Charlotte Hodes

  • Title: Self-Portrait as Ornament
  • Medium: Fragments of printed and painted papers, papercut
  • Width: 62cm 24 3/8in
  • Height: 87cm 34 1/4in
  • Year of creation: 2013
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Self-Portrait as Ornament

Born in London in 1959, Charlotte Hodes studied at Brighton School of Art (1977-78), and then Fine Art (1978-82) and Painting (1982-84) at the Slade School of Fine Art. The painter ‘Paula Rego had a huge impact on me when she taught me at the Slade. Another artist who was a role model for me then was Sonia Delaunay [the Russian-born French painter and textile designer.]’ Other influences have included Japanese woodcuts,, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, ‘the way Redon used pastels’, Max Ernst’s frottages, Picabia’s Transparencies in which ‘he painted layered images’. She has always greatly admired Matisse papercut art: ‘He made all his own coloured papers. I also make all my own collage material. I don’t use ‘found material’ at all.’

Hodes started out as a painter and says ‘as a student I made a lot of drawings from the figure. Gradually in my work I’ve been removing the features. It is unusual for me now to put in features [as in her 2013 self-portrait, in which dark grey facial features are tersely applied using carbon paper]. I’ve never felt skilled in making a likeness of a real person.’

In her papercut art and her ceramics, ‘The silhouette made up of line and pattern is juxtaposed with visual references to domesticity, the decorative arts as well as female figures from historical painting and sculpture. A central idea is that of the female figure representing a kind of semi-permeable membrane through which anxieties and experience travel. The work is not so much an autobiographical narrative but rather an attempt to create an interior reality and order from a female perspective. I use the scalpel blade to draw my line, layering painted and printed fragments of paper to give papercuts a strong physicality and, in some passages, a quality of filigree.’

The 2013 work ‘was made thinking carefully about the form of the self-portrait. To develop female silhouettes in my work, I make drawings of myself often based on photos. I’m conscious of how I’m standing, how I form my body into silhouetted shapes. What’s important in defining a figure is not so much features but how the body is positioned in space. And in this picture of a figure sitting on a pedestal, on a capital – although you do not see the column below – I play with the idea that she’s just possibly a decorative figure.’ Of course, so much more than being ‘merely’ decorative, the gorgeous vibrant intricacy of the figure’s patterned apparel is celebratory and life-affirming.

It was essential to ‘give the presence of drawing of the figure a fluid, ephemeral quality. She’s not full-bodied, but etherial. She is made of a brownish grey cut piece of paper, which I then drew into. Grey is like silver – it’s not a colour you see too often in nature. Much of this work is intuitively and intricately cut and layered with a scalpel blade. I make use of many patterns archived in my studio; I keep pile upon pile of different sheets of paper I colour myself.

‘On the computer I take patterns and then digitally manipulate them but my work is always ultimately rooted in the hand-crafted; everything is applied by hand. Some are sourced from the London College of Fashion library archive such as the Hayes Collection of Textiles. Another detail is drawn from a textile swatch in the V&A Museum. I often use pattern swatches to make my own patterns from patterns.’

She identifies a whitish area to the left of the figure’s head as containing ‘domestic details, little plates, a kettle, a pepper-pot, bottles’, and towards the top left hand corner is a coffee pot form. ‘In a way the whole piece is paved out from such details, countless fragments such as a roseate form, archetypal spirals, squiggles of computer language such as as cursor or ampersand. There is a sense that all these elements are pouring down the picture in flux. At the top there is a horizontal line like a mirror – and the rest of the picture appears like a reflection in water. At the bottom is a strong grey-brown line acting as a stop to the picture falling off the edge!’

The female figure here half-kneels with graceful, otherworldly poise and festive buoyancy, her distinct yet fluent presence half naked, half psychedelically attired, bounded by a narrow luminous contour of off-white backdrop paper. The artist’s universe here is one of ‘countless fragments’ of intimately embroidered autobiographical (as well as universal) pattern and design which miraculously cohere. She says ‘If you move one little fragment, it would fall apart’.

Figures derived from her own self-observed form – but not strictly self-portraits – appear throughout her oeuvre, as in papercuts and ceramics she made as first Associate Artist at London’s Wallace Collection in response to 18th century Fête galante paintings and Sèvres porcelain in the collection (which culminated in a solo exhibition at the Wallace Collection in 2007). She won the Jerwood Drawing Prize in 2006. She is Professor in Fine Art at London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London.