Connect>Create 2008

Paul Hodgson, 'Boy with Landscape' (2001)

Paul Hodgson was born in Shrewsbury in 1972. He attended the Royal College of Art and has exhibited work in group and solo shows in the UK and the USA.


In his photographs, Hodgson recreates portraits that were painted by the masters of old. He carefully restages these images from centuries ago, but not precisely; he subtly interweaves contemporary questions and comments into his images.


The main components in Hodgson’s works blatantly correspond to the historical counterparts, but the changes that he does make, allow us to relate to them more easily with 21st century eyes. The changes include, the substituting of their ‘grandness’ for his ‘humbleness’, their silk for his denim, and their English countryside for his urban park. These alterations certainly question the intentions and ‘truths’ of their historical counterparts that, more often than not strived to affirm the social status of the sitter.

Hodgson’s Boy with landscape is an obvious nod to Thomas Gainsborough’s Blue Boy, painted in 1770. The Blue Boy is thought to be a portrait of Jonathon Buttral, the son of a wealthy hardware merchant. The boy is dressed in 17th Century formal clothing, which in turn is thought to be a nod of respect, gestured toward Van Dyck. Gainsborough himself stated that his first love was landscape, but that he could make a living out of painting portraits for the wealthy.


Hodgson’s Boy with landscape uses the same visual conventions; the staging and lighting are just as dramatic as in Gainsborough’s version, as is the exaggerated pose. Hodgson’s version of Gainsborough’s Blue Boy is a photograph rather than a painting, and the use of a different medium affects our response to the work. His work is produced in a studio with a digitally enlarged image of some urban park fields as a backdrop. The boy himself is posed standing on a beige synthetic carpet, his contemporary clothing seem to be made from denim, rather than silk, although he still exudes a sense of pride and retains an air of status.


By ‘recontextualising’ these historical works, not in their own times, but in ours, with our visual language, Hodgson’s works manage to reveal, highlight and raise doubts around the long accepted ‘truths’ of the originals. His works don’t allow for complacency. The events of the world that have taken place, in the time elapsed between Gainsborough’s and Hodgson’s versions are projected onto the art we see, highlighting the repetition of history and of our perpetual concerns with money, fashion, and power.


Throughout history artists have often looked to earlier works of art for inspiration. Some, like Hodgson, have utilised these sources of inspiration, restaging them to create new work with new meanings and very few formal changes. Hodgson’s work, in a way, could be compared with how Manet created Olympia (1865), inspired by Titian’s Venus d’Urbino (1538). The small changes that Manet makes to Titian’s painting, that inspired Olympia, strips the former of its old ‘trappings’ and releases a new reality. Venus, unlike the Titian original, is no longer a mythological goddess or exotic nymph, but through Manet’s eyes is realized as human, as real flesh and blood. Manet, with marginal changes, reinterpreted Venus with his own values and with his own modern day language, and turned the meaning of the painting around altogether.


By Sharon Coals, student from the BA (hons) Contemporary Fine Art Course, Hull School of Art and Design 2009

Document icon Learning article provided by: Ferens Art Gallery, Hull | 
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