Personal Geographies Posted on April 7, 2019

Chelsea Physic Garden 1, 2016, ©Eileen Hogan

How often do you see an artist’s work that so draws you in that you begin to see – or try to see – in their way? Eileen Hogan’s paintings do this for me. I first met them when in 2016 she was ‘artist-in-nonresidence ‘ at the Garden Museum and her personal vision filled the walls. Her paintings, large or small, are done in combinations of paints and wax that allow her effects of ghostlike fading and focussing. She appears to divine and absorb an atmosphere or a mood before she homes in on the particularities, then paints the details – some details – with pin-sharp precision. Isn’t that the way your mind works: changing focus as objects, or ideas or associations swim to the surface off your consciousness. Or indeed unconsciousness?

Hogan’s work is often in twilight, or mist, or under a sheen of rain or cloak of snow. Then something comes into focus – perhaps something physically quite inconsequential. The chalk lines marking out a football pitch on scrubby grey grass, a snatch of lettering, a walking figure seen from behind. She seems to like parallel lines, whether sunshine through a slatted blind or the Order Beds in the Physic Garden, where a sprinkler makes a small explosion of white shards of water against the green. She likes empty chairs and their shadows scattered in a café when everyone has left. Absence, in fact, is a sort of presence in her work. In a few paintings the degree of detail almost amounts to hyper-realism; others remain impressions.

All this is in a remarkable new book, published by the Yale Center for British Art. It chronicles, in her words and several others’, her creative life as painter, calligrapher, printer and publisher – and almost as an afterthought reveals her as a masterly portrait-painter. Her portrait of the Duchess of Cornwall, for one, is so sensitive it seems almost an intrusion to look at it.

In her essay she explains her methods of sketching, note-taking and repeated looking; obsessive observation. This is figurative painting involving not just the eyes but the whole intellect, memory and emotions. Could abstract painting ever capture your vision like this?

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