Farewell John Hoyland

Acclaimed British painter John Hoyland died last week. Australian audiences have a unique opportunity to view his recent work at Melbourne’s Charles Nodrum Gallery. ATL reports.


Prodigious, convivial, expansive, expressive, funny, loyal, sensitive, warm, generous, decent, brilliant, astonishing, unconventional, passionate, exuberant, grandly visionary, high key, super abundant, acerbic, heroic, extreme ….

Trawling through the recent obituaries, these are some of the words used to describe John Hoyland, one of the great British abstract painters; some say, one of the greatest of his generation in the world. Contemporary buzzwords like ironic, subverting, referencing, have, for better or for worse, no place in the Hoyland universe. And universe it is:


“Hoyland has little time for the brush. He likes to throw and splash paint onto a canvas, retaining a sense of movement and spontaneity – a snapshot of spontaneity. His paintings seem to be in flux, like those stars whose light we see in the night sky only years later. The primal creative event occurred in the studio at a certain time on a certain day, but it continues to resonate on the walls of the gallery.” (John Mcdonald, art critic, June 2011). An eloquent description that gathers broader meaning now: those paintings will flare and blister and incandesce long after the death of their creator.

Hoyland painted large, in depthless blacks and flaring, radiant colour. He was concerned with big questions. Hating and Dreaming, End Game, Lost Place, Life and Love … these are some of the titles of his works. He was a charismatic person, too, entertaining and wickedly funny. I met him once. Over dinner, he drank prodigious quantities of red wine (far outstripping my father, an able drinker in his own right), and told tall tales of art icons and the art world – Rothko, Barnett Newman, Helen Frankenthaler – exaggerated stories, fascinating and salacious. As my younger brother’s eyes got wider and wider, and more and more wine was knocked back, legends morphed into art school escapades and secretary fantasies (those demure knee length pencil skirts …).

Hoyland had a rare connection to Australia. I encountered his work in 1994, at a mind-blowingly beautiful solo show at Annandale Galleries in Sydney. Prior to that he had a year’s artist in residence culminating in an exhibition at Melbourne University in 1980. Unfortunately Hoyland never did make it out for this, his third Australian exhibition and passed away a few days before it opened.

Gallery director Charles Nodrum has long been an admirer of John Hoyland’s work. Speaking about the recent paintings he says: “What I feel is in these last few years they’ve obtained a third layer. It’s very subtle, the way the paint is seeming to melt and drift and run. You need to get up close. When you do, there’s another world there that wasn’t present in the previous generation of paintings. I think the work in the last few years is the best he’s done.”

The last words go to the man, here’s his list of inspirations -

atoms, suns, space, time, light and darkness; volcanoes, mountains and waterfalls; trees, atolls, seas and flowers; music, drums and jazz; sex, dance and relentless rhythms, dawns and sunsets; eclipses of the sun and moon; shields, masks, tools and mirrors; zen, imaginary beings and magic realism; sport, snorkelling and driving cars; food, drink and the cosmos inside the human body; damp walls and stains; pavements, puddles and graffiti - Charles Nodrum Catalogue, ‘John Hoyland, Recent Paintings’, August 2011

Susie Burge, all rights reserved



John Hoyland RECENT PAINTINGS on show at Charles Nodrum Gallery in Melbourne, Australia 4 August – 3 September 2011.

Diary Note: There’s a special celebration of the life and art of John Hoyland at Charles Nodrum Gallery on Saturday 13th August, 4-6 pm.

ATL recommends: The Guardian’s obituary by Mel Gooding, and 2nd August 2011 tribute by Anthony Caro

Images: Courtesy of Charles Nodrum Gallery, Melbourne, Australia