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Around the 1980s Howard Hodgkin’s status in the canon was becoming secure. Consequently, in 1983, he was commissioned to produce a print for the XIV Sarajevo Olympic Winter Games, and his Olympics series was born. He produced works on the theme until 2016, embodying his rightful reputation in the artworld and beyond.

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Meaning & Analysis

Sir Howard Hodgkin was one of the most critically acclaimed and important artists to emerge in post war Britain. His practice interwove painting with printmaking, two techniques that Hodgkin considered inextricable from one another, and which he often mixed combined. Recognition of his works began as early as the 1970s, but it was not until the 1980s that an appreciation of his unique style and subject matter took hold. In 1984, Hodgkin represented Britain at the Venice Biennale, and in 1985 he was awarded the Turner Prize. However, recognition of Hodgkin’s work transcended the art establishment and came to permeate also the world of sports. Olympics includes five works on paper, produced between 1983 and 2016, and best epitomises Hodgkin’s engagement with sport, as well as the broad variety of his public commissioners.

Spanning over four decades, Olympics brings together some of Hodgkin’s most unexpected works. Sarajevo (1983) was commissioned to Hodgkin for the official “Art and Sport” portfolio for the XIV Sarajevo Olympic Winter Games. The works feature a pointed green arrow reminiscent of a tree on a red background. Swimming was produced in 2011 on the occasion of the 2012 London Winter Olympic Games and was commissioned for the poster of the event. Through its highly expressive and gestural cobalt blue brushstroke, as has been noted by various critics, Hodgkin perfectly evokes the swirling movements of water and waves. The last work, The Road To Rio, was produced just one year before the artist’s death for the Team GB participating in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. The work features a palette of blue, yellow and green, which recalls the colours of the Brazilian flag, and is striking in the simple yet energetic and spirited movement of the paint.

Together, these works display in full force not only Hodgkin’s unique style and mannerism but also his widespread national and international acknowledgement as a printmaker.