Time Goes By

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Critical Review

Sir Howard Hodgkin was one of the most prominent English painters and printmakers of the 20th century due to the expressive nature of his work. As Time Goes By is composed of two works, As Time Goes By (blue) and As Time Goes By (red). This series is testament to Hodgkin’s skilful mastering of print, which he engaged with perhaps more than any artist of his generation.

While their vast size and colourfulness might seem overwhelming, Hodgkin’s works demand closeness to appreciate their full complexity. Each print required five layers of paint, and the blue and red hues framing the prints were entirely hand-painted on paper, whilst the vivid dots of colour were printed from etched plates. Combining these processes created an intricate but smooth combination of painterly brushstrokes, the artist’s mark, and mechanical reproductions. To further add to this expressionist quality, Hodgkin resorted to carborundum printmaking - a technique that the artist notoriously learned from Jack Shirreff at 107 Workshop. The use of this technique added a tactile and painterly quality to the works due to the little embossings which are visible on close inspection.

Even with their original meaning hidden, these works continue to fascinate any collector of modern art, inviting the audience to project their own feelings and thoughts onto the surface of the works. After all, Hodgkin is famously remembered for saying “I am happy for people to talk about my pictures, but I wish devoutly that I was not expected to talk about them myself…If people felt enthusiastic, I’d like them to talk about their enthusiasm—you know, the effect on them rather than about the pictures. Surely for all artists that’s the most useful thing that can happen.”

Why is As Time Goes By so important?

As Time Goes By is an astounding example of printmaking. The two works within the series measure over 20 feet in length each, and are not only Hodgkin’s most ambitious works to date, but are a significant breakthrough in the tradition of print. Each print is made of five panels, which are then mounted and hung vertically to form a single artwork. Hodgkin made the series in 2009 for Cristea Roberts Gallery, which had been the official and exclusive publisher of Hodgkin’s prints since 1987.

The artist himself never fully disclosed the meaning or purpose of the two works, yet critics speculated Hodgkin's age influenced the megalithic size of the print. “Feeling the chariot of time was creeping up on him, Hodgkin’s sense of urgency increased, which may have been one of the reasons for the megalomanic nature of the undertaking.” stated Liesbeth Heenk. The title is recognised as a quote from a song played by Sam (Dooley Wilson) in the cult movie Casablanca (1942). What relation the title bears to the colourful and abstracted quasi-canvases, Hodgkin left the viewer to guess, subsequently making these abstracted works even more intriguing and engaging for the gallery visitor.

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