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Howard Hodgkin on Seurat

Part 2: Divisionism

It seems that his sensibility was above all one of restraint.

Yes, I would absolutely agree. I know so little about things like games of tennis, or techniques of dance and so forth; but the physical control one sees in a Seurat is so relaxed, so simple, so straightforward and so visible that the effect is breathtaking. And I'm sure that painters through jealousy, envy, and a desire to emulate therefore admire him very much. Whether this is the case for English artists is something else.

Do you think that his appeal has been limited by the idea that he is the painter of lots of tiny dots?

No, not in the least. I think they were a liberation. But equally important were his drawings. When he began to draw without using linear marks, just putting tones down, suddenly he could do what he liked. Suddenly, a simple physical gesture with a conté crayon set him free. And though these small studies seem very free in their own way - they show his ability in the face of nature to make his own structures, as I have said - he has a different and perhaps an even deeper type of freedom when he paints his 'divisionist' works.

There's a strong feeling of slow, patient, method to all his works. Is there a decisive moment when the work is made? Is that something that happens in your own paintings?

It certainly happens during the making of the painting; but in paintings such as the National Gallery Bathers, I think he began to worry about the painting a bit too much, hence its later revisions. The moment had already happened. But the 'decisive moment' is a good phrase for these sketches; it clearly occurred for him in most of them. In the later works it was almost as if he had gone far beyond this, the balance had tipped in favour of an art that occasionally became grotesque. John Russell writes somewhere that in the later painting Le Cirque it is essential to look at the faces of the crowd. Because by that moment the process of divisionism and making forms had reached such a point that the people become grotesques. Whereas with these three small paintings we are here looking at here, that never happens; there's a balance between something outside Seurat, and something inside Seurat, which is very delicately preserved.

This little painting, The Fisherman in the Moored Boat is far more .... complete, and decisive than it perhaps at first looks. Don't be deceived by the loose handling, because there's nothing loose about the pictures themselves. In the later paintings he started jumping to conclusions which in the drawings, and the earlier painted sketches here, he never made.

Again, the drawings use a technique which he invented, where you can lose yourself within the space which is the surface of the paper. Because it is revealed by the conté crayon drawing over it, rather than using lines which makes edges, means you've got space to do all sorts of things; a figure that is far away could suddenly be brought near, like the portrait of his mother, which is like a seventeenth-century tenebrist painting. But it's not really like that because it is so much freer.

Have you wanted to emulate his drawing technique?

No.

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