John Hoyland

April 1961


Not on display

John Hoyland 1934–2011
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1525 × 1527 mm
Presented by E.J. Power through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1983

Catalogue entry

T03701 April 1961 1961

Oil on canvas 60 × 60 1/8 (1525 × 1527)
Inscribed on canvas overlap ‘HOYLAND April 61’
Presented by E.J. Power 1983
Prov: E.J.Power 1962; Tate Gallery 1983
Lit: Neue Malerei in England, exhibition catalogue, Stadtisches Museum, Leverkusen, September 1961; Bryan Robertson, ‘Introduction’, John Hoyland, paintings 1960–67, exhibition catalogue, Whitechapel Gallery, April 1967

Describing Hoyland's paintings of the period 1960–1 in the catalogue for the 1967 retrospective exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery (cited above), Bryan Robertson wrote:

In 1960–62, the theme was thin or thick lines, straight or curved, in close or more widely separated alignment, invariably travelling horizontally across a square or just vertical canvas. When the lines are thicker they can more properly be read as bars. The lines are one colour against a contrasting coloured ground; or in two or more colours, light and dark, opposition to the ground. The purpose of these lines is to animate the ground, obviously enough, as well as to divide it into calculated areas - straining towards shapes.

Until the mid-seventies, Hoyland generally restricted the titles of his works to the date on which each was completed. The Whitechapel catalogue listed seven paintings from 1961, five having been completed in the spring of that year: 2. ‘20.3.61’, purple and blue, oil on canvas, 76 × 66"; 3. ‘EASTER 1961’, blue, with violet, oil on canvas 68 × 68"; 4. ‘April 1961’, Lilac, with green, oil on canvas 68 × 68"; 5. ‘25th MAY 1961’, dark plum and black, oil on canvas 60 × 60"; 6. ‘25.5.61’, plum, black and amber, oil on canvas 68 × 60". Three of these, including No.4, a work very similar in composition to T03701 but larger and identically titled are illustrated in the catalogue and the artist has confirmed that he made a number of closely related works at about this time, which makes identification by catalogue more difficult.

In 1960 Hoyland was included in the influential Situation exhibition held at the RBA Galleries in London. In his catalogue introduction, Roger Coleman identified a group of artists making works which were ‘cartographically simple but perceptually complex - a kind of stable/unstable surface’. He grouped Hoyland with Robin Denny, Bernard Cohen, Peter Stroud, Gordon House and John Plumb as using forms that could be identified with reference to geometric figures but also as emphasising the equality of the relationship between the parts of a painting and a unity between figure and ground, so that it would be difficult for the spectator to ‘satisfy himself that he has located all forms in a final spatial order. Yet in spite of their perceptual instability, the pressure of the painting as a surface is never lost.’

By 1961, Hoyland was teaching at Hornsey College of Art and he exhibited paintings similar to T03701 in the exhibition New London Situation (Marlborough New London Gallery, August–September, No.12 (3 in the Whitechapel catalogue) and No.13 (5 in the Whitechapel catalogue). The same year he also exhibited at the Stadtisches Museum, Leverkusen (Neue Malerei in England, September–November 1961). According to the catalogue this exhibition also included six paintings of the same type as T03701, nos. 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 and 25, although neither of those titled ‘April 1961’ (Nos. 20 and 22) corresponds in dimensions to T03701.

John Hoyland told the compiler (telephone conversation, 26th June 1986) that ‘April 1961’ was painted at a time when he, like many artists of his generation, was trying to come to terms with the impact of American painting - he mentioned that he was particularly impressed by the paintings of Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman. At the time he was teaching a basic design course at Hornsey and was involved with problems of visual perception but was also trying to follow the lead of such painters as Rothko and solve the problem of eliminating traditionally rendered form in his paintings. At this stage he already knew artists pursuing similar lines of investigation (Stroud, Turnbull and Denny had also been involved in the ‘Situation’ exhibition), but he had not, for example, seen a painting by Vasarely.

He remembers that he was concerned to try to make paintings which worked all over the surface but which still retained the possibility of space and illusion. Working with lines he could suggest depth and volume with very simple means or elements. He stressed that the climate within which T03701 and related works were made was one where problems of perception, within the framework of the current art school teaching, were constantly being debated (Newman was also particularly influential in this respect).

By 1961, Hoyland was beginning to feel that he was not temperamentally suited to the rigid framework that his work was operating within but still felt the need to react (like many of his contemporaries) against the more painterly excesses of the followers of, for example, de Kooning. However, after this point his work became more direct and full-bodied in its execution and imagery.

This entry has been approved by the artist.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986


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