Indian, Islamic art collected by UK artist Howard Hodgkin to go under the hammer

A fragment of a carpet and a painting from Howard Hodgkin’s collection. (Photos supplied)
Updated 12 September 2017
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Indian, Islamic art collected by UK artist Howard Hodgkin to go under the hammer

LONDON: This October, Sotheby’s will exhibit some 400 items from a collection including Indian and Islamic art that belonged to renowned British artist Howard Hodgkin, to be sold at auction in London on October 24.
Hodgkin, who died in March at the age of 84, is widely regarded as one of Britain’s greatest artists. He has been a central figure in contemporary art for more than 50 years.
Frances Christie, senior director and head of the department of Modern and Post-War British Art, described the artist as highly influential.
“Howard Hodgkin redefined the way in which we look at the world. Just as his eye for the exceptional resonates through his paintings, his ability to identify the extraordinary in unexpected places was deployed in his incessant hunt for art and objects of exquisite beauty. So confident was he in his selection, and of the importance of each piece to his needs, that he created his own collecting alchemy. Spanning art history through time and geography, they offer a vivid revelation of his private world in all its intense and exhilarating glory,” she said.
Hodgkin spoke about his passion for collecting in a talk given in 1991 at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington’s Smithsonian Institution, where Indian paintings and drawings from his collection were being shown.
From the transcript of that talk, we get an insight into his thinking.
“Everything that I’ve ever done as a collector has been based, ultimately, on the strength of feeling,” he said.
The urge to collect, he observed, can stem from many motivations.
“A great collection often seems to be the result of one very rich man going shopping. It isn’t. It is really partly illness, an incurable obsession. It’s partly — sadly, in some cases — a desire for future or posthumous glory, perhaps more often for status while the collector is still alive. Also, and of course far more importantly, it represents the human desire to get near works of art. At its worst, it’s greed or the desire simply to possess, like a child at a party being given something to take home. But it’s much more than that at its highest.”
Hodgkin remarked that he found painting solitary but that collecting brought him into contact with like-minded people. Furthermore, the discriminating eye that he developed was nurtured by close friendships with experts in the field. It was Hodgkin’s art master at Eton, Wilfrid Blunt — brother of the leading British art historian and Soviet spy, Anthony Blunt — who first introduced him to non-Western art and who inspired him to collect his first examples of Indian paintings.
Later, Hodgkin became friends with the collector Robert Erskine and through him the network of various Parisian dealers, including Charles “Uncle Charlie” Ratton. Robert Skelton, who was the assistant keeper at London’s Victoria and Albert museum, became a lifelong friend with whom the artist first visited India in 1964. It was with Skelton that Hodgkin was able to meet other connoisseurs and collectors, including Jagdish Mittal, Kumar Sangram Singh, Milo C. Beach and Stuart Cary Welch, whose own collection of Islamic and Indian art was sold at Sotheby’s in 2011.
Hodgkin wrote about his fascination with Indian art in an Asian Art article entitled “About my Collection” in 1991.
“Disconcertingly, a collection begins to have a life of its own and to make demands on its owner that seem both impersonal and peremptory. For the most part, it’s really quite easy to resist the innocent charms of gap filling. But when a picture somehow demands to be bought (at whatever price) because it appears to be a great work of art of a kind not otherwise represented in the collection, it means trouble. I long wanted marvellous Basohli pictures and eventually got some good ones. Early Mughal pictures were seemingly impossible to come by, and then, by chance, I managed to acquire the fragmentary painting on cloth (titled) ‘A Prince Riding on an Elephant in Procession,’ but my favorite and longest-lasting enthusiasm has been for Kota painting.
“Elephants are heavy animals but are depicted in paintings from Kota as capable of such wild movement that they appear almost weightless — and how mysteriously they seem to haunt the rather conventional landscape.
“As a collector, my enthusiasm for these Kota pictures became my downfall — my Waterloo. The acquisition of ‘Maharao Durjan Sal and Shri Brijnathji Hunting Tigers and Wild Buffalo’ was such a traumatic event in my life as a collector that I felt I could go no further. It’s the largest, most expensive picture I have ever bought and the only one for which I have exchanged one of my paintings. This great, though fragmentary, picture finally enabled me to escape from the almost nagging lust that often keeps collectors in a slightly restless and unfulfilled condition for the rest of their lives.”
The Sotheby’s experts who catalogued Hodgkin’s collection described a treasure trove within every room of his Georgian house in Bloomsbury, near the British Museum in London.
“Surprises lay around every corner of the house. A precious 17th century Indian sandstone relief formed a backdrop in the kitchen to the artfully-stacked china on display. A wonderful fragment from a carpet, with its interlocking geometric pattern, faced a series of wall-mounted Kashan star tiles and the foliate motifs were echoed in monochrome form in the craftsmanship of an exquisite inlaid Mughal box.”
They observed that ornamentation is a prominent thread that runs through the great variety of objects he was drawn to, from both India and Islamic cultures. He especially sought fragments — particular motifs, calligraphy, colors and textures appearing in Ottoman, Indian and Islamic tiles, textiles and rugs. Fragments of calligraphy were not sought after for their meaning, but purely for the visual language of their linear forms and he honed in on specific parts of larger pattern schemes. In doing so, he focused on small yet powerful details, freeing his imagination from the original form.
Hodgkin collected in such depth that, despite covering almost every surface of his home, many of his acquisitions were not displayed. The basement library held a rich treasure trove of prints, paintings, fabric, books and furniture and exquisite fragments. Items consigned there were not relics, but an astounding array of source material of the most varied and wonderful kind. Many items were acquired on his travels, but were never as mementos. “I particularly don’t like objects of sentiment — people who have things not because they like and admire them, but because they have associations,” the artist is known to have said.
Hodgkin, who was awarded the much-coveted Turner Prize in 1985, has been the subject of numerous international exhibitions and art fans in the Middle East will soon have the chance to view highlights from his collection at the Sotheby’s gallery in Dubai between October 8-12. The full exhibition will be on show in London from October 20-24.


Highlights: Next-gen designs from the Global Grad Show

The Global Grad Show at Dubai Design Week 2018. (Arab News)
Updated 19 November 2018
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Highlights: Next-gen designs from the Global Grad Show

  • The Global Grad Show at Dubai Design Week showcased 150 innovative designs created by students from around the world
  • Designs ranged from high-tech solutions to simple objects

DUBAI: Highlights from the Global Grad Show at Dubai Design Week, which showcased 150 innovative and potentially life-changing designs created by students from around the world, ranging from high-tech scientific solutions to conceptually simple physical objects.

FROM NOWHERE WITH LOVE
Ukranian designer Olga Zelenska says her work “focuses on simplicity, sustainability and aesthetics of design,” and “From Nowhere With Love” delivers on all three. It’s a set of biodegradable postcards, designed for “migrants and modern nomads” to allow them to take a piece of their homeland’s nature with them wherever they travel. The postcards contain seeds specific to the plant life of the country or area in which they are bought. Those seeds can then be planted wherever the buyer — or the recipient of the postcard — wishes. (We’re not sure they’re guaranteed to grow well, but you get the idea…)

DYSLEXIA LEARNING DIFFICULTY
Yara Ahmed Rady is a product design student at the German University in Cairo. Her GGS project “Dyslexia Learning Difficulty” is designed to help dyslexic children learn Arabic through a series of exercises that use conventional teaching techniques which Rady has transformed into educational games using digital technology and engaging all five senses, thereby, she wrote in her project description “offering alternative routes to literacy.”

TINY HOME BED
One of the questions that GGS was attempting to answer this year was “How do we do more with less?” South Korean designer Yesul Jang, currently studying in Switzerland, came up with a product which addresses the needs of the ever-growing number of people living alone in small apartments or rented rooms in urban spaces. “Tiny Home Bed” is a raised bed with storage space — covered by a sliding fabric curtain allowing easier access than drawers — beneath. The frame is constructed of lightweight wood and is, Jang insists, “easy to construct.” Just as importantly, it’s not an eyesore.

THIS IS GROWN
After several years of working in the sportswear industry, London-based designer Jen Keane wanted to come up with a more sustainable way to make products. By combining digital and biological technology, she created a strong, lightweight, hybrid shoe that is made partly from bacteria. “I weave fibers into the shape and the bacteria grows around it,” Keane explained to Arab News. “It’s kind of a scaffold.” Keane added that she created the shoe in her kitchen at home. “I don’t have a lab,” she said. “I don’t have a [science] background. I learned how to do this by reading a lot, experimenting and talking to biologists. It’s totally doable.”

10:01
Sustainability also factored into Christian Hammer Juhl’s thinking when the Netherlands-based Danish designer was creating his inflatable furniture collection “10:01.” Made from dense foam material, the furniture can compress down to 10 percent of its original size (through a process similar to vacuum packing). So it’s not only ideal for modern transient lifestyles, but also means that transport from factory to retailer is more sustainable too.

TARDIGRADE
Billed as “clothing that can save your life,” David Bursell’s “Tardigrade” is the jacket you’re going to want to be wearing when the zombie apocalypse hit. Or, you know, a more conventional kind of Armageddon (Bursell says it was “inspired by climate change and the increasingly extreme natural and social crises it will trigger”). “Tardigrade” can be transformed into a shelter, a shoulder bag, a hammock, and any number of other things. It’s detatchable pockets can be used to collect water and other material. A warning though: at the moment, the jacket aids survival for “three to seven days,” so you might want to invest in several if things get really bad.

TWINKLE
“It’s flying lighting for urban safety,” designer Jiabao Li told Arab News about “Twinkle,” which she co-designed with fellow Harvard student Honghao Deng. Basically, flying drones clamp themselves to lampposts during the day to recharge their batteries, and at night they head to poorly lit neighborhoods. “They fly off to follow people around and provide sufficient lighting to guide their way. Like fireflies,” she explained. Both designers describe their creations as “living” creatures. “They’re curious animals,” said Deng. “We don’t think they should be owned. They should just be living around the place.” Li and Deng are currently talking to various governments trying to get permission for a trial run.

NAJI
Developed by a team of students from the Art University of Isfahan, “Naji” is an ingenious product designed to provide assistance in times of severe flooding. In normal situations, the device — four rectangles constructed of ethylene vinyl acetate (“resilient and buoyant”) with holes in — forms part of the base of streetlights, and the designers claim it will fit into existing infrastructure without the need for additional construction. If an area floods, however, the device floats to the surface of the water and provides a place for people to sit safely in one of the squares, strap in and await rescue.

ACORN
Another team project, this time from the Huazhong University of Science and Technology, “Acorn” is designed, according to the team’s statement “to be entirely beneficial to the environment.” Lead designer Zhang Liye told Arab News that the project is specifically intended for use in desert cities like those in the Gulf “because the soil lacks minerals and nutrition.” “Acorn” is an easy-to-assemble biodegradable plant base made from compressed crop waste that you simply bury in soil so that it can provide that missing nutrition to your plant.

SAHAYAK
A great example of how designers at GGS tackled another question: “How can technology make us more human?” In other words, how can we make life easier for people in tough situations? “Sahayak” is designed for porters working on railway platforms in India, who traditionally carry luggage on their heads, which can create several long-term health issues. “Sahayak” is a backpack that transfers the weight of their loads from their heads to their shoulders and protects the spine. “The design uses an inexpensive torsion spring to distribute the load throughout the backpack’s frame, reducing the load borne by the user’s head and neck by 75 percent,” designer Risbagh Singh claimed in his GGS statement.