The Triumph of Life
Four You Gallery is delighted to present ‘The Triumph of Life’, an exhibition of new paintings by the London-based artist Dannielle Hodson. Inspired by Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s apocalyptic masterpiece ‘The Triumph of Death’ (c.1562), in which a hoard of skeletons rampage across a devastated landscape, the title of the show might be understood as an affirmation of human resilience and adaptability in the face of individual and collective trauma, not least the fallout of the ongoing global pandemic. Charged with an urgent organic energy, the motifs in Hodson’s canvases – characteristically, a teeming, often grotesquely comic mass of faces and limbs – feel always on the point of transformation. Unwilling to be trapped in the dead zone of stable, ‘logical’ depiction, they mutate to survive.
Hodson’s paintings emerge from a process of unplanned, almost automatic abstract mark making, and it is only when she has laid down a critical mass of pigment that figurative motifs begin to suggest themselves – something the artist has described as ‘embryonic faces pressing through my paint’, which she then ‘works consciously to bring into full being’. In her painting A Tolerance for Indeterminacy (2022) ¬– a title that echoes the writer Maggie Nelson’s formulation of the intellectual and emotional underpinnings of freedom – Hodson presents us with a vision of what might be a Bruegelesque Armageddon, or (given the presence of a modest rainbow above what might be billowing sails) the budding of a new green world from the smouldering ashes of the old. As our eyes travel across the work, we witness the extraordinary range of Hodson’s painterly address, from supple graphic strokes to passages of impasto abstraction. Paint’s potential to show anything, to be anything, becomes here an index of liberty.
Often absent a core motif around which the composition is organised, the artist’s canvases demand that we forget notions of foreground and background, an image’s centre and its periphery. Instead, we’re invited to practice a radically democratic form of viewing, in which every element of the image is a bearer of equal (and ever-fluid) meaning. Embedding a host of tiny details in that most intractable of shades, Prussian blue, Hodson’s painting Out of the Blue (2022) is both a formal high-wire act and a prompt for us to look harder, to look better, to see more: note the face of the clown that emerges from the foggy ground, its eyelids tugged open by wispy tendrils of paint.
While Hodson’s portrait works are rooted in a long-established art historical genre, they subject its focus, the human face, to a series of destabilizing (and typically very funny) indignities. Looking at When Your Hand is a Sculpture (2022), in which a pair of heads are burdened, or blessed, with a panoply of incommensurate facial features, any notion of the essential boundedness and continuity of the individual human being is cast into doubt. Significantly, Hodson’s title calls our attention not to these jumbled, jostling visages, but to a body part that usually plays a subordinate role in portraiture, the hand, which we are told here is not a living appendage, but rather its sculpted double. If the artist’s invented ‘sitters’ appear alarmed at this eventuality, all staring eyes and open mouths, then they are blithely unaware, or perhaps unconcerned, that their faces are formed not of flesh but of that most animated and endlessly malleable of substances – Hodson’s paints.