In 1958 Trevor Hodgson wrote to Ruth Borchard (soon after she had seen some of his paintings at London Artists International Association gallery):
‘I am not a portrait painter in the conventional sense. However, I ofte paint abstract portraits, and I do have a recent “self-portrait” titled “Self”!’ – the abstract self-portrait acquired soon afterwards by Ruth.
Born in Bradford, Yorkshire, Hodgson studied at Lancaster College of Art and the University of London. Ruth kept the card for Trevor’s c.1962 A.I.A. gallery show, which stated: ‘His career includes such varied occupations as photographer, clerk, scenic artist, jazz musician, school teacher and industrial designer. He is now lecturer on Graphic Design at Blackpool School of Art.’ On one side of the card is a photo of the artist in semi-profile, with short, dark hair, dressed respectably in white shirt, tie and checked tweed jacket.
Painted in 1958, when Hodgson was twenty-seven, Self is far removed from the photographic image of Hodgson as a lean, clean-cut, sensitive-looking young man. Self’s deliberately primitivised form, its raw edges and lumpen textures, find parallels in 50s’ bronzes of the human form by leading British sculptors, notably Kenneth Armitage, Lynn Chadwick and Bernard Meadows. But it also looks back to the far more radical French artists of the 1940s and early 50s, such as Jean Dubuffet (whose savagely compassionate portraits, inspired by Art Brut and child art, were painted in haute paté, paint blended with sand, tar, gravel) and Jean Fautrier.
Painted in oil on canvas, Hodgson’s Self evokes textures and materials such as weathered rock or roughcast concrete, even charred materials in the dense black lines in and around the face. There is something barren, inhuman even – yet also bizarrely comic – in the way Hodgson has depicted himself. The pliant softness and resilience of human skin have been replaced by harsh black and grey matière. The top of his head and his hair have given way to an almost colourless void. Yet Self’s glowing yellow background brings a healing, amber accent to the picture.
That said, one can also interpret this image as redolent of someone wounded in a nuclear attack, set against a luminescent radioactive background. Such an intuitive interpretation is not so far-fetched. Hodgson was a politically aware artist (A.I.A. newsletters at the time intermittently encouraged members to go on Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament marches), and the Cold War was then at its height.