Hogarth called himself an “artist-reporter” but he was much more: among the most distinctive and accomplished British watercolour painters of the second half of the 20th century, he distilled in limpid, deceptively easy-going depictions of places and buildings across five continents a sense of history, politics and social change, always from an individual perspective. Some years after his death in 2001, a cache of drawings and watercolours held back by the artist was discovered in his studio – works that form something of a self-charted retrospective. Half were shown in 2010; this is the second, final part.
Born the son of a butcher in 1917, Hogarth was both politically committed – he fought in the Spanish civil war and was a communist until disillusioned by eastern European oppression in the 1950s – and literary by instinct, drawn to collaboration with writers. The earliest drawings here date from a tour of Zimbabwe with Doris Lessing, followed by one of Dublin and Galway with Brendan Behan. Hogarth also toured China in the 1950s (rare at the time) and it was the calligraphic quality in his work – a reflection in part of the Chinese watercolour tradition – that eased his transition from drawing to watercolour in the 1960s. The medium was ideal for his spontaneous, impulsive spirit: exuberance underpinned by his draughtsmanship’s light touch and his flair for architectural detail, in compositions daring for their broad use of white or negative space – the infinite sea in “Rhodes Old Town”, the glare of the blank horizon above “The Road to the Lighthouse, Sidi-Bou-Said, Tunisia”.
Hogarth’s feel for fading grandeur was never better deployed than in his illustrations for Graham Greene’s covers – notably “Puerto de Balsa, Corrientes, Argentina” from The Honorary Consul here. But his wonderful dual perspectives allowing simultaneous views from street and high window level, in settings ranging from Amalfi’s tumbling villas to lighthouses in Nantucket and boulevards in Tripoli, bring to everything a poignant, distorted romance and human scale – an elegiac, human-scaled vision of turbulent times.
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