Frank Hodgkinson 1919 - 2001

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Frank Hodgkinson 1919 - 2001


McDonald, Anne


Imprint. Melbourne: Print Council of Australia, 1966 - ongoing


vol.37, no.1, Autumn 2002, pp.8-9

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illus. 2 (b&w)





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Frank Hodgkinson best known as a painter, was also a distinguished Australian printmaker, producing an impressive body of prints from the late 1940s. He died at his home in October 2001.

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Frank Hodgkinson (1919 – 2001).
byAnne McDonald

Frank Hodgkinson died at his Kenthurst home on the outskirts of Sydney 20October 2001. A man of great charm and gentle wit, he loved life and living.

From an early age Hodgkinson had a passion for art and began painting at fourteen.  He left Fort Street Boys High School when he was just sixteen to spend a short time apprenticed to a lithographer. The young Hodgkinson then worked briefly for a commercial artist and later freelanced as an illustrator.  He was also press artist for the Sydney Daily Telegraph and the Melbourne Herald

In between his work commitments Hodgkinson spent much of his spare time at drawing classes and during the 1930s studied with Sydney Long and Dattilo Rubbo at the Royal Art Society School. When Rubbo established his own atelier, Hodgkinson followed.

Hodgkinson was working in Melbourne with the Herald in 1939, when the Second World War broke out. Years later, with typical humour, he would recall:

I was in the corridor of the editorial floor… and a well known leader writer told me that the war would not last more than six months and that if I went overseas at that time with one of the AIF divisions I could probably take my discharge in Europe, and this appealed to me because I’d always wanted to go to Europe to study, and it seemed a good economical way to do it; so it wasn’t for reasons of patriotism really that I joined the army. …. However, I found that six years later I had not got to Europe….[1]

Instead Hodgkinson served in the Middle East and New Guinea and was an official war artist in Borneo, where he captured on paper and canvas the assault landings at Balikpapan.  His taste for travel had also been whetted.

Hodgkinson finally travelled to London after the war, “and then on to Paris and Rome and to Madrid, where I studied in each place, not formally in any particular school but rather under my own steam”.[2]  Here he immersed himself in the art of Europe’s great museums.  He undertook short periods of formal study under Bernard Meninsky at the Central School of Art and Craft and at the Académie Grand Chaumière in Paris. Hodgkinson returned to London intermittently to support his studies with freelance illustration.  It was during this period of study and travel in Europe that he also took printmaking lessons at S. W. Hayter’s famous Atelier 17 in Paris.

Whilst travelling and working in Europe Hodgkinson developed a creative empathy with Spain and modern Spanish art. Originally a figurative artist, he found himself in sympathy with Canogar, Cela, Suarez, Tapies and other Spanish moderns.  His etchings of the early 1950s, printed by Strom Gould in Sydney following Hodgkinson’s return from Spain, show the strong influence of Spanish modernism in both style and content. Prints such as Tauromaquia (1953) and others produced during this period, are stark yet lyrical in their abstract imagery and are amongst the best Hodgkinson produced.

“I think those six years that I had in Europe brought me to a stage where I felt that could not fully express myself working in a more or less realistic manner, and I began to experiment with the abstract”.[3]

Hodgkinson returned to Spain to live in 1958 after winning the inaugural Helena Rubinstein Travelling Scholarship. As his art became more abstract and expressive, his interest in depicting the forms and textures of the landscape developed.

Hodgkinson spent 1961-62 in the USA and then returned to live in Spain from 1963-67. He lived for the next two years in Italy. In the sixties he travelled back and forth to Australia , exhibiting in both countries – but did not feel the yearn to return permanently until 1970. “After years in Europe Australia seemed a new and young country. I had to rediscover it – to get into the landscape and allow it to get into me.”[4] It was this rediscovery of the Australian landscape that became a great influence on Hodgkinson’s return to figurative drawing.

In 1971, after living in Cairns for a few months, Hodgkinson was invited by his friend Clifton Pugh to stay at his property ‘Dunmoochin’ at Cottles Bridge, outside Melbourne. At this artists’ colony Hodgkinson again met up with his friends John Olsen – who had become a firm friend when they both lived in Spain, Fred Williams and Albert Tucker. Here Hodgkinson and his friends stayed in “a crudely constructed shack on a rise with commanding views of rolling landscapes, which he translated into teasingly sensuous forms in the paintings created there; figures and folding hills merged into a celebration of fertility”.[5]

Pugh had not long returned from Paris and S. W. Hayter’s print studio and both he and Hodgkinson were keen to experiment with Hayter’s oil viscosity process.  Pugh proved to be a major stimulus for Hodgkinson’s printmaking. Within a short period he produced two suites of prints, Inside the landscape and Landscape inside, which broke significant new ground in colour and texture printing. “These rich and sensuous figurative landscapes are a joyous celebration of female and landscape forms”.[6] At this same time he also worked jointly with Pugh on IS, a book of prints and the poems of Harry Roschenko. This was one of the first real artist’s collaborations in Australia. IS was a completely hand-made artists’ book — Roschenko’s poems were hand typed, then tipped by hand on to the page, as were the prints.

It was to be a most important period in Hodgkinson’s life, for he also met the potter Kate Ratten. They married in 1976 and settled at Kenthurst, in the bush outside Sydney. Here they built a home and studio over a precipitous gorge. It was “magnificent land” and Hodgkinson believed he would “probably go out trying to unravel its mystery”.[7]  He lived there with Kate for the rest of his life.

During 1977 Hodgkinson was artist-in-residence at the National Art School, Papua New Guinea, and in 1979 artist-in-residence at the University of Melbourne. In 1978 he began the first of almost a decade of annual trips to the Northern Territory, either alone or as leader of the artist-in-field scheme organised by the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.  The experience of these travels resulted in the publication of his Sepik diary (1982) and Kakadu and the Arnhem Land (1987) and provided stimulus for an impressive output of screenprints, lithographs and etchings. He worked on many of these prints with his friend Max Miller and many were published by Port Jackson Press.

In both his painting and printmaking, Hodgkinson showed a profound interest in perforating the layers of a landscape. The etching plate, for example, became a perfect metaphor for scratching into, and thus revealing, the layers of visual history of the indigenous peoples of Australia and Papua New Guinea. His images might reflect the delicate, yet powerful imagery scratched into the rock walls of caves in Arnhem Land or the vast tracts of land scourged by inland river systems. Others might refer to everyday ritual and ceremony – rites of passage layered with significance.  He also delighted in capturing the quirkiness of the everyday, in both familiar and exotic environments. Hodgkinson’s consummate skill as a draughtsman was always paramount.  Frogs — like Rok rok (1977), pelicans, cassowary and crocodiles often became the focus of his calligraphic imagery.

Hodgkinson continued to travel widely in Australia and internationally throughout his life, capturing the world in his many sketchbooks, drawings, prints and paintings.  Friends and family remained an integral part of his life.

In an obituary in the Sydney Morning Herald on 23 October, Kate Hodgkinson spoke of her husband’s passing:

In the early evening we realised he was sinking so we made some spaghetti and got a bottle of Grange and we sat around and drank it for and with him. [We] brought an Egyptian sarcophagus into the bedroom … because the Egyptians know their way through the netherworld and played his favourite music — Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain. I had my hand on his heart and I realised it was no longer thumping. He had this huge heart like Phar Lap. He just drifted away. It was most peaceful.

When Roger Butler, Senior Curator of Australian Prints and Drawings at the National Gallery of Australia, visited Frank and Kate Hodgkinson in the late 1990s, he was overwhelmed by the vast number of prints in Frank’s archive. Over the next few years a large group was gradually acquired for the National Collection, through purchase and generous gifts. They can be viewed at, the National Gallery of Australia’s Australian prints website.

The print suites Inside the landscape (1971) and Landscape inside (1971), fine examples of Hodgkinson’s sensuous figurative landscapes, are included in the National Gallery’s travelling exhibition Landscape in sets and series, at Bendigo Art Gallery 29 March –12 May 2002 and in Hobart at the Plimsoll Gallery, University of Tasmania, 8 June – 30 June 2002.

© Anne McDonald, 2002.
Published in Imprint (Melbourne), vol.37, no.1, Autumn 2002, pp.8-9.

[1] Hazel de Berg Frank Hodgkinson [Transcript of Interview, June, 1962] (Hazel de Berg Collection of Tape Recordings). Canberra: National Library of Australia, 1962, p.1

[2] Hazel de Berg Collection (1962). p.1

[3] Hazel de Berg Collection (1962). p.2

[4] Frank Hodgkinson in Frank Hodgkinson. Sydney: Beagle Press, 1994. p.158

[5] Barry Pearce in Frank Hodgkinson. (1994)  p.73

[6] Roger Butler Landscape in sets and series: Australian prints 1960s – 1990s, catalogue brochure, Canberra: National Gallery of Australia, 1997. p.7

[7] Frank Hodgkinson in Frank Hodgkinson. (1994)  p.158