The Artist

Layers in a painting interest me because of the rich undercurrents they bring. I like to begin with a radiant field of color and overlay this base with transparent clouds of paint and grids of skewed geometry. This structure serves as a platform for representational imagery, often from art history. I finish the painting with an expressionist display, a spontaneous explosion of paint wrinkles, smears, dabs and zigzags.

I make these opposing gestures and surfaces to speak about different kinds of human behavior, to express logical and emotional relationships that do not always co-exist in harmony. Color is my primary source of expression and these juxtaposed layers of color often have abrupt and asynchronous interactions.

Memories arise not only from the self but also from our common history. I have begun to add other images: the work of other artists, the outline of a house from my childhood, the birch trees I remember from my time in the Russian countryside. Often there will just be an edge of this "history" layer showing, like an uneven piece of underclothing. At other times it moves under the surface like a figure traveling behind a curtain. These image fragments may be simply background noise, but I feel they must be there.

The painting is completed with imagery that comes from contemporary life: an abstracted collage of colors from the media or a vision of the passing parade of New York street culture. This final layer, which partially obliterates the memory and history images, brings the painting forward into the present. The work, in the end, is intended to relate to the complex, cacophonic world of our day - to the interconnected and networked lives we lead.

Reviews

Chromatic Variations: Four Neo-Modern Abstract Solos Dazzle the Eye at the Havu Gallery

The William Havu Gallery has staked out a wide swath of aesthetic territory for its exhibitions. For example, while it highlighted neo-traditional landscapes last month, this month's focus is on a set of solos featuring neo-modern abstracts.

The array begins with Monroe Hodder: Smoke and Mirrors, which comprises very recent efforts. Over the past decade, Hodder has made a name for herself via paintings that strike a balance between geometric abstraction and expressionism, carried out in deep, rich shades. This new work, though arguably an extension of these previous pieces, represents a big change. The compositions are no longer constrained by horizontal lines, and the palette's volume has been turned way up. To be honest, not all of them work, but when they do, as with Razzle Dazzle, they reveal that Hodder is really on to something - though she might need to reel it in a little.

Michael Paglia, Westword, Denver, April 2015

Monroe Hodder: Astroid Enigmas

Monroe Hodder is known for her abstract oil paintings of boldly colored stripes, but in her new exhibition, she takes on a new motif: the spiral. Although her paint application is as creamy and luscious as ever, Hodder's shapes have shifted; the stability conveyed by her erstwhile stripes has been turned on its head and spun around like a top. In pieces like Last Days of Downhill Drive, large, spiraling shapes evoke the churning of galaxies and black holes, pulling the viewer's eye into the centripetal force of the composition. Meanwhile, in smaller pieces like Madame Cezanne, wedges of paint fill the picture plane with greens, blues and yellows in a veritable sonata of parallelograms. This is a looser, bubblier style than we've seen from Hodder, and it's a welcome development.

Richard Speer, Portland Mercury, Portland, OR, November 2014

Color Binges, Dynamic Equilibria, Moon & Stars & More

Monroe Hodder's paintings, conjuring the urban milieux of London and New York, are bursting with saturated colors so highly pitched they seem to hurl themselves off the canvas. An instinctive abstractionist who nonetheless flirts with figuration from time to time, Hodder is also an ardent, "uncontrolled" colorist, she says, not at all afraid of a fully loaded palette. One of the primary pleasures in viewing her work is to marvel at the canniness—and audacities—of the color juxtapositions she creates. They ricochet around the surface, little visual detonations here or sweet sailing there. The collisions can be surprising, even jarring but they alternate with areas where everything purrs, the exuberant brushwork deftly wavering between the fluid and gritty, the lustrous and matte, integrated into a taut, reverberant whole. Hodder constructs her version of equilibrium slowly, her process time-consuming, and intense despite its sense of spontaneity. A cadenced, complex balancing of color, stroke, drip and placement, it's a rhythmic orchestrating of advances and recessions, physical density and optical impact. What she wants to do is make a painting that is visually exciting, its surface alive, challenging viewers and keeping them engaged.

The works for this exhibition, all from 2012, all the same dimensions, and all made in London from where she has just returned after a ten-year absence from her native country, are constructed more or less in the same way. She begins with a grid intersected by diagonals as the first layer, as a warm-up. A series of abstract shapes make up the next layer, complicating the composition, obscuring the angular scaffold. By the top layer, Hodder has gotten her bearings and has become expansive, combining the rationality of structure with the expressiveness and eccentricity of the intuitive. Here, she often attaches swatches of paint in this recent selection to add even more color to the mix, raised zigzagged appliqués that hover and fan out, evoking ascension, drift, flight. One painting is called The Incidence of the Black Swan, a financial term that indicates something so unlikely to happen that it isn't factored into the risk analysis. Hodder thinks the term also applies to painting, a practice that produces outcomes equally unlikely and unexpected. The vivid, unruly title of the show, "Head Banging on the Moon," signals its high spirits and aspirations, despite intimations of desperation. Hodder is ready, it seems, to once again take off, chaos and control remaining her mantra.

Lilly Wei (New York-based art critic, writer and independent curator)

Review by Caroline Compston

She's got everything she needs: she's an artist; she don't look back. — Bob Dylan, 1965

Be seduced by Monroe Hodder's chromatic sensations, but don't be fooled by them. Her career spans a number of chapters in the history of American art. Inspired by a vast web of experiences, her work is charged these days with the urban intensity and stimulation of life in London, together with the peace and solitude of a studio in Colorado.

Rothko said that a picture "lives by companionship, expanding and quickening in the eyes of the sensitive observer". I find Monroe's paintings have a power to engage with us. Her work encapsulates a reconciliation of opposites: a balance between the spiritual and the sensual, the structural and the painterly, discipline and passion. Her most powerful language is colour. Tangerine, puce and crimson jostle together; turquoise, ultramarine and yellow form striking layers. Drips of colour disturb the geometry. Supposedly difficult colours work together to form stimulating and surprising harmonies. Monroe says "My impulse is to fill up an abstract repetitive structure with the delicious disorder of paint. My work is a child of minimalism but the rules are bent and the grid has gone awry. I paint in large, messy stripes that wobble around and go out of bounds. My interest is in the ways I can use colour inside and across bands. I like to confound myself with infinite possibilities, choosing a colour such as blue and running other hues over, under and right through it." Geometric structure is a necessary starting point for Monroe.

After studying at Vasser, Monroe Hodder worked at the San Francisco Art Institute and the Arts Students' League in New York. She taught painting at various schools in San Francisco. Her experience of working as assistant to the Mexican artist, Manuel Neri, at the San Francisco Art Institute brought her into contact with Clifford Still and Mark Rothko. Through her involvement with Neri came an affiliation with the Bay Area Figurative School in California, including such artists as Richard Diebenkorn and Elmer Bischoff. Monroe and her husband Fred have lived in San Francisco for twenty years, and have travelled a great deal.

Monroe seldom paints without listening to music. Her passions range from Bach to the Blues and she cites Carl Jenkins and Jobi Talbot as inspirations. There are harmonic elements to her work which witness to her musical sensitivity.

These beautiful, abstract works arise directly from personal experience. The layers of paint release the geometry from the prosaic and the intellectual into an explosion of colour. Look carefully at these glorious, seductive, luminous paintings.

Caroline Compston (Former Curator, Tate Museums) July 2008
Monroe