Clyde Hopkins

Kent to Yorkshire (via the DT)


Not on display

Clyde Hopkins 1946 – 2018
Acrylic paint and pastel on canvas
Frame: 1755 × 2060 × 33 mm
Presented by the artist's estate 2020


Kent to Yorkshire (via the DT) 1983–4 is a landscape format abstract painting in acrylic paint and pastel on canvas. It is dominated by a tracery of roughly painted heavy black lines that covers the surface of the painting, suggestive both of a burnt root system or groupings of letters that, however illegible, express the possibility for hidden meaning and messages. Areas of colour – predominantly red, yellow and green – emerge from behind the black markings. The handling of the paint is expressive and varies from thin, liquid dripping paint to thick impasto. Although the basis of Hopkins’s painting derives from the achievement of the New York school of abstract expressionists and their exploration into how mark-making might be intelligible in terms of an artist’s emotional state, the critic David Sweet has observed that Hopkins’s work was rooted in real life events: ‘The difference is that instead of revealing the private contents of the unconscious the painting performance channels an anger precipitated by real world public events.’ (David Sweet, ‘Clyde Hopkins: A Path through Dark and Light’, in APT Gallery 2019, p.17.) In this respect, Hopkins’s paintings are personally inflected emotional and aesthetic responses to events and to political or cultural shifts within society, but also communicate a degree of protest that is implicit in the language of abstract painting itself, both through the decision not to paint figuratively and the energy of the paint handling.

The title Kent to Yorkshire (via the DT) refers directly to an event in British history during the 1984 Miners’ Strike, when striking miners from the south of England were turned back by police roadblocks at the Dartford Tunnel in Kent while trying to travel to the headquarters of the Yorkshire miners in Barnsley in the north of England – disruption of picket lines and so-called ‘flying pickets’ (where workers travel to support those who are on strike at another place of work) being a feature of the strike. Despite this, the relationship between Hopkins’s abstract painting and an event such as the effects of a roadblock in the Dartford Tunnel is not, as such, about recognising that event in an image. At the time this painting was first exhibited in Hopkins’s touring solo exhibition of 1985–6 (at the Ikon Gallery Birmingham, Rochdale Art Gallery and the Serpentine Gallery, London), Sweet maintained of Hopkins’s work that, ‘The passions which [political events] and other, ideologically neutral, topics stir within his consciousness are the real subjects of the pictures, realized through controlling a complex and resourceful pictorial language.’ (David Sweet, ‘Clyde Hopkins’, Artscribe, Febuary–March 1986, p.36.) This view is underlined by the fact that although the painting was made between December 1983 and February 1984, the specific event the title refers to did not happen until March 1984 and the title was therefore assigned retrospectively.

Hopkins’s work was undergoing a decisive shift at the moment he was making this painting. In the spring of 1983 he had made a journey to Spain and found the work of Joan Miró (1893–1983) revelatory – especially his use of black and line drawing in his painting. Hopkins’s works of the late 1970s and early 1980s appear as atmospheric evocations of natural phenomena in which brushed colour fills a surface without inhabiting a given space. Just as significant was Miró’s example of anarchist politics realised in paint: that the expressive painterly gesture could also communicate radical sentiments of liberation and protest. Kent to Yorkshire (via the DT) and related paintings after 1983 suggest this equation of a gestural abstraction with a spirit of protest and, for critics like Sweet and Brandon Taylor at the time, there was a decisive contemporary social relevance to Hopkins’s approach. Taylor wrote in 1985 that, when looking at Hopkins’s work, the task was to bring it ‘sharply up against the world of [Nigel] Lawson, and [British Steel director Ian] MacGregor, [Margaret] Thatcher and [Norman] Tebbitt; the world of international selling, arms, oil and violence: to find points of contact with that actual exterior world in which we live.’ (Brandon Taylor, ‘Clyde Hopkins’ New Paintings’, in Ikon Gallery 1985, unpaginated.) Hopkins’s titles in the mid-1980s point to this political and social context: Kent to Yorkshire (via the DT) is one example; another – The Squid and the Grocer’s Daughter 1985 – refers to Mrs Thatcher; others such as Law and Order 1984–5 or From the Left 1983–4 are less specific in reference yet betray his political outlook. Titles such as these declare Hopkins’s dissent, within his paintings, from the ‘unforgiving realities of late capitalist life, its technical and dehumanising processes’ (Taylor, in Ikon Gallery 1985, unpaginated).

The particular mark-making within Hopkins’s paintings of this period also suggests a direct connection to graffiti, not just as illegible fragments of what may look like text, but also as direct marks of protest. Brandon Taylor observed that, ‘In Clyde Hopkins’ new paintings the dribbled smudged forms take on resonances concerned mostly with aspects of protest that were not available before the 1980s. The painting of graffiti, for one thing, and the existence of the “street” as a place of disruption are (despite the surrealists) new urban phenomena.’ (Taylor, in Ikon Gallery 1985, unpaginated.)

Further reading
Hayward Annual, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London 1980.
Clyde Hopkins, Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham 1985, reproduced, unpaginated.
Paintings by Clyde Hopkins, A Path through Dark and Light, exhibition catalogue, APT Gallery, London 2019, reproduced p.10.

Andrew Wilson
October 2019

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

You might like

In the shop