Press |  1980s | 

‘Eight from England: Images that make themselves’

John Hoyland muses on the state of painting.

Making art is an experience combining intellect, skill and intuition: it’s an experiment with what the artist imagines might be possible. The artist takes a chance and, if successful, anticipates what is possible experience. He does this by inventing new relationships which express feelings and emotions through imagined experience. He’s asking the question: “Could this be possible in the future and can I make it work?”

I’d like to be able to use every kind of color all in one painting: to use a dirty gray, a black, and to make them sing with as much light as a cadmium red or yellow… I’d like to be able to use color in all different sizes, quantities, relationships and surfaces…. I think painting is very much an extension of one’s interior self… painting can only go forward by becoming more complex. Some of the issues are about where to locate form, locate colour, how to get color and form into and on the canvas simultaneously – and on a large scale… a big problem. It’s a challenge. I don’t use a brush much in the finishing of a painting – I can draw with a knife in a way I can’t with a brush. Often the failures are the seeds of good paintings. Some critics have suggested that art is at present in an impasse but art always appears to be at an impasse until artists change the situation.

A lot has been heard about ‘socially relevant’ art both pre- and postwar and it is apparent that in every decade attempts are made to revive the corpse. All art eventually becomes socially relevant – it springs from the individual’s near, unconscious awareness of the human condition within collective life. It’s a red herring, the debate going on in Britain now – again – between the merits of ‘figurative’ and ‘abstract’ painting. The idea that narrative painting is more humanistic just because it contains figures is irrelevant.

The recurrent forms – the family of forms – in my paintings are like characters – actors seen from different viewpoints.

I’d like to hope my paintings might follow on from the legacy of what Matisse did with portraits, although I never work from the model. The title for my show this autumn could have been “Portraits”. Not necessarily portraits of people, perhaps portraits of people, perhaps portraits of other things – mountains, for instance. I only say this because I think of my paintings often as characters, sometimes as people, but not because they are descriptive of the outside world. The paintings are loaded with my physical and emotional experience, but they’re also polemical, filled with the facts of the continuing dialogue going on in contemporary painting.

My ambition is to be peripheral – neither ‘in’ nor ‘out’ – and to survive.

I agree very much with something Motherwell once said in a sense. I feel very strongly that my painting is both criticism of other painting, other artists – and homage. As a young painter I felt we had to reexamine art and that especially the sculptors in Britain were doing that. What’s wrong with British industry – and art – is [that] not enough rethinking has taken place. We are an island and we’re very isolated. We need catalysts.

Compiled by Marina Vaizey
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