Book Review: Finding Frances Hodgkins, by Mary Kisler

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_finding_frances_hodgkins.jpgThis year marks 150 years since the birth of artist, Frances Hodgkins. Mary Kisler, Senior Curator, Mackelvie Collection, International Art at Auckland Art Gallery has written a remarkable book on the life and works of Frances Hodgkins. Her decision to travel to Europe and visit as many of the places where Hodgkins painted has resulted in a travelogue of Hodgkins’ work and the landscapes that inspired her. Kisler also uses Hodgkins’ diary to give us an understanding of the people and events which were so important in the paintings.

Arriving in 1901, Hodgkins was to spend most of her life in Europe with only two brief visits home to New Zealand. During these years she moved on average six times each year, only pausing during the wars when she could not visit her favourite places in France, North Africa, Holland and Spain. She enjoyed the company of others on her travels and accepted offers from friends and acquaintances to stay in new places. Kisler makes wonderful use of Hodgkins’ diaries to describe not only the landscapes, but also the social events that influence her life. Armed with photographs of Hodgkins’ paintings and her diaries and letters, it was a mammoth task to try to match each work to a specific place. While sometimes, this is achieved, a growing awareness of Hodgkins’ clever manipulation of form and space, helps Kisler to understand the way works are often composed of various elements rearranged by the artist.

I was impressed by the gentle patience of Kisler, who also chose companions for her travels. Language, lack of signage and the ravages of time, made her task daunting. The colour plates that sit alongside the text help the reader to follow the development of Hodgkins’ art. Her fascination with shapes and light, and the way she reduces a scene to blocks of colour, helped me better appreciate her work.

Here is a tribute to a truly great New Zealand artist. By melding her diaries, artworks and the actual landscape together, we arrive in awe of the output and quality of work that Frances Hodgkins produced. This was her life, and she worked hard at her craft, which was not always easy. My hope is that the touring exhibition of her work allows us a chance to truly stand in wonder at her works.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Finding Frances Hodgkins
by Mary Kisler
Published by Massey University Press
ISBN 9780995102972

Book Review: Frances Hodgkins: European Journeys, by Mary Kisler and Catherine Hammond

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_frances_hodgkins_european_journeysThis book, written in conjunction with an exhibition of Hodgkins’ work which will tour the country from May 2019, is an in-depth look at the life and art of one of New Zealand’s most internationally recognised artists. I knew of Frances Hodgkins of course, but had thought little of the artist as a person. This beautifully presented book is rich in detail of both the artist and her works.

The first photograph is of Hodgkins as a young woman running towards the camera, canvases beneath her arm, an improbably large hat on her head and a broad grin on her face. Her life as recounted in the book, along with over one hundred of her paintings and drawings, gives deeper understanding of her as someone who enjoyed life and lived it to the full. Quoting from the first paragraph in chapter one, she is described thus:   ‘…she exemplified the progressive attitude and spirit of the “colonial woman” a single, talented local artist who left for Europe in her early thirties.  From that point onwards Hodgkins seldom had a fixed abode, and determinedly avoided any encumbrance, without property or any family of her own, her entire life.’

The many photographs throughout the book show her growing from an energetic young woman into an older version, still vigorous in mind and body, still painting. And the paintings themselves give evidence of her ability to maintain her own independent style while experimenting with the different ideas as they evolved around her.

Her portraits, of Māori  here in New Zealand and refugees on the continent, are beautiful examples of her deftness in rendering emotion with simplicity of line and colour.

The book itself is a work of art. Large in size, it is case bound, with a dust cover picturing one of Hodgkins’ paintings. What it contains is a description in both word and pictures of the life of a remarkable woman. For the reader it will be a difficult task to determine whether to value it for the understanding it brings of one of our foremost artists, or for the sheer volume of her work it contains.  I enjoyed it for both of those reasons, and intend to delve into it time and time again.

Reviewed by Lesley Vlietstra

Frances Hodgkins: European Journeys
by Mary Kisler and Catherine Hammond
Published by Auckland University Press
ISBN 9781869408930