Roger Hilton, February 1954. © Tate: purchased 1970
Exhibition preview - Roger Hilton 'swinging out into the void' at Kettle's Yard until September 21 2008.
Kettle's Yard in Cambridge is currently hosting the work of one of the most adventurous painters of the later 20th century with a major exhibition of the oil paintings of Roger Hilton.
Comprising more than forty works from both public and private collections, the exhibition includes several paintings rarely seen or not previously exhibited.
Focussing on Hilton in mid career when he was at the height of his powers, Kettle's Yard have brought together oil paintings and drawings from 1953, when he took on the lessons of Mondrian, up to paintings from 1965, when he finally left London to settle in Cornwall.
Roger Hilton, Dancing Woman, December 1963. © Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
Included are the bold and impactful abstracts, prosaically titled February 1954 and May 1953, which to some viewers might place him firmly within the ferment of British abstraction which emerged in St Ives in the 1950s. Some paintings however of the 1960s, such as Composition No 2 (1965), show an artist constantly experimenting with figurative painting.
Whatever the approach or subject matter, his paintings were often as wild as the life he led. A hard drinker, he had often outspoken relations with other artists such as Peter Lanyon, Terry Frost and Patrick Heron. Of his approach to painting he wrote:
“The direct imitation of life or nature cannot express the complex human situation which exists for all of us today. All art is a an attempt to exteriorise one’s sensations and feelings, to give them form.”
Roger Hilton, May 1953. Private Collection
Visitors will be treated to the relatively austere red, black and white paintings of 1954 as well as the familiar Hilton nudes and rampaging oils including Oi Yoi Yoi and Dancing Nude of 1963.
However abstract his approach became, the human body was never far away. Spontaneity was often the watchword and many of the paintings, although wild and in some ways corrosive, reveal him to be a subtle yet bold colourist.
Hilton spent much of the 1930s painting in Paris and even after the Second World War, when many British painters were looking to America for inspiration, he saw himself as a predominantly European artist. Looking at Mondrian, he realised that painting was not a matter of creating an illusion of space but of affecting the space outside the picture.
Roger Hilton, Untitled, 1963. © Ronnie Duncan
After 1965, he settled permanently in Botallack on the Penwith peninsula in Cornwall with his second wife, Rose Phipp, where he continued to explore the possibilities of painting and human form. He died on February 23 1975.