James Hugonin's paintings consist of numerous, minute rectangles of colour located within a grid of ruled lines. This grid is central to all Hugonin's paintings and acts as a basic structure onto which the coloured marks are then intuitively placed. He has described this process: 'The grid I use is a forming principle, a structure to work with and to work against. It is a systematic structure imposed upon the surface, but if I use it inventively, it gives me tremendous freedom to create complexities of rhythm and pattern. I need something stable: the very regularity of the grid is needed to oppose the irregularities of the rhythms. All of these configurations that I put down are intuitively arrived at, they do not conform to any pre-planned system. I always want to make something that will defy the system I have initially imposed - the system of the grid itself' (quoted in James Hugonin, exhibition catalogue, Serpentine Gallery, London 1991, [p.3]).
Untitled (VII) is characteristic of Hugonin's paintings in its scale and visual aspect. It is part of a series of paintings, all identical in size, begun in 1989 and exhibited at Kettle's Yard in 1996. When viewed from close up, as the artist would while applying the paint, the separate marks and their colours are clearly discernible, but when viewed from a distance they dissolve into a field of shimmering, indeterminate colour which the artist equates with the qualities of shifting light. It is Hugonin's desire to achieve in his paintings something of the experience of watching light, and shadow, moving across a wide expanse of landscape and to emphasise the dynamic and transient quality of nature: 'It is in the nature of my paintings that you can never look at them and see the same thing twice. They have no single focal point; there is no passage that is dominant. The eye may settle for a moment on a certain movement, but as it moves again across the painting that separated configuration will disappear and re-form: things do not stay the same. This is absolutely crucial to my work: what I am trying to do is to present the evanescence of things, to heighten the fact that everything is in essence transitory. What I am working towards is an over-all shimmer on the surface, I want the painting to attain a quality as of shifting light' (ibid., [p.4]). The artist regards Untitled (VII) and its related works as being the closest he has come to date in achieving these goals.
Technique and condition
Painted on a solid support of 13mm thickness MDF, which was primed on all faces with Lascaux Acrylic Gesso Primer. The front face was given sixteen coats of primer, each layer sanded between applications to produce the smooth, flat white surface.
Borders were carefully masked before a ruled 'grid' was mapped out. The lines were scored into the primer with silverpoint, leaving a firm silvery mark across the white surface. In some areas, adjustments to the grid have been made with white oil paint.
The painting was then worked on gradually. Each colour was applied separately, building the painting up over a period of 12 months. The paint used was Sax oil paint, to which was added a mixture of damar varnish and wax, and a small addition of Charbonnel's etching extender medium. This modified paint was further thinned with turpentine before application with small brushes. Each vertical line was underpainted with a single colour, the left hand stripe being green. Onto this underpaint, layers of colour were built up with varying thickness, allowing sufficient drying time between each application to prevent smudging. The grid was redefined with white paint applied in 1mm thick strokes.