- Roger Hilton
- Gouache, circa 1959
- gouache on paper
Austin/Desmond Fine Art, London, where acquired by the present owner circa 2007
Works on paper of the scale and completeness of Gouache, circa 1959 are extremely rare for Hilton, to the point that in many ways it should perhaps be re-titled Painting, circa 1959. Everything that one could want from a Hilton painting is here: indeed Gouache, circa 1959 was painted right in the middle of an incredible burst of creativity, during which Roger Hilton established himself as one of the most exciting painters working both in Britain and in Europe.
It was during these years - roughly between 1956 and 1964 - that Hilton developed his unique style that blended control with wild abandon, measure with intuition. He expanded his palette, from the works of the early 1950s that are dominated by white and black, to include a range of dirty, beautiful colours – ochres, blue-greys, blood reds and rich yellows – that have depth and strength, but also a certain restraint, which makes the work all the more powerful. Drawing, too, becomes an essential element to painting, charcoal lines interweaving the blocks of colour, so there is a play on the relative values within the work. And the forms within his paintings become placed with a care that belies their seemingly spontaneous nature: they are ‘hung’ deliberately on the surface, aware of the painting’s physical parameters, pressing against each other in a way which gives these wholly abstract forms a certain corporeality. This is perhaps Hilton's greatest discovery - an abstract art with human, bodily warmth.
In the catalogue for Hilton's 1961 exhibition at Galerie Charles Lienhard in Zurich (which at the time was a very important conduit for British abstract painters in reaching an appreciative European audience), the art historian and curator Alan Bowness, who was a key supporter of Hilton, Heron, Lanyon and Wynter, kept his essay relatively short, instead giving the floor to the Artist’s own statements. Hilton was never a prolific painter, with many hours spent not painting but working out the next move, and was sparing with his writing too, although when he did put pen to paper, one gets his caustic wit and humour, shot-through with a deadly seriousness. Under a heading ‘Art as an Instrument of Truth’, Hilton writes: ‘at heart everyone knows that beneath the everyday appearance of things are hidden truths which intuition alone can grasp. Today, when everything is put in question, man is trying again to orientate himself, to give himself a direction, to re-establish laws based on absolute truths. In crucial moments in the history of man such as we are living through there is no excuse for fooling around. I see art as an instrument of truth or nothing’ (Roger Hilton quoted in Andrew Lambirth, Roger Hilton, Thames & Hudson, 2004, p.160).
This, in turn, echoed what is perhaps the most famous of all his statements, from seven years earlier: ‘The abstract painter submits himself entirely to the un-known…he is like a man swinging out into the void; his only props his colours, his shapes and their space-creating powers. Can he construct with these means a barque capable of carrying not only himself to some further shore, but with the aid of others, a whole flotilla which may be seen, eventually, as having been carrying humanity forward to their unknown destination’ (Roger Hilton, Artist’s statement, published in Lawrence Alloway (ed.) Nine Abstract Artists: Their Work and Theory, Alec Tiranti Ltd, London, 1954, pp.29-30).