Naked ambition? Big thinker? Profound artist?

In painting you have to confront your own history and all your naked ambition; there’s no escape. And you have to confront the whole history of art. Picasso said when he saw the paintings at the Lascaux Caves, there is nothing more to be done.’ said Hoyland in his interview with Damien Hirst in 2009. Hoyland died last week, so reviews of his life and work are popping up everywhere. Hoyland has been a controversial figure in the art world. What will the world conclude when they reflect on him now? His place as one of the driving forces of painterly abstraction in the 20th century is assured.

Lebanon 2007

He blasted onto the art world canvas in 1964 as part of the ‘London Situation’ show with his forever bold, daring and huge paintings. He is widely regarded as one of the world’s finest abstract painters. He was a sponge. He read widely, was eclectic and veracious in his appetite for an array of subjects: from Zen Buddhism, Japanese poetry, Gabriel García Márquez, and amusingly, in his own words: ‘Shields, masks, tools, artefacts, mirrors, Avebury Circle, swimming underwater, snorkelling, views from planes, volcanoes, mountains, waterfalls, rocks, graffiti, stains, damp walls, cracked pavements, puddles, the cosmos inside the human body, food, drink, being drunk, sex, music, dancing, relentless rhythm, the Caribbean, the tropical light, the northern light, the oceanic light …..’ and on and on and on.

His painterly influences are equally wide. Anton Caro, Terry Frost, and Juan Miro are huge influences, but Caulfield was also a friend, and he was embraced into the circle of Motherwell, Helen Frankenthaler, Barnett Newman and others in the New York art scene, until he chose to move on from there. What marks him out is his total lack of fear of paint. Everything was possible, work could be as big, as bright, as lush, as crazy, as his marauding imagination. Much of his work is on a very large scale, his ambition for his work extended beyond the boundaries most of us would accept, those of traditional sized canvases, of the walls of studio spaces, or consideration of where work might hang. For these reason hi work easily offended, and even now many will shake their heads and rather than seek to enjoy the life force in his works, find the hugeness of his gestures impenetrable. Sadly he has not been much in ‘favour’ recently, and doesn’t appear in the ‘top 300 most searched for artists list’ at the moment. I bet that will change now that he has died.

Hoyland screenprint


His work seems very ambitious – off the scale – and to my mind very ‘male’. There is a more comforting sense of scale and sensitivity to media and process in his prints, but then perhaps that’s my own self imposed constraints not allowing me to drink in the joy of the huge abstract works? To me, at least, the exuberance of his huge works is distilled in his smaller prints, and these are the images that will remain my favourites.
To find out more about Hoyland, click here to review the Guardian obituary. Or the excellent Turps Banana interview and photographs here.

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1 comment for “Naked ambition? Big thinker? Profound artist?

  1. 16 August 2011 at 4:13 pm

    I have to confess that, not being an artist, I hadn’t heard of Hoyland before. Thanks for bringing him to my attention. I was struck by the vibrance of his colours and the flamboyant shapes.

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