Four You Gallery is delighted to present ‘Two Imposters’, an exhibition of new paintings by the London-based artist Dannielle Hodson. The show takes its title from a line in Rudyard Kipling’s If— (c.1895), a poem which characterizes “Triumph and Disaster” not as contrasting extremes of personal experience, but as a pair of twin “imposters”, to be met with the same unruffled equanimity. Kipling’s attempt to perceive a deeper unity behind apparent polar opposites finds a chime in Hodson’s canvases. These are works that demand we suspend conventional approaches to reading the painted image, and see beyond established pictorial binaries – not only figuration and abstraction, but also foreground and background, centre and periphery, composition and detail, colour and form.
Hodson’s paintings are born of a process of spontaneous, almost automatic mark making, from which recognizable motifs begin to emerge when the layers of pigment on her support achieve a critical mass. Looking at these works, they feel less planned than somehow channeled, as though their fractured, dreamlike narratives were not quite her invention, but rather visions she had received, like the 18th century artist and poet William Blake glimpsing angels in the trees of Peckham Rye. (Hodson has cited Blake as an ambient influence on this body of paintings, alongside the thought of Carl Jung, Ursula Le Guin’s 1968-2001 sequence of Earthsea books, and John Fowles’ 1965 novel The Magus. If there is a common denominator to these co-ordinates, it is a focus on the nature of illusion, and how stories shape reality).
In Masque (2022-23), what might be a masked ball or carnival parade is in full swing, its participants’ bodies morphing into a single, grotesque being, or else deliquescing into abstract passages of paint. Like figures in a painting by James Ensor or Hieronymous Bosch, they seem caught up in their own strange, libidinal energies, although we should note the huge, disembodied arm that stretches down the left side of the canvas, ending in a pale, clasped fist. Is this the Hand of God, and if so, is it here to guide or to punish, to cheer the revelers on or to sweep them away in some terrible apocalypse? At first glance Something that Wasn’t (2023) is a more bucolic prospect, recalling as it does Eugène Delacroix’s canvas The Bathers (1854), in which a group of young women immerse themselves in a pristine forest pool. And yet, as the title of Hodson’s work suggests, such fantasies of humanity’s harmonious communion with Nature exist against the background of a darker reality. Perhaps this is why Hodson’s anthropomorphized foliage is essayed not in verdant greens but in grimy blacks and browns, as though it’s been stained and choked by centuries of pollutants. Such signs of systemic breakdown make way for what appears to be an image of utter collapse in The artist is Present (2022-230), in which a human figure (Hodson?) slumps amid the burst upholstery of an armchair, whose stuffing resembles spools of wobbly intestines, which have somehow sprouted eyes and teeth. Despite this calamity, the figure wears a smile, and her right hand reaches for a painter’s palette. We cannot rule out a resurrection, a marshalling of all this apparent chaos into significant form.
The title of Hodson’s exhibition is echoed in two portrait works, Imposter One (2022-23) and Imposter Two (2022-23). Given that portraiture is a genre bound up with the notion of providing an authentic likeness of a real-life sitter, we might wonder what it means for these figures to be labelled thus. Have they performed some kind identity theft? This seems unlikely, given that they’re product of Hodson’s imagination, and have no flesh and blood counterparts. Considering their absurd, attention-hungry garments and their weirdly unstable physiognomies, perhaps the only deception they practice is self-deception, and even that is beginning to unravel. Are the two Imposters suffering from imposter syndrome? If so, it’s of a piece with Hodson’s wider project, in which triumph and disaster shade indistinguishably into one another, and the self – like bodies, like the endlessly mutable stuff of paint – is always in flux.