Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Howard Hodgkin - soul spa

Home, Home on the Range, 2001 - 2007 © Howard Hodgkin, courtesy of Gagosian Gallery

I went to see an exhibition of recent work by Howard Hodgkin at Modern Art Oxford. Wow, so great.

Beautiful. Powerful. Moving. It's painting that you drink in with your eyes as you feel it in your solar plexus. I came out feeling as if I'd just taken my soul to a spa.

Howard Hodgkin - painter, print-maker, collector - puts pure emotion into colour. So I wondered what his chart was like, and how it would compare to other great colourists - Matisse, Hockney, Warhol… and especially Rothko, whose work speaks to the soul in a similar way.

Venus is the planet that rules art and also colour and harmony, so I'll look at her first. I thought I'd pop in th asteroid Pallas as well, whose proper name is Pallas Athena, goddess of, among other things, weaving. This asteroid is said to be prominent in the charts of artists, craftsmen, people who seek and create patterns.

So the results were uncanny - and not quite what I expected.

Obviously I don't have birth times for most of these guys, but frankly who needs those with these results. It turns out that Venus doesn't seem to tell us much about colour, but she indicates very precisely subject matter. For all the following charts, except Matisse's, I should point out that Moon placement could vary somewhat because I don't have an exact birth time. If anyone does have better information about these guys - do tell.

This is Hodgkin's chart which I drew up, like all the others, at

The first thing to notice is the superb yod, or finger of God, a fairly unusual pattern. Mar/Venus sextiles a romantic stellium of Jupiter/Mercury/Neptune across Leo and Virgo and both quincunx Saturn on the point of the yod. A yod has to be a very tight configuration, otherwise it does not count.

Venus also closely contacts the Moon, his emotional self, - of which more later. But notice that the Moon is in Venus's sign, Libra, and Venus is in the Moon's sign of Cancer, which means they strengthen each other. That's called mutual reception. So his emotions and his art are working hand in hand.

The Mars/Venus conjunction is in the ur-emotional sign of Cancer. Mars equals action; Venus art. He also has that powerhouse Pluto in Cancer (as does everyone of his generation, of course), but his is opposite Saturn. Pluto suggests emotions so intense that one could become a slave to them. Saturn and Pluto could be pressing those emotions down, keeping it all suppressed.

Saturn under so much pressure is even so, strong in its own sign of Aquarius. Saturn is about making things real, grounding, making manifest. With such a strong Saturn, Hodgkin is able to bring together his emotional artistry Venus/Mars and with the romance of Neptune/Jupiter and create a real object. But the difficulty of the quincunx suggests its a hard slow process. This does seem to be the case, notice how long it took him to paint the picture above.

But what about that Venus? The subject of his paintings is his emotions: Venus in Cancer. I don't get much from the free-floating Pallas, but maybe she's on an angle. She is ruled by buoyant Jupiter in Leo, whose tightly in the yod.

Here is Rothko's chart. With that Grand Cross, he must have been a little tortured I think - at least it's mutable so there's a little give in it. But look at that Venus in Virgo directly opposite Jupiter in Pisces. What did he do? Well, he made the same painting over and over again (Virgo seeking perfection) about God (Jupiter in Pisces.) That bounces out of this chart. (Click on the chart to make it bigger.)

See he's also got Pallas conjunct his Sun - so maybe she is relevant.

So here's Hockney. Pallas conjunct Jupiter, planet of expansion, in Capricorn, the sign of making stuff. He is, in fact, very prolific. And Venus? In versatile Gemini, of course. Hockney has tried all kinds of media - painting, films, printmaking, polaroids, theatre sets - all kinds of subjects - people, landscapes, cityscapes, portraits. He's designed phonebooks and jute bags.

She's also on the point of a mini grand trine from Saturn and the Moon.

I'm beginning to get colours here - Moon plus Venus. So what about Matisse? What's his Venus doing? For him, I have a birth time, courtesy of astrodatabank.

Here's Venus in Aquarius exactly opposite his Leo Ascendant. That's a spot which shows your one-to-one relationships, but can also indicate something about how the public sees you. He was, along with Picasso, the most famous artist of the first half of the 20th century; famous, among other things, for his depictions of his own intimate surroundings with or without a female (Venus) nude.

Aquarius is the sign of the avant garde, which is exactly where Matisse started his career with his "brutal" use of colour, shocking the bourgeoisie, who almost as quickly started liking the shock. But as everyone knows, sometimes the people who are radical at the start become the establishment in their old age - a classic Aquarian trajectory. But even though he was the establishment, he was still experimenting as he lay in bed cutting out huge bits of paper to make those beautiful late works.

Aquarius is also the sign of everyman. And one of the things that Matisse proved was that you don't have to be able to paint like an academician in order to be an artist. Essentially, he was a proto-punk (for a while. OK).

Except for some minor aspects, Venus is on her own there on the ascendant - except for an almost exact sextile to a Moon/Saturn conjunction in Sagittarius!

And Pallas in Pisces?  (I do seem to recall some very famous paintings of two goldfish swimming tip to tail.)

So what have we got. Venus plus Moon equals talent plus Saturn equals ability to make it real. Venus tells us what the art is about.

And Andy, you ask…  that will have to wait for another day. But guess what: he does share a birthday with lovely, lovely Howard.


  1. No wonder I like Matisse - his Venus is conjunct mine!

  2. And no wonder you are so stylish!

  3. Karma told me about your column. I love Hodgkin, so lucky you. xox