‘I find out what actually matters to me by working from memory,’ says Eileen Hogan
The artist discusses how Euan Uglow and Frank Auerbach taught her to sketch in two very different approaches, her obsession with Little Sparta, Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Scottish garden, and her ambition to imbue visual experience with meaning.
Eileen Hogan’s (b1946) excellently created paintings reflect her dedication to drawing and the art of painting. Inscriptions (concrete poetry), columns, obelisks, temples, and sundials punctuate Little Sparta, conjuring the worlds of classical garden design, 20th-century landscape architecture, and conceptual art with a rich tapestry of references to philosophy, classical design, art history, and everyday life today. Little Sparta has been dubbed “the most important garden produced by a poet since Alexander Pope’s garden at Twickenham” (1688-1744).
Janet McKenzie (Janet McKenzie): When you were in school, portraiture and sketching were out of style, and you pursued an own artistic path for decades. What university did you attend, and who were your most significant professors?
Eileen Hogan: I’m Eileen Hogan, and I’m Camberwell College of Arts, the Royal Academy Schools, the British School in Athens, and the Royal College of Art were all places where I studied. I studied at Camberwell with the first generation of painters influenced by the Euston Road School. When I was 14, I began attending Saturday morning classes and learned to sketch using the “dot and carry” method. Later, I rebelled against this drawing system, but I remained a figurative painter, wrestling with the question of what my work had to do with the business of being an artist in the twentieth and twenty-first century, even though being a figurative painter is no longer as difficult as it once was.
JMcK: As subject matter and process, Greece and London parks, explored through travel and strolling, are fundamental in your oeuvre. Can you explain how drawing allows you to investigate a topic and investigate an idea?
EH: For as long as I can remember, I’ve always drawn. Working with sketchbooks allowed me to get away from the Euston Road look. I drew in sketchbooks in a scribbly, unselfconscious manner that resembled doodling rather than serious art. I gradually learned what actually mattered to me by taking notes, making lists, and drawing the same things over and over. This type of painting helps me figure out what I’m thinking, and working from memory helps me figure out what actually matters to me.
Can you tell me how you ended up painting beehives in Little Sparta, for example?
EH: I always return to the same location after I’ve found the job I want to do. Sitting for lengthy lengths of time is necessary, not because of what I produce (I’m usually drawing or shooting photographs at this stage), but because staring and observing becomes a type of ritual. Even working directly from nature requires memory, as does seeing the gardens in different lights and seasons, as well as recollections of Ian Hamilton Finlay in the garden he designed and of other people.
JMcK: Beehives appear frequently in your work. Can you clarify what you’re after in formal terms, as well as how it’s evolved into a vessel of meaning?
EH: The sparkling whiteness of the beehives casts uneven shadows, the light flickers, and it appears to be camouflage at moments. It’s a piebald effect that intrigues me — the way the shadows reveal and conceal – tension beneath tranquility. Beehives in a cherry orchard may appear to be a somewhat banal topic, but I believe that a sometimes obvious subject matter, an unobtrusive composition, and a desire to enrich visual experience with meaning may all be used to express a genuine care for the evocation of sentiments.
JMcK: Can you also describe how Little Sparta affected you at first, and how your sketching and painting grew as a result?
EH: The sense of enclosure, the fact that it’s a poet’s garden, and the fact that it integrates words – poems sculpted in wood and stone and occasionally reflected in water – were the components of the garden that had the most impact on me. There are echoes of Greek philosophy and classical mythology throughout, as well as weather and changing light.