John Hoyland 1934-2011


The Artist's Estate

Private Collection


2016, London, Piano Nobile, Aspects of Abstraction: 1952-2007, ex. cat.
Born in Sheffield in 1934, Hoyland bypassed a grammar school education to attend Sheffield School of Art & Crafts (1946-51). He then studied art at Sheffield Colege of Art (1951-56) and was introduced to American abstract painting through the exhibition Modern Art in the United States at the Tate, London (1956), taking particular note of Rothko and Pollock. At the Royal Academy Schools (1956-60), Hoyland befriended among others Patrick Caulfield, who became a close friend. To learn beyond the strictures of the RA, in 1957 Hoyland attended an annual Summer School at Scarborough and in 1958 joined William Turnbull’s evening classes at the Central School at Scarborough and in 1958 joined William Turnbull’s evening classes at the Central School of Art, London. In these years Hoyland also travelled to France and Italy, and was affected by the quality of light – he was later to travel extensively. The 1960s saw Hoyland teach at Hornsey, Luton, Croydon and Chelsea schools of art. In 1963 he saw Anthony Caro’s exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery and in 1969 he and Caro represented Britain at the São Paolo Biennial. In 1964 he was selected for the Whitechapel’s New Generation exhibition and travelled to New York for the first time, visiting artists such as Helen Frankenthaler, Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko. In the 1970s and 80s he worked in both New York and Los Angeles. In 1999 Hoyland had a retrospective at the RA and was appointed a Professor of Painting at the Schools.

Despite striking up friendships with infamous critic of Abstract Expressionism in New York, Clement Greenberg, and painters Helen Frankantheler, Robert Motherwell, and Mark Rothko on his first visit to New York in 1965, Hoyland found the reductionism of Greenberg’s modernism leading his painting into an artistic dead-end. It was the sculpture of Anthony Caro, with whom Hoyland exhibited at the 1969 Saõ Paulo biennial, which opened a route beyond Greenbergian formalism, inspiring Hoyland to re-introduce the illusion of space into his paintings. After the initial catalyst provided by Caro’s sculpture, Hoyland’s painting underwent a further transformation during his prolonged stay in New York from 1969 until 1973. During the course of these four years, Hoyland was primarily based in New York but travelled across the States with his jazz singer girlfriend.

Between 1969 and 1973, whilst Hoyland was based in New York, Hoyland developed his idiosyncratic peach pink palette of this era, exemplified in ‘27.7.72’. The long, narrow canvas is a veritable explosion of different shades of pinks and yellows, anchored by an L-shaped block in yellow and pink layers. Layers of poured, smeared, scrapped, dripped, thrown paint run down the canvas in a flow of gestural energy. Hoyland first started working with acrylic paint in 1963 and in ’27.7.72’ he highlights the pliable qualities of the acrylic, the smooth, plasticky surface of thick patches or flicks of paint overlaid to the curtains of drips behind. The palette of raspberry, peach, orange, baby pink, salmon, canary yellow, lime green is saccharine, delighting in its artificiality, perhaps even full of a brashness characteristic of New York.

The construction of this painting is tangibly present – the viewer cannot but visualise the painter at work, energetically pacing in front of a canvas, spontaneously applying paint with any instrument to hand. The vigour of Hoyland’s application, visible in the thick trails of thrown acrylic paint, also points to the elements of chance inherent in his method. The artist’s hand is withdrawn from control of every element and instead unexpected effects are embraced, such as thrown paint colliding with dripping paint. In an interview in 2008, Hoyland argued, “I like to try and make these pictures paint themselves. The less you impose, the fresher it is. Painting is a kind of alchemy.” Exemplifying Hoyland’s practice specific to his years at the start of the 1970s in New York, ’27.2.72’ is an ode to the artificial, to chance, and to modernity.