Mid-century British abstraction redux

Roger Hilton (1911-1975) is one of the second wave of St. Ives artists who succeeded the Ben Nicholson generation in the 1950s and 1960s. Terry Frost, Patrick Heron and Peter Lanyon were among his contemporaries. A notoriously difficult alcoholic, Hilton was influenced by both American Abstract Expressionists and Piet Mondrian, but never achieved lasting recognition during his lifetime. Gestural markmaking, color, and the human body were his primary interests. In The Times, John Russell Taylor wonders if Hilton may have had more success if he had lived longer, and led a more orderly life. “Perhaps not. After all, he had an important exhibition at the Serpentine in 1974, just before his death, and critical responses were disastrous. He did make the Hayward Gallery in 1993, and Tate St Ives in 1997, and there was little sign of any revival of interest. Had he been around in those years, gradually turning into a grand old man like Terry Frost, things might have turned out otherwise. Even taking into account, as his painter widow Rose Hilton says we must, ‘the way he behaved’, it seems that primarily he is the prisoner of his period: he worked in a style that almost immediately went out of fashion, as, indeed, did painting itself. What room for him would there have been in even the post-New Spirit in Painting era, let alone the post-Sensation era? For, most importantly (and imposingly), Roger Hilton was a proponent of freeform abstract painting….The ‘subject’ of a painting, if explicit, may well be a distraction: it has been argued that plastic qualities are all that count, and we take refuge in anecdote at our peril. Whether or not this is universally true, Hilton’s work constitutes one of the best arguments for believing it. ” Read more. Roger Hilton: Swinging Out Into The Void,” curated by Andrew Lambirth and Michael Harrison. Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, UK. Through Sept. 30.”A Continuous Line: Ben Nicholson in England,” curated by Chris Stephens. Abbott Hall Art Gallery, Kendal, Cumbria, UK. Through Sept. 20. Reviewed in The Times.

One Comment

  1. I thought he died of some terrible nerve disease.

    Hockney claimed to be influenced by him (along with much else) in the early 60s (60-62).

    Plausible, where there are large jaunty silhouettes – say Man in a Museum (1962).

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