Hodgkin was born in 1932 in London and studied at the Camberwell School of Art and Bath Academy of Art from 1949 – 54. His work has been shown around the world and is included in many international museum collections. The only previous retrospective of his work was shown in 1976 at the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, though major exhibitions of recent works were seen in London at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1985 and at the Hayward Gallery in 1996. His many professional positions have included teaching at Chelsea from 1966 – 72, Trustee of the Tate Gallery 1970 – 76 and of the National Gallery from 1978 – 85. He represented Britain at the 1984 Venice Biennial, was awarded the Turner Prize in 1985 and knighted in 1992.
Although Hodgkin (b.1932) didn’t emerge as a major figure in British art until the 1970s the exhibition begins with paintings from the 1950s, revealing the early development of his singular visual language. The exhibition traces the evolution of his vocabulary through the portraits on canvas of friends and interiors of the 1960s, to his adoption in the mid 1970s of the wooden panel and frame, defining painting as object, and through to the later, looser and more gestural paintings of the 1990s. Displayed broadly chronologically, the exhibition includes a group of Venetian paintings from the 1980s and new work never seen before.
Hodgkin's paintings often seek to convey memories of encounters with friends and frequently carry titles alluding to specific places and events such as Dinner at West Hill (1966) and Goodbye to the Bay of Naples (1980–82). Hodgkin himself has said that he paints "representational pictures of emotional situations".
His prints are hand-painted etchings and he has worked with the same master printer (Jack Shirreff at 107 Workshop) and print publisher (Alan Cristea Gallery) for the last 25 years.
Despite their apparent spontaneity and usually small scale, many of Hodgkin's paintings take years to complete, with him returning to a work after a wait and then changing it or adding to it. He often paints over the frames of his pictures, emphasising the idea of the painting as an object. Several of his works are on wooden items, such as bread-boards or the tops of old tables, rather than canvas. A number of his works not shown in frames are surrounded by rectangles of simple colour
Binding together all his work is his consistent exploration of the representation of personal encounters, emotional experience and memories of specific events. Whether trips to India, Egypt or Morocco, social occasions such as dinner with friends, particular moments are simultaneously reconstructed and obscured through a layering of the picture surface with distinct marks and intense colours, often achieved only over a period of several years.
On 9 March 2017, Hodgkin died peacefully at the age of 84 in a hospital in London. Tributes to Hodgkin were made by several figures in British art, including Tate director Nicholas Serota who described Hodgkin as "one of the great artists and colourists of his generation".