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John Hoyland (1934 – 2011)

Brett Baker

Painter John Hoyland died yesterday at age 76.  Hoyland was part of the 1960 exhibition Situation: An Exhibition of British Abstract Painting, which also featured Gillian Ayres and William Turnbull. This exhibition featured large-scale abstract paintings that involved the viewer’s entire field of vision creating an immersive experience or “situation”. 1 In the 1960’s, Hoyland became acquainted with American color field painters Kenneth Noland and Jules Olitski as well as the critic Clement Greenberg but, ultimately, found inspiration in the works of Hans Hofmann and Nicholas de Staël. 2

Mel Gooding remembered Hoyland today in The Guardian:

From the beginning of his career, [Hoyland] unwaveringly championed the centrality of abstraction to the living history of modernist art. ‘Non-figurative imagery possessed for me,” he wrote, “the potential for the most advanced depth of feeling and meaning.

For Hoyland, it was necessary for paintings to be self-sufficient machines, constructed to convey a powerful charge of visual, mental, and emotional energy without recourse to any historically established figurative imagery. The expressive force of his paintings derives from the intensity and conviction of their engagement with colour, scale and abstract form, rather than with any direct expression of personal feeling. Hoyland understood the force of Braque’s wonderful maxim: ‘Sensation, revelation!’

(read the full obiturary)

In 2008, Hoyland stated his own views in The Independent:

A lot of young artists now have an idea and want to illustrate it, but they do almost everything they can to avoid paint and the sensuality of painting. It’s all so concept-based – and the real killer is computer art. Some of it is all right when you first look at it, but when you look closer it becomes more vacuous. The whole thing for me is the spontaneity that happens in the process of creating something.


1 Ian Chilvers. “Situation.” A Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Art. 1999. Encyclopedia.com. (August 1, 2011). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O5-Situation.html

2 Tate Online