Press |  1960s | 

‘Hoyland’ by Norbert Lynton

‘Don’t search for secret or mysterious recipes… What I offer you is pure joy.’ That is not John Hoyland speaking, need I say, nor any other British artist. There is only one country where artists are permitted to commend their own productions so rhapsodically (and in this case accurately): the words are Brancusi’s and the language is French. ‘C’est de la joie pure que je vous donne.’

I was standing in the Whitechapel Art Gallery surrounded by Hoyland’s paintings and searching desperately for some form in which to feed the intense aesthetic pleasure I was experiencing through that old deflowerer, the typewriter. Brancusi’s words surfaced and fitted exactly. In search of something else to borrow I turned to my companion. ‘Help me’, I said to her: ‘What’s so special about these paintings?’ She gave it a hard thinking over, and then said: ‘They just make me feel very happy.’ […]

The essential Hoyland appears to emerge in the first half of 1964. From then on he is concerned with establishing two or more blocks of colour on a large field of another colour. None of them is painted with absolute evenness or with sharp edges, and a lot of pleasure actually comes from the way Hoyland makes his forms bleed into the background. This gives them a kind of shadow which has the effect of lifting them slightly off the background even while it demonstrates their physical fusion. The forms used vary considerably in shape and, most important, in their scale relationship to the ground. In some of his most recent works, for example, he uses vertical and horizontal bands that seem like standing and fallen columns; in others he uses slab forms that assert themselves against and almost obscure the background.

They are generous, warm, rich pictures, using to the full the potentialities of this kind of painting. They are personal rather than revolutionary. They have affiliations with the paintings of Rothko and Newman; at the same time they are recognisably European, English even. They are also very simple, and here I cannot resist quoting Brancusi again: ‘Simplicity is not an aim in art. You come to it in spite of yourself in working towards the real meaning of things.’

[Review of Hoyland’s first solo museum show, ‘Paintings 1960-67’, at the Whitechapel Gallery in April-May 1967]

© Guardian News & Media Ltd 2013