#50. “Structure Through Colour”; A Film on Pete Hoida with Mel Gooding

Pete Hoida, "Hurricane Lamp", 2016

Pete Hoida, “Hurricane Lamp”, 2016

Pete Hoida: Abstract, Not Abstract?

In his introduction to a Hoida exhibition in 1994, Alan Gouk wrote: “For a painter at least, there is no such thing as “abstract space”, no such thing as “abstract volume”, and finally, no such thing as “abstraction”. Picture making,[Hoida] makes us see, consists simply in setting emotions side by side (not just colours side by side). Before colours are ready to take part in the poetic intrigue which is the art of painting, they must first of all register an emotion; they must be personalised. They must be pungent of sensation… It is rare nowadays to find an “abstract” picture which tastes and smells of the full lustre of natural sunlight and air… Hoida does persist, in trying to make clear things that are tacit and cloudy, that have no name until painted.”

Geoff Rigden, 2008: “…these not-so-abstract abstracts…”

Peter Davies, 2006: “The imagery is abstract in the sense that nothing is described beyond the plastic language of paint as a tactile and moving substance capable of producing sensations”

Estelle Lovatt, 2015: “our knowledge of the world informs what we ‘see’ in abstract art, but, honestly, abstract art is a way of seeing, in itself.”

Pete Hoida, 1995: “ I did not set out to paint a Conference pear tree outside the studio, but when I had done the painting I realised that the colours corresponded in some way that was not directly representational, in that they contained something of the startling rich creamy colour of this Conference blossom. And I would like to think that the same force and positive energy that is in nature is radiating from the painting.

I look at a Titian in the same way that I look at a Picasso. The point is not whether a painting is representational or not, but whether the artist’s manipulation of line and colour, space and light, texture and rhythm does anything.”

Pete Hoida, 2016: “I don’t want to do something that could be characterised as total abstraction; placing one colour in a skilful way against another colour is simply not enough, there has to be more to it. What is there – I want it to be something, but I don’t want it to be something that is too specific, too easily recognisable because it distracts you from looking at the painting, from looking at the surface, looking at the texture …. at all costs I want to avoid narrative but I also want to avoid pure abstraction.”

Mel Gooding in this short film of 2016 adds further thoughts on Hoida’s “abstractness”, concluding “… a way of going out into the world, to meet the world as phenomena, the world as dynamic, the world as things happening rather than things being and so I think it gives his work a peculiar and very distinctive kind of tension.”




  1. I hope not to become embroiled in the issues raised above, except to say that the 54 comments on my article on Matisse’s Baroness Gourgaud in Abcrit more than covers the contentious problems raised here. My note on Hoida was written in 1994, and did not refer to the very different pictures discussed by Mel.


  2. Abstract, not abstract? Well, of course they’re abstract… but not very. We have done this argument a few times on both abstractcritical and Abcrit. Mel Gooding makes the analogy with rivers and water, horizontal reflection and movement, though he insists upon the primacy of “painting as object”, thus having neither his cake nor the eating of it.

    Several years ago, Graham Burke and I were kindly invited by Pete Hoida to view his work at his studio in Stroud. Then, as now, his work fell distinctly into two types: the long thin horizontals, which are mainly the ones under discussion in this film, and “the others”. The latter seemed to me to rather give the game away, comprising (as they still do) odd assemblages of stylistically appropriated and anomalous shapes, gestures, objects and textures – a sort of formalist surrealism, perhaps (with this oddness being often augmented by a tonal inversion of the complementaries).

    The long thin horizontal paintings appear more unified because of the repetition of the elongated canvas shape in the application of coloured swathes, by which means they achieve a quick sort of wholeness; but they rely upon all elements of possible structural frailty being expunged from the work by this redundancy of horizontals (which is code for “they lack ambition”), in much the same way that any formatted painting does – they are, after all, stripes of a kind. I presume this is in order to focus on colour (and perhaps the means of delivery, the facture of the application) in all its “poetry”.

    Maybe. When Graham and I asked Pete what was the reason for repeatedly making these long, thin, horizontal paintings over and again, and in abundance, we got an answer – the exact words of which I forget – to the effect that they related to nature and especially to landscape. And on turning around and looking out of the large window of Pete’s studio, there indeed was nature in all its glory… a Cotswold landscape of dramatic 45deg. hillsides.

    In fact, the whole “poetic” shtick sticks in my craw, even without the added “intrigue”. The question here is not what the horizontality and colours relate to in nature or anything else, or what their suggestiveness or intrigue persuades us to sentimentally attach to them; presumably this is all subjective anyway. What’s critical is how the colour/forms relate together, to each other, if indeed they do, and what they add up to as a whole in each particular painting; or will it be forever enough for them to look a bit like something else (shades of the Gili argument)? It is certain that “painting as object” is no kind of answer. So the even bigger question is whether these kinds of assemblies of stripes can ever add up to anything approaching such a resolution of complexity of intent as to be deemed fully abstract. Are these stripes actually just sitting next to each other, more or less, in their surreal and analogous sufficiency, like the elements in “the others”, but simplified; are they like poetry, perhaps, one metaphorical line after another?

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  3. To quote Daniel Dennett: “…what the post-modernists did was truly evil. They are responsible for the intellectual fad that made it respectable to be cynical about truth and facts”.

    Go ahead, jump straight in to mathematics. If no-one’s interested, you’ll get ignored. If they are, they’ll take you up on it. Give us your alternative narrative, see if it stacks up. Choose one of your “many arguments”.


  4. Instead of talking about why you’re not going to make an “argument”, why not just go ahead and say what you have to say? Or does post-modernism require never getting around to saying anything? I get that you would prefer to “jump straight into mathematics” when talking about art, but the problem with that may not be your audience is mean but the fact that mathematics has nothing to do with art in the first place. In any case, to quote the Nike commercial, “just do it.”


  5. Moving right along then…

    Anselm Kieffer has a picture up for auction, estimate £1.5 – £2Million: http://www.artnet.com/artists/anselm-kiefer/athanor-SfCeuep53HAIQgzgHCc-3g2
    It’s a literally burnt canvas (painting as object?) recalling the Reichstag fire of 1933, and described as “a rich lexicon of memories and histories”, it’s fragility suggests “the weakness of the past…”, etc., etc., the (post-modern?) poetics of which seem to me to be coming from exactly the same direction Mel is.


  6. It’s easy to sound very silly waxing poetical about an artwork but if art is a kind of subjective communication, isn’t poetry the appropriate form to attempt to capture in words what is being communicated in paint or sound or metal? (Daniel Dennett would only need a brain scan!)
    Of course it’s always interesting to talk about the formal aspects. That’s what we’re struggling with in the studio for most of the time. But it’s surely not just because of the formal stuff that we paint/sculpt/compose and look and listen?
    That said, Hoida’s 2016 statement above does suggest that the “poetry” is getting in during the making – at a stage where (for abstract art) it maybe doesn’t belong.
    From what I can see, I think the colour in these paintings is very good, but the parallel lines and long format create problems with the edges left and right. The lines often fail to set up any kind of horizontal rhythm, so the ends just “happen” arbitrarily and in many cases this problem appears to have been dealt with (not!) by sacrificing the otherwise integrated surface and letting the end zones recede drastically behind the stripes.
    For what it’s worth, and with the usual caveats about reproductions, I think “Tramline Marshelder” is the one I like best.


  7. Ill have a little punt at this.Mel and Pete are friends ,very staunch members of the English Art [painting world].Id rather get stuck with either of them in a storm swept pub ,than most.However I find Mels discussion a little redundant in referring to nature.In fact this argument smacks of much that Robin peddles on Ab Crit,that we should go back to Cezanne,volume etc.The problem with that that I have is that, having read Robins description of the knitting together of trees in Cezanne,Braque,Matisse etc whats the point of doing any more work?Hes described very eloquently ,in fact perfectly what we all ought to be doing.Im not interested in that at all.I go to my studio to be challenged,physically and mentally by my own history ,by chance ,by surrealism ,by memory,by everything I dont know. .By Brexit ,by Trump by my daughters drawings,by all my experience.Art is almost the last thing Im interested or involved in ,Its a shallow pond.Did you read a clmber had stolen several wonderfull paintings in France,by abseilling.The Braque ,Matisse and several others of great quality .He said he stole them because he got in to the museum and couldnt beleive how amazing they were.Oh for such freshness of vision!

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    1. I know there is no point in challenging you to quote one line from me urging a return to Cezanne or anything else – because I know a) you won’t find one, and b) you couldn’t be arsed, being far too busy with agitprop and abseiling. All I’ll say, Patrick, is that, of all the painters I know, you are the one most inhibited by Art with a capital “A”.

      I don’t suppose you would care to say a word about Pete’s work, Patrick?

      (And I know it’s only of passing interest, but howcomes it that you praise the abseiler for his enthusiasm for Braque and Matisse, and mention your own, but I get bashed for it – even though I can’t recall ever mentioning Braque. Whatever…)


  8. Although Cézanne’s approach was to synthesise what he saw, he maintained the nineteenth century instinct to depict. I think his level of synthesis is what transcended his depiction and made him essential for the twentieth century and why it still resonates so deeply today in the twenty first (not for some…perhaps). The issue of synthesis needs a new focus maybe; the relationship between what is seen and what is made does not pivot on depiction. It is far more symbiotic than that (not for some…perhaps). A writer wants a narrative. You cannot escape this; it is this desire that has fuelled the rise of curation. Curation is rooted in the literal. At its best it can be enlightening but it is never ‘essential’. If a painting has gone through the necessary heat of synthesis, it should come out fully cooked – any trace of the mix means it’s not done yet. A post modern lens will always pardon the lack of this ‘essential’ as a quality as the oven is never on anyway so everything gets served cold. I would prefer not to comment on these specific paintings as such (I have not seen them in the flesh). Maybe the ‘gaps’ mentioned are as a result of the screen resolution not picking up on the subtleties of the surface – for the colour looks good – quite ‘fruity”.

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      1. Thanks Alasdair,
        I enjoyed hearing Hoida’s ambition for his paintings stated at the end there, as well as the flow of the piece as a whole. I’ll have to paraphrase a bit, but what he said about wanting to avoid narrative and elements that have too clear an association rang true for me. And that one colour next to another is not enough, that there needs to be more than that, and so how to put “more” in whilst still avoiding reference and narrative etc. I’m just unsure about his use of the phrase “total abstraction” and that this is something he also wants to avoid. Would this be an idea of abstraction in a minimal and reductive sense, of narrowing things down until there is almost nothing there? I actually think that many artists confuse ‘total abstraction’ or ‘totally abstract’ (whatever they may be) with literal, and it is the literal that ought to be avoided whilst abstract qualities are embraced.


    1. If I had a definite answer, I for one would not believe it. All I could do is suggest things notionally. We have evolved to use our eyes to scan distances and scrutinise close up. I often read of artists trying to capture something – usually a look or the light’ (meaning the effect of light really) What can paint do that other media cannot would point to a fair starting point for me – as a notion that’s enough for me. Films can do visual narrative really well, photography is a world of imagery, computers can now put together really nifty designs with slickness, yet all these phenomena have been and indeed are habitual in painting and sculpture. Colour can create such rich visual experiences with no need for any literal associations: surprise, spaces, different textures (perceived) or factures (actual), then there’s scale – relative sizes. Cézanne said “all lies in the contrast” – how far do you want to go with that one? I liked your article on ‘spontaneity’ Robin, as I thought that was a very good definition of how it should be approached – discovering as you make. Having a purpose to initiate that search is a moot point. I can only speak for myself but don’t particularly wish to articulate my motivation for making art; the more you try to pin it down, the more it contradicts you. In fact I wonder if such an articulation actually leads to the complete antithesis happening. Is this a human trait? Do we say one thing and do another? (the thing said somehow being the other option weighed up)? I read something about this very fact the other day from a Science article(tweeted it I think) Look at politics (without sounding crass) Blair banged on about education, education , education and took us to war. Cameron said we’re all in this together and presided over such destructive social inequality. May is now saying for the people yet wants to turn us into a corporate off-shore brothel. Trump is swaggering about on an America first ticket but is probably leveraged up to hilt to every other nation willing to bankroll him irrespective of social impact. Articulating something could well be the flip side of an ensuing action. Matisse was right if you want to be an artist , best cut your tongue out.


  9. Emyr, you have a great capacity for an entertaining and succinct analysis of art, I really liked your comments and yes , Hoida’s paintings do have a very compelling and ‘fruity’ colour quality. I have seen exhibitions on a few different occasions and the work always has strong and determined colour and textural considerations.


  10. God forbid that I should be asking you to explain your motivation. And, yes, as soon as you think you know what you are doing, it’s going to kick you up the backside. But if the aim is synthesis, something has to be synthesised, you have to have some kind of content happening. I actually think it’s really important to think about that, and generally in abstract art at the moment it’s problematic. Mel’s approach makes it harder, rather than easing a pathway through. And I think that in Pete’s work the content is rather slight.

    Matisse said quite a lot about art, as did Cezanne, so I don’t think we need worry on that score. Better out than in.


  11. Synthesis of our existence , what makes us human. However if anything is preconceived I would mistrust it; that is the playground of the literal. Also it assuages our egos to control subject matter. It’s why curators, hip artists and those in the media are so cool. Being cool is a function of ego. Disney clean their parks overnight with big industrial machines, but they have lots of bods with brooms during the day – it’s all about phoney perception! Content for me resides in colour and what it can do. Light determines how we experience colour, which is a tad frustrating at times living at this latitude. Thank God for Ryanair.


  12. “Content for me resides in colour and what it can do. Light determines how we experience colour, which is a tad frustrating at times living at this latitude. Thank God for Ryanair.”
    But how could it not reside in colour? Can we say relationships of colour? But one can easily plonk a nice red next to a nice green and get an attractive impact. But unless we are going to get all spiritual we want more than that, something ‘more’ to egage with. How do you do that and what does that mean?
    Upping the content in complexity and diverse elements will not gaurantee you a good painting, of course. But for a visual art it makes sense to try, it seems ambitious. If you pull it off the viewer has more to engage with, the painting will have a longer life, and because I think it is more difficult you have a more valuable achievement. While most paintings by Matisse and Cezanne are good the best ones seem to be those where the content is more complex and diverse, we marvel at what we see and the rarity of what has been achieved. We would have it on our wall because we could have an ongoig relationship to it.
    Relating to this point is whether an abstract art work needs to keep referring to the outside world to be valuable or whether it should try and be itself. In this way I value the idea of a painting as an object although my meaning of this is probably different to Robins.
    P.s does colour have to be of a bright latitude to be of value? If so why?


  13. As far as I can tell, the word “content” as used in the comments has no meaning. (That is: I, as an English speaker who understands how the word is normally used, cannot see how its usage here constitutes a sensible or logical extension of the ordinary usage. Stated otherwise: The various contexts in which the word occurs do not seem to invite its use just there, in that way.


    “Content for me resides in colour and what it can do.”

    “Upping the content in complexity and diverse elements will not gaurantee you a good painting, of course.”

    “And I think that in Pete’s work the content is rather slight.” [This could mean something, if it were elaborated or explained, but it isn’t.]


  14. Yes, point taken. Every artist is going to have a different take and reason for making their work – sometimes these overlap somewhat. What the work is and why it gets made especially if the work is ‘abstract’ will clearly be tricky to pin down in words. Colour is revealed through visible light. I have be lucky to have visited 6 continents and the light is a very different experience respectively in all places. I did not say “bright colours” – stronger light reveals a stronger sensation of colour from earths to high chromas. If you wanted to map things in a – theoretical – Munsell style colour space: I have found the tonal (value) axiomatic relationship between complements is inherently shallower when working in temperate climates such as England and steeper in hotter places… such as south Wales (that’s when one is really using colour and not just adding colours). Organising colour through paint is always the challenge and one that stimulates me as an artist. Handling the paint so I am in charge of the painting at any stage is the constant battle. Acrylic is difficult to really get hold of and requires all sorts of strategies that can be laborious. The content for me would be a result of this battle and the resultant organisation of the colour. If I can get it to ‘work’ in someway that excites my eye… that’s pretty vague sorry Carl, but pinning it down any further won’t help me make them any better. These paintings do not look slight in ‘content’ to me Robin. I prefer the stacked ones, but stacking brushstrokes is a trope in abstract painting – is that what you mean by slight, the fact that you’ve seen that done before? Patrick Heron in the fifties for example – brushy rectangles that float internally – that float is the issue as witnessed in Hoyland’s wrestling with American colourfield painting and bringing in Hofmann as the cavalry – though they still floated, then became linear and splurgy…but they still floated. I have spoken with you (R) about side by side colour and however rich the outcomes, maybe that lateral organisation is a compromising factor for abstract painting; it’s a ‘known’ and by your own criteria would therefore not really count as abstract. There is a danger though that the flip-side of any overt organising in this way, such as a cluttering of ‘stuff’ becomes an equally clichéd look. The work lives or dies by the colour ultimately for me and again as I have said the colour in some of these looks good – maybe a bit fruity.


  15. In reply to Carl, I repeat: “The long thin horizontal paintings appear more unified because of the repetition of the elongated canvas shape in the application of coloured swathes, by which means they achieve a quick sort of wholeness; but they rely upon all elements of possible structural frailty being expunged from the work by this redundancy of horizontals (which is code for “they lack ambition”), in much the same way that any formatted painting does – they are, after all, stripes of a kind.”

    If the paintings were to attempt a more complex and specific set of visual structures (i.e., become more ambitious, less obvious, which as far as I am concerned needs to involve a lot more than side by side colour relationships, however “fruity” the colours), then in that case I would (hypothetically) consider them to be less slight in their content. (You cannot, in any case, make content out of “pure” colour relationships, they have to be delivered by shapes/forms/formats etc., or perhaps something more urgent and compelling…)

    It seems a straightforward use of the word “content” to me. Think of it as the sum total of what the painting is doing, what it is delivering – about which, of course, there will always be disagreement and arguement. From the artist’s point of view, some or all (or none) of that delivered content may be connected to their conscious thoughts and intentions, though in abstract art much of it may in the end be best considered as unforseen discovery.

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  16. In a way, one could almost suppose from the film alone that the paintings were slight on content (sorry Carl), and by content I’m referring to something that is occurring within the painting itself, that is there for all of us to see if we wish, and that you can grapple with and talk about. Mel Gooding seems to only offer some glowing endorsements of the colour, and I agree it does look nice, but also this bizarre pronouncement of The River. This connection to me seems very much like an add on, which often happens when people are at a loss to describe something that is actually present in a work. These paintings by Hoida seem to be, at least from screen, very much trying to communicate something through colour and touch, and if you think (as many artists have stated), that form is content, then the content may well be the colour. It didn’t really strike me as wrong of Emyr to make that point, that the colour is the content in this case (if that was what you meant, Emyr?). The kind of uniformity in Hoida’s mark making would be assisting this conveyance, by not dragging attention away from the function of the colour/s. But if that is all we can take from it, that the colour is behaving well, that may indeed be viewed as slight on content. That’s if the behaviour of the colour, or the discussion around it, was unable to open out into something more than a self-reflexive exercise, but without becoming about rivers or mountains or any other meaningless associations either.

    I’ll add that when Gooding brought up “The River” in the film, I found it so jarring that I at first assumed he was talking about one specific painting titled “The River”.

    I’ll also add that it’s not fair of me to use one critic’s testimony to form criticisms of paintings that I have not seen. My comment was in some respects trying to address Carl’s questioning of the various uses of the word ‘content’.

    Can you suggest a way the word ‘content’ would be more appropriately used in regard to abstract art discussed on this site? Are you saying that if the word is being used, then it means that said content must have been adequately conveyed through the appropriate form it took, and so should be possible to articulate?

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  17. Re: “Are you saying that if the word is being used, then it means that said content must have been adequately conveyed through the appropriate form it took, and so should be possible to articulate?”

    Maybe this is a cop-out (by me), but if ‘content’ is articulated in a wordy explanation, the literalised version of the ‘content’ is one place removed? Like, how do you explain or describe what Matisse did with colour (shape, combination…)? Ideally, we can look at a Matisse (or a Hoida) and make some sort of cerebral/emotional connection.

    But honest words are good…


    1. I think it’s worth having a crack. There’ll never be consensus, but through talking with others you can get closer to what might be going on. Although I agree, Geoff, that it does often feel like doing the work itself a disservice. But if you can clearly convey to someone else that emotional connection, that might be the spark that will ignite an interest in that person’s work for somebody else, and carry it on into the future.

      My initial point that you brought up however, was more to do with wondering whether Carl’s query with the use of the word ‘content’ had something to do with how it was being subsequently explained or justified. It might get us somewhere if we could all be very clear about what we mean when we say ‘content’, because this issue just keeps popping up. Now that I think about it, I can recall now that when prompted on this same topic before, Carl gave a very detailed account of Morris Louis, which I think Robin suggested had more to do with the identification of a kind of subject matter. ‘Content’ is proving to mean many different things to different contributors.

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  18. Just came across this on Just Another Painter: `My purpose is to achieve the totally abstract. I want to communicate only to the extent that the painting will serve to induce or intensify the viewer’s natural desire for contemplation without the benefit of a guiding principle. ‘ ~ John McLaughlin.




  19. Go away and write an essay on “the reality of ‘post-modernity’”. When you’ve done that, we can discuss it. One thing Carl and I absolutely agree on: “…why not just go ahead and say what you have to say? Or does post-modernism require never getting around to saying anything?”

    I’ve clearly defined what I mean by content. I have no wish to keep on defining it. I’m not forcing it on anyone. If you don’t like it, don’t use it. Anyone can talk about Pete Hoida’s paintings any way they like.


  20. “Go away and write an essay on “the reality of ‘post-modernity’”. When you’ve done that, we can discuss it. One thing Carl and I absolutely agree on: “…why not just go ahead and say what you have to say? Or does post-modernism require never getting around to saying anything?””

    In his first writings, Derrida talked a lot about “differance” – a neologism that cleverly combined difference (as opposed to identity) with deference (deferring until later). Meaning is endlessly deferred, etc., which in practice amounts to never saying what you mean and never meaning what you say. It’s a sound strategy is you don’t have anything to say to begin with, but still want to appear smarter than everyone else (which can serve a working definition of post-modernist reality until further notice).

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    1. The irony (or meta-irony) of Po-Mo being, of course, that this anti-authoritarian, left-wing academic concept of the seventies has given mutant birth to the 21st century right-wing cult of the ‘alternative fact’ and the ‘felt truth’. A generation of radical academics have been hoist on their own relativist petard.
      Maybe that’s what Dennet foresaw in his use of the word ‘evil’.
      Anyway, I’m surprised no-one’s mentioned Ivon Hitchens.


      1. I think Mel mentioned Hitchens, as coming at the thing from the opposite direction to Pete. Perhaps they meet halfway. But maybe that’s an alternative fact, as I can’t be bothered to watch the film again.

        Is there a connection perhaps between the rise of French philosophy and the total demise of French art? Pierre Soulages, anyone? Christian Boltanski? Daniel Buren!?!


  21. Another irony of Po-Mo is that its roots can be traced to deeply orthodox educational institutions like the École normale supérieure in Paris and the attempts of students in the 1960s to get out from under the burden of an oppressive tradition. In America, our problem is not the existence of an oppressive history but having no comparable history at all. The French had to figure out how to end something; in America the task is how to begin. That’s why modernism flourished at least for a while in the United States.


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