#116. Chris Stephens writes on New Paintings by Pete Hoida

“Crucible”, 2011-2018, 97 x 219 cm

Pete Hoida, New Paintings is at the APT Gallery, Harold Wharf, Creekside, London SE8 4SA, 11 – 21 July 2019

In the 1950s, painter and critic Patrick Heron wrote about the artist Ivon Hitchens. There he noted a tendency in England to understand painting ‘primarily in terms of literature’, to respond first to ‘atmosphere’ rather than ‘pictorial qualities’, and to prefer realism or the theoretical nature of constructivism over the ‘sensuous’ tradition of Fauvism and Cubism. Hitchens, for Heron, was a rare instance of a British painter able to look the French sensualists in the eye. In addition, his painting was the most ‘distinguished’ British example of what Heron described as the ‘necessary fusion’ of the two main sources for any artist: ‘art and nature’, international and local.1 With pleasing alliteration, much of what Heron wrote of Hitchens can be applied to Hoida.

“Duke of Earl”, 2018, 71 x 173 cm

For forty-five years, Pete Hoida has been buried in rural south Gloucestershire producing bold, robust abstract paintings that seem, primarily, to be concerned with the ‘visual reality’, to use Heron’s term, of the work of art itself: its colour, its form and their combined potential to evoke sensuously some kind of sensation or emotional reaction from the viewer. Frequently Hoida’s paintings are made up of blocks of paint arrayed, sometimes, in inter-locking rows like a psychedelic dry-stone wall. Like much of Heron’s painting, and indeed of others like the German-American Hans Hofmann, Hoida is clearly concerned with the inherent tension between figure and ground, the painter’s battle to hold these diverse forms and varied colours in conjunction without allowing them to create an illusion of depth. He makes this contest all the more challenging by preferring a long- horizontal format for his support as did Hitchens. Hitchens was, however, explicitly concerned with landscape and his wide compositions lent themselves to that subject and to his willingness to allow some pictorial depth, a sense of spatial recession.

“Stykkisholmur”, 2018, 54 x 173 cm

Others have made connections between Hoida’s painting and his location in the rolling countryside of the west of England. I am not so certain that these paintings could not, just as easily, have emerged from a studio block in Dalston had the painter chosen to work there. That is not to say, however, that nature is not at their heart. But they are equally about painting, about the painter’s basic tools of colour, surface, stroke, form. Hoida’s immersion in the pleasures and perils of paint is demonstrated by the extraordinary range of affects that he brings into each work. Unlike, say, his former-tutor Sean Scully, Hoida’s blocks of paint are not even in their type of application or their tonal values. Apart from starkly contrasting, sometimes almost clashing colours, he also employs a range of techniques to further complicate the issue of depth and recession. The paint may be thinned to allow it to dribble and run over the block beneath; one colour may be drawn boldly across another, like the red across the yellow in the middle of Stykkishólmur; paint is smeared or sponged across another so that the two hues intermingle; or it may be thinned and drawn off the canvas, lightening the intensity of the colour. As a consequence, some blocks seem solid, others modulated by the evident texture of the brushstroke and the impasto of the paint, and yet more mottled and varied by the sundry ways different paints have been applied over or removed from one another.

“Dance of the Cuttlefish”, 2019, 93 x 130 cm

Hoida has remained consistent in his focused engagement with the basic tools of pictorial composition but that is not to stay there is no development in his work. His distinctive use of varied blocks of colour has grown out of a more conventional, broader, expressive application of paint as seen in Favourite Dish 1984. In a number of his most recent works, he seems to have raised the stakes by combining a similarly loosely applied ground against which his blocks of colour are applied risking the creation of an illusionary depth. For instance, in Dance of the Cuttlefish 2019 rectilinear squares and oblongs of paint sit on a softer, mottled ground made up of brushier strokes of paint and the subtle diffusion of tonally even colours one into the next. Some of the blocks are constituted of plain, single colours but others are mottled and varied, one paint having been drawn across another. As a consequence, there are a range of differing tensions in each painting: between the blocks and the ground; amongst the blocks themselves arrayed across the field of modulated paint; within some of the blocks as one colour is glimpsed through another; and through the juxtapositions where one block abuts, contrastingly, the next.

“Favourite Dish”, Aug 1984, 84 x 79 cm

Pete Hoida started out as a poet. A formative, youthful friendship was with the great Scottish poet W.S. Graham much of whose work concerned itself with the craftsmanship of the medium, of the battle to assemble constructions of words that convey precise meaning without creating specific narratives. In his exploration of the inherent tension between the abstract qualities and evocative potential of his practice, Graham found a natural affinity with painters whose marks carried less inherent meaning than the poet’s words. One might see Hoida’s paintings in comparable ways to that constructed verse, his creation of blocks from a varied set of painting techniques like the construction of phrases, clauses or sentences and their assembly into a whole that is rich in its suggestive power but entirely non-representational. Returning to Heron’s insistence that art draws on the two sources of other art and nature, in Hoida we see a painter exploring the expressive potential of the basic tools of his craft, inevitably drawing on the legacy of other artists, while creating images which evoke a sense of light, time and space, of, that is, the pleasures of being in nature. As Graham said: 

 

The poet or painter steers his life to maim

 

Himself somehow for the job. His job is Love

Imagined into words or paint to make

An object that will stand and will not move.

 

June 2019

1 Patrick Heron, ‘Hills and Faces: Ivon Hitchens’ in The Changing Forms of Art, London 1955, pp.28-9.

6 comments

  1. These statements from ABSTRACT PAINTING & MULTIREFERENTIAL IMAGERY
    (A MORE PERSONAL VIEW) by Piri Halasz (link to: http://www.pirihalasz.com/bio.htm)
    may be pertinent here.

    “In essence, I argued (and continue to argue) that abstract painting is not non-representational, as most people think, but instead a new form of representation. The abstract image in a painting is ambiguous or “multi-referential,” but not haphazardly so.”

    “Not all abstract art is equally multireferential, but to the extent that individual works may be, I argued — and continue to argue — that they remain the most radical form of the visual arts that we have.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Looking forward tremendously to seeing these in the flesh,as that is always the real test.Altho I might agree with Piris multi=referentiality,however I am still instructed by Robins discussion of Cezanne ,as being about an unbreakable form of tension across the surface of the canvas.However his lack of interest in Miro concerns me ,as both Miro and Tapies seem to be ground breaking in terms of Abstraction and possible range of Meaning.What I like about the Spanish is the possibility of humour,childlike in Miro ,more literary in Tapies. .

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  3. After today, Friday 12th, this show is on for two more days this weekend, then four days at the end of next week, closing on Sunday 21st. I saw it yesterday and I recommend it strongly. I hope to write something about it early next week. It’s very challenging! Well done, Pete.

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  4. At least a couple of the half-thoughts and semi-theories in my recent short essay on Abcrit, “Past and Future Abstract”, have been knocked somewhat by Pete Hoida’s show of new work at APT. This was not something I expected to happen, because I admit to not being a big backer of Pete’s work up until this date. I have never responded all that well to the slender horizontal landscape stripes to which he has simplified the design rather frequently; and I liked his “other kind” of weird and decorative small pictures – a kind of “alternative” view of abstract art, intentionally for the puzzle of it, I always thought – even less.

    There is now, however, a strong case to be made in favour of seeing his work differently – for me, anyway. The handful or so larger works to be found at APT are certainly his best, and perhaps some of the most interesting and accomplished new abstract paintings around. They look very confident. Here is some original work not seen or appreciated before, as far as I can tell. They don’t remind me of anyone else’s work. It’s different and creative. It destroys flatness without making depth too much of an ongoing figurative (or abstract) issue, mainly because all the different ways of applying paint, such as the scattered thin drips covered in parts by the thicker layers of textured rectangles seem well-integrated, even when strongly contrasted. It’s bold and brave experimental painting without overstating its case as dramatic composition.

    Even when the catalogue for the show arrived, with an essay by Chris Stephens, I wasn’t persuaded, other than to give the work a fair chance, like you do with anything. But the work does take its chances. True, there remains in the show a wide variety of quality, and I think it is a shame that two of the bigger works (as seen in the catalogue) were not hung. Many of the smaller works are not up to the vision. Even the largest painting in the show, “Extraordinary Mortals” from 2014, with its orthogonal organisation of rectangular boxes, looks too regular, orthodox and familiar.

    But then you get to work like “Crucible”, 2011-2018; “Isafjorour”, 2018; “Duke of Earl”, 2018; and especially “Cashmere Cutie”, 2018, all of which go beyond anything I’ve taken on board before from Pete. The huge range of application and depth of space(s) seems unprecedented – is there another painter doing this? You are pulled about so much (in a good way, in the best work) by the complexity of mixed content that the visual coherence of it is a genuine surprise.

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  5. So sorry I’m going to miss seeing these beautiful strong works.
    Thanks for the link Caroline and the opportunity to read Chris Stephens great review of Pete’s new work.

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