A masterclass in the art of drawing - a review of Ian Hodgson's "Refrain" exhibition at Naked Eye Gallery

by Christopher Spring

To say the opening sentence on this review was a struggle is an understatement, I have written and rewritten it a thousand times in a crowded library, before realising that Ian Hodgson has done my job for me, both as a viewer and a writer: start with the title.

Refrain. /rɪˈfreɪn/ Verb: to stop oneself from doing something.

Combined with its second most common meaning: within music it is a phrase or section of music that is repeated, usually the chorus of a song. One can instantly see why Hodgson chose this title as it describes this exhibition and the set of work perfectly.

In “Refrain” we are treated to a wide selection of Ian Hodgson’s work, set simply and effectively on grey walls with a collection of large scale sketches hanging down the centre of the room between the drawings. On the large scale drawings, we are treated to a haphazard collection of imagery that showcases some of the chaos that goes into creating the more complete pieces in the exhibition which are on the walls. These drawings become more looming and significant the longer you are in the room because it completely stands at odds to the rest of the exhibition, as I will explain later.

The first thing that hit me is his stunning drawing ability. The various techniques and combinations that Hodgson uses elevates his work above other artists who create work in similar ways. He combines some pencil work with pastels, scraping, scratching and engraving into his drawings and imagery to create a depth more reminiscent of a painting than a conventional drawing. The layering that is created allows the viewer to lose themselves in the joy of following the artist’s hand, bypassing the actual imagery itself for a second, third or even fourth viewing.

In analysing and imagining the artist creating the work we can instantly see the first definition of refrain coming through. It doesn’t take much to realise that it would be very easy to overwork a lot of these images, showcased by his large scale drawings in the middle of the room, and actually would take a huge amount of self-restraint to refrain (see, got it in there) from revisiting and adding to the image again and again until it looks overworked and too opaque. Instead Hodgson leaves the piece, leaving an ethereal and haunting feel to the piece, with nothing too solid to grapple onto, but just enough to reveal the subject.

Eventually, when I returned to viewing the pieces having enjoyed it far too much with a glass of wine, you can re-analyse the imagery and content of the pieces themselves. Figures, landscapes, disco balls and even birdscapes (yes, that’s a new word, deal with it) featuring strongly. At first sight it is hard to see how these all fit together, but again, Hodgson has given us the meaning with the title “refrain”. Applying the musical definitions we can speculate a feeling of resonance that the artist has with the repeated imagery. The disco ball for example is a recurring piece that emerges in quite a few of his works but reimagined and redrawn with various techniques and styles, hinting at an enjoyment that the artist must get from creating this image that brought a smile to my face. And captures that same sense of movement as his “murmurations” series, which is taken from the movement of starlings around the pier.

His portraiture work particularly attracted me, his pieces split between the monochromatic, which though ethereal and ghostly seemed hopeful and the violent set of red portraits. These in particular attracted me, not only because it was a severe splash of colour within the very monochromatic colour scheme of the room, but also because of the emotions explored in the pieces. These are very sad pieces, with titles and a subject matter that could have any number of ambiguous meanings, a theme that recurs throughout this exhibition.

My initial response was that these were a visual representation of grieving. The red destroys the black and white nature of the exhibition and follows you around the room. It could very easily have destroyed the pieces, but actually they still hold true, a little bit like losing someone you love. The nature of the person in the background being less "solid" than the figure in front, for me, spoke of something slightly superstitious. However, as I look again and again it could be any number of things: a rejection, ignorance or it could be a warning.

This interpretation may be personal to me, but I love that his artwork can do it, and I think people will have varying emotive reactions to a lot of his pieces.

I loved this exhibition. It was genuinely exhilarating to be in the midst of the standard of the work displayed. Though I would love there to be more certainty and solidity in a few of the pieces, the whole exhibition is balanced beautifully and works incredibly well in Naked Eye Gallery. 

"Refrain" is on at the Naked Eye Gallery until the 28th February, you can see more information about the exhibition by clicking here.