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‘Art’ by David Thompson

With quite a clutch of good new exhibitions all clamouring for attention, I feel I should start with one which puts straight into the top league a young painter whose career so far has been watched with considerable interest, as they say, but who hasn’t really hit the headlines. This is John Hoyland, whose enormous canvases are filling the Whitechapel in just that way which makes it look so often the grandest gallery in London.

The Whitechapel seems to do something special for really big, colourful abstracts; it may even flatter them a bit too much. Some people suspect it may be doing so on this occasion, though I think on balance its advocacy can be trusted. The point is that one sees here paintings from 1960s onwards which progress through various explorations of how to make colour create its own self-sufficient world on a flat surface, until they arrive, in the work of the last year, at a particularly grand and imposing solution. How does one convey adequately what they do or why they do it? Often there are no more than two or three upright bands of colour against a strong, contrasting ground, with perhaps a horizontal band somewhere along the bottom. They make their effect in a purely abstract way, by the sheer cunning with which strong, apparently straightforward yet slightly unexpected shades of red, orange, green and purple react on one another in the simplest-seeing combinations.

But there are overtones – a kind of shadowed quality which makes people talk of ‘force’ and even ‘aggresssiveness’; certain blurred edges which don’t exactly suggest space but make you think of vast upright objects and of the ‘floor’ of the painting and of its sides like walls. Above all, that feeling of transparent simplicity of means mysteriously charged with emotion which refutes every argument that this kind of painting somehow doesn’t ‘say’ enough.

© David Thompson / Queen Magazine