- Roger Hilton
- signed, dated '67 and inscribed on the reverse
- oil and charcoal on canvas
Their sale, Christie's London, 23rd October 1996, lot 87, where acquired by the present owner
Hilton’s paintings were always rare, even before they became locked-down amongst the Hilton cognoscenti, as he was never the most prolific of artists. His working day always began at home, where he would draw, working his ideas down into their most economical expression. These drawings are often figurative, albeit with the figure boiled down to the point of abstraction and it was these abstracted traces that Hilton would then take with him to the studio in the afternoon. It is what gives his painting its unique quality: his forms have a presence to them, an emotional weight. This can be seen very clearly in 1967, which can read as an artfully balanced arrangement of shapes, in an exquisite harmony of black, ochres, umbers and a dark burnt red. Yet this would be to see only a fraction of the work, as it pulses with a physical – corporeal – presence. One can’t help but feel (and this word is used here deliberately) the crook of an elbow, the bend of a knee, the curve of a belly or the outline of a breast. This sense grounds Hilton’s work in our world, in the viewer’s body. It makes it existential in a way that figurative art is meant to be.
By the time he painted 1967, Hilton had moved permanently to St Ives, where the division between home and studio became less and less distinct and paintings were made at an even slower rate. The work also takes on a more graphic quality: the skein of charcoal under-drawing that Hilton previously left deliberately visible starts to disappear, as he maps his works directly with the brush. Forms take on a harder edge. Hilton’s later paintings in many ways resemble the later figurative works of Philip Guston. Whilst superficially miles apart, they have the same casual power, a brilliance masked by a deliberately rough technique, and a dark humour woven into every gesture. It’s a strange quirk of both Hilton and Guston’s careers that as they progressed, their painting became less sophisticated, more raw. Yet Hilton had always sensed this. As he wrote back in 1961, in an introduction to his show at Galerie Charles Lienhard in Zurich, ‘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...there is no excuse for fooling around. I see art as an instrument of truth or nothing’ (quoted in Andrew Lambirth, Roger Hilton, Thames & Hudson 2004, p.160).