The nature of abstraction is that it diverges from a representation of the natural world in order to achieve its aims. It may begin with the real—with what we accept as a real object, event, or fact, and then break down into constituent parts that in themselves hold as much realistic value as the quarks that make up all matter, but for whom we can ascribe no specific appearance. The distance between an object and its portrayal in art is a degree of abstraction, and likewise the distance between knowledge and experience is also abstraction.
In the new series of paintings by Carter Hodgkin, we are presented with an abstract aesthetic borrowed from a sphere of encounter not belonging to everyday life. Hodgkin likes to mine real localities that result in forms that she can pick depending upon their rate of natural occurrence, their material state, and their usefulness to us as facts.
Hodgkin refers to the designs in her paintings as referencing “cosmic collisions,” in which a locus of gravity between certain planetary bodies causes random attraction of smaller fragments, as well as gravitational interruptions by asteroids shooting away from suns that have gone supernova millions of miles apart from one another. All the various elements are pulled together by these gravitational arenas, creating a dense inertia that creates endless interactions with explosive and colorful results.
Hodgkin is specifically attracted to what I call the “esthetic of the non-event’ which could otherwise be described as any event, however distant or miniscule, happening in a location or zone far removed from the sensory or causal context of the everyday. It could be the formation of cells in the blood or the destruction of random elements of the concrete universe at great alienation from life on earth. The merging, metamorphosis, and dissolution of matter, are of primary interest to an artist devoted to the medium and practices of abstraction because they root out the actual bases for it, connecting the artist to the world.
The practice of painting in Hodgkin’s case becomes more than an immersion in idealized form, but a partnering with real events that require their depiction in art in order to be understood as real and symbolic. Her new body of work is comprised of drawings and paintings that are matched to a series on ongoing digital animations that actually track, and stylistically narrate, the material transformations themselves. However, there yet remains a variable of the unknown, even of the pictorially impossible in her new work, and it is this degree of uncertainty, as well as the forms themselves, that drives her to explore them.
There is an evolutionary spirit alive in this work, tracking the variables of creation and destruction, and the appearance of disorder in a greater order than can nominally be imagined. Hodgkin starts at the periphery of the imagined event, taking one color of paint at a time and tracing a gesture toward an unspecific latitude where she feels the event must occur. Each step toward the event is a single mark and all the marks of a single line are by necessity uniform and precise. As random processions of marks converge at a single location, it becomes cumulatively massive, alternating in the approaching materials, and then darkening and becoming dense and mysterious. This is the very beginning of what will become a planet. Yet for now all it needs be is a miracle in the making. Hodgkin is alone in the vortex but takes us with her. There is beauty here which she alone can show us.