and everywhere at the same time. They are borne from an emotional attachment, nuanced perhaps by a secular spirituality or sense of history and belonging, etched into her own and her inherited memories.
As these paintings do not set out to faithfully represent a specific place - and sketches and preparatory drawings are not often indulged - the artwork starts and ends with the paint itself. Layers of paint grow, recede and grow again through a dialogue of flux and revision. This experiential process results in the desired contrasts of colour and tone to create the ‘light’ that she is after. Scoring into the paint plays an important role also, with subtle suggestions of architecture or power lines etched sinuously into the distance.
The more you look at these paintings the more the drama at play reveals itself. Tension is in the air, as sublime nature provides the grandest backdrop of all. But the stage is often devoid of actors, so the beauty sometimes goes unacknowledged. Subtle and discrete forces fade in and out; a mist rolls in from the sea obscuring the hills beyond, a moon shimmers with the aura of a Symbolist’s brush; while the echoes of a mysterious figure or birds in flight, melt into the atmospheric perspective.
The division between land and sky is Hodder’s presiding obsession. The push and pull between each, exerts a force upon the compositions, which at times is balanced on a knife-edge. The tonal contrasts are interrupted by carefully considered colour relationships – where tantalising flourishes of Naples yellow reddish, pale celadon green, orange and lilac peep out from the darks and the greys. But this can happen for a fleeting moment as the colours scurry back into the recesses of the canvas - only to emerge again unexpectedly and catch you unawares.
Hodder’s artwork demonstrates real commitment and resolve, based on her heartfelt vision for what the landscape/inscape says to her. These paintings are not created with the intention of paying deference to the art market. Neither do they consciously seek its accolades. They are firstly, for her and secondly, they are for us. And because they come to us in that order, we should be glad.
Mark Ewart lectures at CIT Crawford College of Art & Design. He is also an art teacher, writer and artist.