Derek Hirst

Kyoto No. 2


Not on display

Derek Hirst 1930–2006
Ink and Letratone on paper
Support: 759 × 562 mm
Purchased 1973

Catalogue entry

Derek Hirst 1930-2006

T01809T01814 Kyoto 1972–73

T01810 Kyoto No.2

Inscribed ‘Derek Hirst 72/73’ b.r.
Ink, Letratone, on paper, 29¿ x 22 1/16 (75.9x 56).
Watermark ‘T. H. SAUNDERS, ENGLAND’.

The following entry is compiled from notes made during a discussion with the artist on 28 February 1974.

The ‘Kyoto’ drawings are the third series of drawings the artist has made, all of which are related in as much as they are not preparatory drawings for paintings, but ‘drawings parallel to paintings’, each one existing in its own right, or read as part of a set. The first series is ‘Interior with 2 Chairs’ (I-IV, 1967) and the second ‘Barcelona’ (I-V, 1969).

The artist has called the ‘Kyoto’ drawings ‘Night Pieces’ since they were initially begun for therapeutic reasons to combat his insomnia. He likened them for this reason to J. S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations due to their similar objectives. He began ‘by drawing as mechanically and as perfectly as possible the same shape over and over again on several sheets of paper as a structure or form on which I could improvise.’

The series was made between January 1972 and October 1973 when ‘Kyoto No.6’ was finished. Although there were many others made during this period they were all destroyed usually unfinished, and the remaining six were numbered in the sequence of their execution. T01809 and T01810 are on fine quality paper bought especially, but as so many drawings were abandoned during his rigorous selection he changed to ordinary cartridge paper.

The immediate point of departure for the series was the shape and proportion of five relief panels, at that time unpainted, which the artist had had made. (They are now the following paintings: ‘Wyandot’, 1973,‘Perpendicular’, 1973,‘Cherokee pequeño’, 1973,‘Alhambra’, 1971–3, and ‘Cherokee grande’, 1973.)

The arched figure in the six drawings has been present in various ways in the artist’s work since circa 1963. Another characteristic has been his concern with space, spatial illusion and paradox, most recently illustrated in the paintings mentioned above which contain raised panels upon which the same forms are painted as on the surrounding area. Furthermore a false symmetry is introduced (with the exception of ‘Alhambra’, 1971–73), by using different radii for the top semi-circles.

Three aspects of the ‘Kyoto’ drawings are also seen in ‘Countdown’ (1 and 11), 1964 (Collection of the artist) two paintings that were never exhibited: very flat collage the same colour as the canvas; the central form as in T01810 with horizontal bands of colour, and the arched form as in T01814 in which the colours alternate around the perimeter.

Architecture has always been of major importance as source material to Hirst, and the arch, in particular, has been a recurrent form or structure in his work. An early example of this is in an etching, ‘Selby Abbey’ 1947 (Collection of Angela Flowers), made in the artist’s first year as a student at Doncaster School of Art. Furthermore, titles of his paintings throughout his career are often related to a style of architecture or its geographical location.

The basic arch shape in the ‘Kyoto’ drawings was extremely difficult to make perfectly, and although the artist destroyed many drawings when a mistake occurred, in T1809T01811 and T01814, he was able to accommodate the error, for example where the lines did not join up exactly, by concealing (and therefore, in a way revealing) the mistake either by using collage or making erasures into painterly smudges, or as in T01811, erasing the drawing so rigorously that the paper is pierced by the activity.

The material used for collage had been bought sometime before the artist started the drawings, simply because he liked it. While working it happened to be on hand in the studio. In T01809T01812 and T01813, he has used self-adhesive ‘mechanical tint’ —Letratone, and in T01813 and T01814 he has used self-adhesive coloured circles, which in the former have been applied before the Letratone. The choice of material assisted him in making the drawings look ‘as mechanical as possible. A wash would have wrinkled the paper.’ Letratone was also used to heighten the spatial qualities of the drawings to make a ‘flat hole’ and achieve a ‘controlled depth’.

This last feature links the ‘Kyoto’ drawings iconographically to the ‘Barcelona’ series which is based on a structural feature of Gaudi’s architecture and gradually reduced in complexity, the final drawing of the series becoming the simple joining of arcs. ‘Barcelona No.111’ the artist likens to the appearance of the Moorish Andaluciancemetries in the bright sun, where the semicircular ends of the tombs piled on top of each other are pierced by the dark circles of the sealed openings.

The ‘Kyoto’ drawings also demonstrate a preoccupation with aspects of ‘Zen’, which the artist initially came to via the writings of John Cage, and which was re-enforced through three periods spent teaching and working in North America. At the time the drawings were commenced he was ‘totally absorbed in Japanese gardens’, and particularly the symbolic garden of the Ryoan-ji Temple in Kyoto. The artist always titles his works when they are finished, and in retrospect sees the relationships with ideas or subjects which concerned him at the time the work was done, since these may only be expressed through the process of working.

As for the arched shape, the artist concluded: ‘it began as a liberating structure and ended up as a prison.’ For this reason, he feels that the ‘Kyoto’ series is significant in that the improvisatory nature of the drawings might allow the discipline required in his paintings to be relaxed, and provide ‘a way out of that particular prison’.

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1972–1974, London 1975.

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