“I have a real love of the history of painting but then, in places like the Louvre, there are these little cornices that are beautiful and amazing, and those decorative elements affect the decisions I make in the studio,” says Gregory Hodge about the textures of Paris.
Hodge has been able to take his time exploring the city. He arrived in October for a three-month residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts, hoping it would be a chance to catch breath after a busy year. “I was going to use the residency to reflect and maybe make drawings and do some research but, naturally, a lot of my thinking through things happens in materials and I found myself drawn to making work in the studio,” he says. The trip was extended, and this ‘thinking in materials’ evolved into a diverse body of new works, each playing in different ways with illusion, art history and the recontextualisation of materials.
Before the Covid-19 lockdown hit, Hodge’s research took him to the ornate Château de Fontainebleau, the Gobelin tapestry factory, and the decorative department of the Louvre, with its 18th and 19th century tapestries.
There were already glimpses of textiles in Hodge’s 2019 solo exhibition Fictions but the new work pushes this much further. Gesture and Interior, 2020, weaves together the impression of a strange domestic environment from a rug, furniture and a figure draped in cloth. These pieces, painted with horizontal, weft-like striations, are intriguing but a bold gestural brushstroke hovers in the way. It’s an arresting gesture, “interrupt[ing] that feel, the illusionistic feel, of the representational scene,” says Hodge.
Hodge is interested in the way that pictorial tapestries, unlike painting, embed the image in the support. In Paris, he also found himself thinking about weavings made from paintings by Fernand Léger and Le Corbusier, and how their painted marks were captured in cloth. “I've played on that and flipped that round, looking at the way a woven mark can be translated into an illusionistic surface,” he says.
In a series of smaller works, Hodge has used a restrained palette to create abstract, patchworked compositions. “Colour for me is such an important part of the way that I make and think about art, and particularly painting, but I’m also really interested in the subtlety of how you can generate an image with only two or three tones,” he says.
In other paintings, like Curious, 2020 and Swimmers, 2020, Hodge has used layers of gel and impasto to quietly build out the edges of the works. “The gestures then sit over this field that doesn’t finish right on the edge of the canvas,” he says. “It extends. It has its own physical body.”
These extensions give the works subtle irregularities, a little like torn paper. This is what Hodge does best, finding ways to unsettle our assumptions about what we’re looking at. “It's uncertain, straight away, what it is,” he says. “I’m interested in that. I like that idea of not everything being revealed really quickly.”