6 August 1932 – 9 March 2017
The novelist recalls how he became great friends with Hodgkin after the artist offered to design his new book jacket
I first saw paintings by Howard Hodgkin at the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford in 1976, when I was a graduate student. They were vivid, complex and highly individual, shimmering seductively between public and private – you glimpsed intimacies veiled in the very moment of being declared. Howard himself I first saw five or six years later, going just ahead of me into a London cinema for a screening of Frank Ripploh's unprecedentedly candid gay movie Taxi zum Klo; I have an impression, like the vivid blur of one of his own paintings, of a small figure with greying hair settling in the reddish gloom of the auditorium, and when the lights came up at the end a glance of his grey eyes, which were uncanny in their effect of simultaneous absorption and penetration.
We got to know each other 10 years later, when he amazed me by asking if he could do the jacket for my second novel, The Folding Star. After a week's silence he rang and invited me to his studio, to see if I thought what he'd done was suitable. I remember blinking, not only at the peculiar pure light of the studio, but at the fact it was there at all, a former dairy concealed in the heart of a block between the British Museum and New Oxford Street. In the square white room, under a pyramidal glass roof, tall canvas screens propped against the walls concealed every painting but one – in this case a small intense horizontal displayed on the far wall and magnetising the eye, the only bit of colour to be seen. He hadn't read the book (it wasn't yet finished), and it seemed to me sheer intuition that had led him to create this intensely apt image, a gorgeous sunset above hilltops, the crossing red clouds themselves forming a vast ragged star.