Testament 105 x 228 cm July 2014
It’s always nice to visit an artist working away in his studio. Pete Hoida’s studio is encircled by lush English country gardens so it’s obvious to say his paintings are the immediate consequence of his surroundings, and that he owes much of his painting to this fact. So it’s no shocker or great revelation to assume that Hoida marries his garden to his canvas.
Not that Hoida’s canvas is meant to depict and capture his picturesque scenic garden, no. It’s more like you are enveloped, virtually surrounded, by the experience of looking at his large artworks – like experiencing Monet’s ‘Nymphéas’ series.
Significantly, serendipitously, meaningful – for me, at the time of writing this, in the Hampstead School of Art (HSoA), I’m surrounded by construction work. Sitting in both HSoA and Hoida’s garden, reminds me of what I see in his paintings, from ‘Beautiful Pylon’ to ‘The Astonished Eyes of Haddock’. Simply put, I am surrounded by structures from man-made hard-edged building blocks to natural, shapely, curved ovals.
Returning from Hoida’s studio, I look at the photos I snapped of his canvases on my phone and they look... exciting.
So what makes Hoida’s abstract art any better, or indeed any more significant, than any other abstract artist say, Ivon Hitchens or Hans Hofmann? Hoida’s is of a more lyrical, European form of Abstract Expressionism as opposed to that of our American cousins. Hoida is an English artist carrying on the grand traditions of English art from Constable’s ‘Six-Footers’, to a euphoric use of colour that Hoida controls so well, so evocative but so differently spiced than Patrick Heron. Hoida is a superb colourist, his palette is his own, and his art is to do with the essence of painting. What you see is... what you see. They are BIG. Size matters. Scale contributes to meaning seen large.
After you’ve established yourself in front of the large canvas, and colonized yourself, firm-footed within the canvas of fertile structures, their effect is immediate. Nose to canvas surface, I can clearly see and scrutinize thick, lip-smacking, heavy textures of impasto paint application as Hoida takes ownership of a Velazquez-like brush mark. Engaging scribbles, streaks and slashes of mesmerising colour explode, wave and drag at pigment, often brushed over, sometimes patted on, occasionally squirted directly from the tube, meeting in-between perky ornamentation and minimalist figuration. Relationships of architectonic slabs of textured pigment wedge up colour-dominated fields of transcendentally sublime fabricated rainbows of hue, modelled and moulded, over the elastic picture surface.
If you are an ‘abstractophile’ you’ll love Hoida’s colour and animated forms filled with non-objective subject matter. In compositions of startling originality and endless invention, Hoida’s cool pastel colours sit by hot primaries. An energetic and muscled handling of paint, long, still moist-looking strokes of gooey paint, to dry, scumbled stains. Hoida’s colours are aglow from soft butter-yellow to Whistler-slate grey-black, through jungle-leaf green to Leighton’s flaming-orange, crushed raspberry to Turner’s earth tone sienna. As Matisse directs colour, and Ellsworth Kelly shapes it, Hoida constructs it.
Often superimposed, without destroying its simplicity, colour makes space with a feel of Chinese perspective about it, in that it doesn’t have one vanishing point – it has many vanishing points. Hoida’s blanket perspective, piecemealed together, is marshalled to explode the picture surface and collide, erupt and combine the picture plane, as Hoida questions if the space created is real or imagined. Surface or subterranean? Natural or man-made, like Monet’s garden, which was, in effect, plastic?
With a tapestry-like surface of poetic symbolism, when you are close up to the canvas, the reading of it collapses and its focal point has no root. Hoida’s shapes escape hard solidity, liquefying into shimmering shades of colour that settle as unique effects of coloured veils layering themselves out, on, and proud of the picture surface, frieze-like in relief. Neither graphic nor illustrative, any figurative form of representation is contemporaneously coincidental and concomitant. Making Hoida’s canvas not just a picture, but an artefact; an object in its own right. Completely balanced, Yin and yang in the East, Adam and Eve in the West.
As an actual, or imagined, experience, what goes into Hoida’s canvas is not simply a picture, but an event. Its impact is down to Hoida. And you. As far as the eye can see. If you hadn’t noticed it, there are two distinctive Hoida-shaped canvases, from near square to long horizontal-rectangle. I value the disciplined format of a Hoida-horizontal shaped canvas. Let me call it a Hoida-Horizontal. A formal structure that is an object in itself, it is not a suggestion of the earth or human race. A Hoida-Horizontal is not a reflection of the world; it is a part of it. As in, ‘The Rivet’. Then again, alliances are not of the landscape, nor by the landscape, and neither are they of abstract shapes that come from the landscape. Any similarity is purely coincidental. Hoida satisfies fields somewhere in between abstract and figurative work.
The Rivet 102 x 205 cm June 2015
In some of Hoida’s canvases there lies a shape, a defined and particular shaped shape. A shape that hogs the limelight from other shapes as it travels around his canvas. A sort of an eclipsed-egg shape, a superellipsed squeezed 'squircle'. This is Hoida’s self-created signature shape. It’s as if Hoida has designed a personal letter font. I’ll name it the 'Hoida-Oid'. The Hodia-Oid dictates Hoida’s composition. This unique Hoida-Oid actor shape greets you in one canvas, and then revisits you, across from another, in ‘Company’, before changing costume and going to ‘Dr Viper’.
As Hogarth tells a story, such as ‘Marriage A-la-Mode’, where a set, a series of paintings are seen as part of a group, and act like a movie’s storyboard or flip-book, where actors play across the stage, Hoida also tells a story in his canvases; the star-of-the-show; the Hoida-Oid. An extreme fusion of the robust leading-actor’s blaze and delicate side-kick fluff, both are necessary in the balance, Holmes to Watson, for the purpose of motion and animation, as the Hoida-Oid travels around the canvas, before reappearing in another, like an actor on stage, Act 2 Scene 1. It is Hoida’s direction-less operatic-extravaganza of a music-like composition about structure, spatial illusion and colour relationships that make his play pictorially and pictographically individualistic. His hand and eye are combined as one, as Hoida’s creative technical calculations are measured both philosophically and ideologically, as in ‘Testament’, and, ‘Funny Valentine lV’, where forms interact. Then clash. Delineate and curve, build up and build upon.
Hoida’s artwork is decorously full of supporting art historical standards. The abstract artist sews threads of art history in to his canvas weave, thankful for the invention of the camera freeing him up. What interests me about abstract art today is how it can survive amidst the practice of post-internet technological progress; as technology has changed the way(s) we see Abstract Art. And how Abstract Art can still remain relevant today because his art is free of obstruction from either memory or motif so that his picture doesn't become a thing, as simply as a monogrammed designer luxury good is a thing. Today, an ever-misty line of alliance exists between an abstract painter and the viewer confused by the commitment Abstract Art requires of you to become involved with the artwork in a way that is very different to how we have come to look at things through the computer, laptop, tablet and mobile phone experience. What we have, in abstract art returning to a more primitive form of communication, is the accepted science of cognitive reasoning developing intuitively and perceptively, with Hoida’s abstract art offering a new visual experience of opportunity – that technology does not, cannot, offer. Hence, Hoida’s art doesn’t look like it could have been done by an internet automated bot.
If, all the same, you have no understanding nor respect for the practice of colour or pure abstraction, you’ll question what your personal response to Hoida’s artworks should be with a ‘What is it?’, ‘What am I meant to feel whilst I look at it?’, ‘What is it supposed to be?’ So simple, it’s complex. Let me tell you what it is, it is itself. And, if you can see a baddie villain destroying a cartoon city in it, so be it – our knowledge of the world informs what we ‘see’ in abstract art, but, honestly, abstract art is a way of seeing, in itself.
© Estelle Lovatt FRSA 2015
Reproduced from the exhibition catalogue, published by HSoA ISBN 978-0-9931047-1-8
Peter Hoida: Abstraction and Nature
‘How all things flash! How all things flare!
What am I now that I was then?
May memory restore again and again
The smallest colour of the smallest day...'
‘Well, in truth, colour can only be rendered "non-referential" by suppressing the best of itself, its natural sensuous propensity to evoke sensations of space directly out of its fulgently or fuliginously inscribed flatness. And no art of consequence has in the long run entered the hearts and minds of the art-loving public (the discerning ones) by suppressing the full eloquence of the medium.’ These wise words of Alan Gouk were written in specific relation to the sources of Pete Hoida’s extraordinary colour sense: Gouk suggests that, in ways inaccessible to analysis, Hoida’s colour comes of his daily experience of the countryside around his Gloucestershire home and studio, through the seasons of the year, with flower bloom and tree leaf, dawn light and shadows of dusk, and the changing light of soft summer and hard winter.
I have found myself that a visit to any painter’s habitat tends to be strangely illuminating. A prevailing colour or tonal bias, a quality of light, an opposition of opacity to aerial or aqueous atmospheric effects, certain persistent forms or shapes: such features seem connected in almost subliminal ways with aspects of the circumambient world. So it is, surely, as Gouk insists, with Hoida’s distinctive ‘fulgent and fuliginous’ colourism.
The Pearl-oyster and the Fox-fur 65 x 221 cm November 2009
But that is not by any means the full story. Artists carry into their work a particular and unique sensibility and history of sensation. It is a quality that derives from experiences of colour-pleasure that long precede their becoming artists. It has become part of their inner aesthetic; it is a component of their sensibility. It may find time to be assimilated into the synthesizing action of painting, gesture and stroke, emphatic or light of touch; it is an action that requires a multiplicity of smaller movements, of eye and hand combined, in the selection and mixing of the colour that will be transported by brush or palette-knife to canvas. In Hoida’s case there is something utterly personal in his delicious tonalities, mid-colour purples, pinks, grey-blues, magentas and turquoise, mixed, over-laid, subtly, silkily textured.
I first became aware of Hoida’s painting some ten years or so ago and was struck immediately by two distinct features: the first was its distinctive colour range, or rather the exquisite tonal variation that informed every long stroke in those spectacular horizontal compositions. The second was, in fact, that structural feature itself: it was as if by a painterly paradox Ivon Hitchens’s famously horizontal abstractions from natural landscape had been turned in the opposite direction, so to speak, and these beautiful abstract colour movements across the canvas were becoming images of the natural. The surfaces had their own complexities of natural colour, light and shade; colours restored by memory, conveyed by the material mix of the brush’s load.
Implements in their Places 97 x 200 cm August 2012
Hoida’s more recent work has become more cosmic in feel. The surface action takes place in formally structured, tightly controlled horizontal movements of scribble or impasto, set against unfathomable greyish skies of translucent wash. There is more turbulence, a more immediate surface-versus-depth drama. But he has also introduced formal, geometric devices that anchor our eyes at strategic moments to the canvas surface, and disrupt the sensation of natural, phenomenal activity. ‘This is a painting,’ they say: ‘attend to the object itself; observe its mechanisms.’ But who can stop the play of the imagination? Hoida is a poet: there is nothing in his painting or his poetry that would suggest he would want to. He just likes to remind us that an artifact is just that: an object made with craft and cunning, the product of a specific sensibility, a mind and a memory, in time and space.
Mel Gooding April 2013
Reproduced from the exhibition catalogue, ISBN 978-0-9562038-9-2
in collaboration with
• PETE HOIDA •
In the middle of the last century the painter Patrick Heron declared
that ‘the immense dangers inherent in the very nature of our
civilisation ….. inhuman mechanistic processes’ demanded
that the plastic arts – he specified painting, pottery and
weaving (!) – restore the ‘ORGANISM’ upon which
‘the very texture of life is dependent’. The very ACTS
of painting, potting and weaving – whatever its quality –
in themselves registered a ‘PROTEST’ against ‘TECHNOCRACY’.
Heron applauded science and technology for its ‘brilliantly
impersonal power to manipulate matter’ but deplored mankind
becoming increasingly controlled by rather than controlling its
The act of painting is – if nothing else – all about
the individual being in control. Matisse described how every ‘move’
he made in a painting suggested three more and it’s the dilemma
of choice and organisation specific to this medium that fascinates
and absorbs an artist like PETE HOIDA.
Art comes out of art but assimilating influences and working out
of others is a testing process which demands stamina and tenacity
let alone insight and inspiration. Hoida is amongst a handful of
under-sung British painters who for decades now have maintained
an uncompromising stance derived from artists as temperamentally
and stylistically diverse as Ivon Hitchens, Hans Hofmann, Matthew
Smith, Nicholas de Stael and Heron himself. (You try out these names
on most young painters these days and you may as well ask them the
line-up of the Louis Armstrong Hot Five of the 1920’s.)
Hoida lives in rural Gloucestershire and I can’t help associating
these not-so-abstract abstracts with its landscape features –
like the Cotswold wall-like slabs of the Hofmann-esque ‘Sedge-leveller’
and the more sylvan/estuarine ‘She Moves Through the Fair’
which evokes Hitchens and even Turner. The elongated rectangular
formats of these and the cliff-like ‘Uisge Poitín’
inevitably reinforce this suggestion of terrain but the expanse
of the support primarily serves to facilitate the formation and
spread of pigment which the artist clearly relishes for its own
innate expressive qualities.
In contrast to the forceful edge to edge spread of the horizontals
the smaller paintings: ‘Vulcan’, ‘Kittiwake’
and ‘Little Eye’ are taut, concise and compressed, which,
without subjugating tactility, melds more acutely the components
of drawing, colour and shape as an entity with a playfulness that
recalls Klee via Ben Nicholson – if that is imaginable.
Hoida’s art belongs to a painterly canon which Heron promulgated
both as an artist and critic for over sixty years and this present
work is as painterly as it gets. There are degrees of painterliness
and within the range of handling and viscosity that the medium allows
– between water-colour transparency and full-bodied impasto
– Hoida is a deft practitioner.
© Geoff Rigden, Feb 2008
From the outset of his career
this Birkenhead born painter has sought to express himself through
the vernacular of abstraction. He has a consistent predisposition
for large but narrow horizontal formats which immediately infer
reference to landscape, as is often detectable in English abstraction.
Hoida resists a facile equation with landscape that is sometimes
suggested, but does allow that the influence of his Cotswold domicile
cannot be completely discounted. Walter Pater’s dictum that
painting should in future aspire to the condition of music, appropriately
coincides with Hoida’s passion for music. One can readily
see that his colour has a lyrical expressiveness, non-naturalistic
and intrinsic unto itself. The paintings can be seen as improvised
thematic variations and are very much the product of a musically
Another striking characteristic
is the sheer relish in the application of paint and the variations
of viscosity from fat and juicy to dry-brushed and scumbled to wet
and stained. It is not surprising that the role models in his formative
years and continuing to the present include some of the most expressive
manipulators of paint: Titian, Hans Hofmann and Matthew Smith to
name but three.
At the age of eleven Hoida
was taken to see the 1955 Van Gogh exhibition at the Walker Art
Gallery in Liverpool. At fourteen he went to stay with his French
aunt and uncle in Paris. He made his first visit to the Louvre and
to the Musée d’Art Moderne where he was impressed by
the monumental Légers. He also went to a Louis Armstrong
concert. His mother had been at Birkenhead Art School with Henry
Mundy but had little liking for contemporary art though returning
in later life as an enthusiastic amateur. His Czech born father
worked as a draughtsman for a ships’ furnishing company, Heaton
Tabbs of Liverpool, who were responsible for all the textiles, wallpapers,
fittings and furnishings for Cunard, Blue Funnel Line and other
shipping lines. However, apart from a few textile and wallpaper
sample books coming to the home, there was little exposure to the
arts. He recalls from his early childhood a chestnut tree with its
fresh green spring foliage and brilliant candelabra radiant in contrast
to the smog, soot and grime of the 1940s industrial scene. So many
great colourists were of northern origin e.g. Matisse, Van Gogh
and the Glasgow Boys - Fergusson, Cadell, Peploe – also John
Hoyland, many of whom moved south. Hoida moved to London, where
after a spell as an LCC landscape architect he enrolled at the Hammersmith
College of Art and Building, going on to Goldsmith’s College
to complete his studies. By this time he was also writing and publishing
poetry, giving readings at colleges and universities up and down
the country as well as the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh and the
ICA in London. In St Ives, Cornwall, he got to know the irascible
but notable poet WS Graham who became his mentor and through whom
he met the painter Roger Hilton.
By 1974 Hoida was living
with his wife and two infant daughters in the Stroud area. It was
in Stroud that he first encountered the Scottish painter Alan Gouk
who at that time was running the sculpture department at St Martin’s.
Through him Hoida became acquainted with another Glaswegian, Fred
Pollock, and Paul Tonkin, hailing from Southampton. All three were
connected with the rising generation of modernist painters and sculptors
who were working in old industrial buildings in Wapping, Greenwich
and Stockwell. Their staunch advocacy for a painterly formalist
aesthetic (very much against the establishment’s preference
for Pop Art, post-modernist and conceptual agendas), struck a deep
chord with Hoida. His critical dialogue with these three artists
in particular, as well as some others, became well established and
continues into the present.
Turning to the works in the
Stroud exhibition, I should again mention the horizontal format
and exuberant handling of the largely rectangular areas of layered
colour which readily combine to establish grid like compositions,
common to nearly all of Hoida’s large canvases. These compositions
have not been pre-designed but rather have organically developed
from the spatial interaction of contrasting tones and colours. He
makes no plans or assumptions when setting out, instead it’s
a ‘live performance’ as he enters into a process responding
to what is there on the canvas and what his eye tells him needs
to be done. It’s a matter of “give and take, memory
The three large earlier paintings
shown, The Red Shack on the Brown Hill, 2001, Big
Chrysanth. Man, 2003, and Spoonbill, 2003,
share a hedonistic spirit. The Red Shack on the Brown Hill in particular,
shows his appetite for juxtaposing bright hot saturated colours
against near to black blues, purples and browns, plus black itself.
In doing so he dramatically maximises a total brightness of effect,
facilitating the sensation of an advancing and expanding pictorial
space. With the somewhat less ebullient Big Chrysanth. Man,
a more architectonic construct of mainly orange and pale blue contrasts
seems to slightly sit back in space; an effect which in part is
due to the unexpected cross hatched brush strokes occupying much
of the lower edge – an example of Hoida’s occasional
urge to ‘go against the grain’. Yet again the darkish
planes enhance the brilliance of the blue/orange palette and contribute
to the gravitas of the ensemble.
Wild and Sweet Foil,
Change of all Objects Carry, 2005, introduces a lower key
and a more diverse application of paint compared with the broadly
brushed surfaces of The Red Shack on the Brown Hill and Spoonbill.
The painting gives way to stains and gesture as shorter brush strokes
swiftly build up the surface, even flying off in dark upward sweeps
escaping from the overall rectangular beat.
A recent example of the unifying
effectiveness of a dark ‘moody’ palette is exemplified
in the richly vibrant Lesson on the Flood-tide,
2005. The resonant browns reds and frigid blues recall the sensuality
of Matthew Smith’s handling of oil paint, even though Hoida
consistently works in acrylic. Another striking example of this
group of long narrow canvases, Sobhrach, 2006,
shares that dramatic sense of a downward compression with its lengthy
strokes of richly darkened colour interspersed by a shrill note
of an icy blue ascendant above complementary reds, browns and yellows
plus sharp streaks of green. Equally important in this work one
notices the quietly pitched small green verticals placed like book-ends
at the diagonally opposite corners concluding a symmetrically inclined
In the recently completed She Moves Through the Fair, 2006, a photographic
record of an earlier stage of its making reveals that black was
used extensively across the surface to almost obliterate a lightly
brushed and stained distribution of sharp brilliant colours. In
the final version very little of the black remains and some areas
have completely been converted into their opposites. In places,
particularly in the centre (now mostly pale blue), there is an adjacent
dark plane that has been black, then white and is now raw umber.
This reveals Hoida’s method of continuous build up; of layering,
pushing, compensating, cancelling and interchanging, not only across
the surface but in front and behind and in the course of which the
ambience of the work is continuously subject to revision until its
final state is achieved.
In the accompanying exhibition
at Mills in Witheys Yard, one can view the much smaller and more
intimate works. Referring back to the musical analogy, Hoida calls
them his ‘bagatelles’; here he seems to be playing a
different sort of tune altogether. Many of these are constructed
out of hard edged rectangles, either flat or textured and geometric
in character in the division of the picture plane, as in Fine
Metal Body, 2003 and Sanctuary, 2003.
Here one is more aware than ever of Hoida’s attention to spatial
interval and placement which contrasts with the empirical nature
of his larger canvases.
2006 and Snakeshead, 2006, both very recent, the
surfaces become much busier with collage-like textures and colours.
In fact the textile look is immediate, as that hint of St Ives constructivism
gives way to a more decorative area. Working small has the advantage
of allowing for relaxed experimentation and turn over of ideas.
It is possible to visually encompass what is taking place –
the complete opposite of the grander scale. As Mark Rothko put it,
“However you paint the larger picture, you are in it. It isn’t
something you command”.
All of these paintings, no
matter what scale, are seductive though not ‘easy’.
They certainly were not easy to make! In all of Pete Hoida’s
work, stemming from nearly forty years of practice, there is to
be seen an ambitious striving coupled to an integrity of purpose
immensely rewarding to those with eyes to see.
© Graham Boyd
the late 1950s the term ‘middle generation' was coined to
describe a group of contemporary painters, mainly from St. Ives,
who worked in a broadly abstract expressionist style though with
probably as much reverence and reference to European as to trail-blaising
recent American painting. The title for the current exhibition with
its allusion to a well-known sixties Pop song, indicates a still
later wave of British abstract art, one which delves far further
than did the still largely landscape-inspired St. Ives painters,
into the more decorative and formalist realm of ‘pure', non
The contemporary group, much larger than
the ten ambassadors chosen here, share a respect, indeed an allegiance,
to modern American art before any other single `school', though
I hope that their 'Englishness' or better still 'Europeaness' may
also emerge. Every bit as American-influenced as the image-conscious
Pop generation, these ten chosen artists nevertheless belong to
a much bigger tradition and wider category of painting that transcends
both national schools and the narrowly defined and crudely overworked
concept of the ‘abstract and figurative'.
All strong pictorial art is in a real sense
based on abstraction, in the sense that even the most figurative
and narrative of genre painting depends for its success less on
subject and meaning than on formalist virtues like form, colour,
tone, and so on. Roger Fry recognised this early on in the brittle
story of English modernism, and espoused pure form as a prime indicator
and constituent of plastic quality. Clement Greenberg, the American
critic, went even further, developing in the epochal terms of a
Marx-like theoretician, the concept of dialectical modernism, seeing
the continuing evolution of modernist painting in terms of an advance
towards greater degrees of flatness, plasticity, abstract illusionism
and so on.
Greenberg has been a great figure for most
of these ten British artists who have had direct contact with him
on American workshops. He had directly talked to them in studio
situ about their evolving work amidst the pots of water-based acrylics,
the large paint brushes, sponges and wooden stretchers. Yet being
British these artists all retain a certain English quality in their
work which may best be summed up as follows - a tonal coherence,
mutedness, subtlety of colour, an elegance of composition that is
often structured literally by the four 'walls' of the canvas arena's
edge, and a tantalising tendency to use naturalistic colour, albeit
outside the context of actual reference to the outside world.
The oldest of the painters, Graham Boyd,
has retained a consistently empirical sensuality, beginning with
his late 1950s abstract pointillist works through the 1960s hard
edge ‘fields', reliefs, or mathematical ‘systems' compositions,
towards the gesturally assertive colour canvases of the 1980s. With
his love of Mondrian he developed inside a European taste. Geoff
Hollow and Kay Saunders have worked in a late ‘colour field'
style that seeks to reintroduce subtle textural variations in the
‘grounds' as well as use of a more strident Hofmanesque 'push-pull'
colour dynamic on the `surface'. Bristol's Louise Barber, often
working in a similar gestural vein to Bournemouth-based Abi Kremer
- whose work perhaps has the closest suggestion in this context
to nature, if not to actual landscape - has also explored the optical
and psychological effects of colour juxtaposed in hard edged zones
of pictorial space. Frank Bowling's painting, vividly textured built-up
impastos are 'finished' off with speckled colour splashes, dots
or stains that speak for a delicacy of application, taking the urgent
‘action painting' of Pollock into a realm of artifice and
deliberation. Pete Hoida can fill a large canvas with one or two
broad wedges of colour as if to suggest more than the action and
movement of an artists brush-laden hand. The making of the picture
acquires its own narrational logic, and the painting acquires an
internal organic character all its own, taking from and speaking
out towards, natural light. Like Rothko, Hoida's work takes on different
character according to differing light conditions and times of day.
Normally hard-to-detect subtleties of matt or gloss surfaces speak
loudly and decisively at such moments. Geoff Rigden's work reflects
the twin currents of Abstract Expressionism. Sometimes exploiting
paint and colour with the rawness and simplicity of a primitive
sand marker he can at other times order his pictures into serene
and balanced environments with use of a spare but elegant repertoire
of disc, triangle and square shapes.
The sculptors John Foster and Barbara Lander
each work in welded steel, drawing inspiration from David Smith
and more recently Anthony Caro. Steel, the most intractable material,
becomes suddenly the most versatile, allowing for collage, editing,
carving, or even modelling through the high heat of arc welding
processes. It bends, twists and plays games with an inherently cubist
vocabulary of form.
© Peter Davies, 1989
Reproduced from the original document published
by the Atkinson Gallery, Southport, 1989
PETE HOIDA’S RECENT PAINTINGS
Pete Hoida, a seasoned abstract painter of
uncompromising verve and boldness, exhibits recent canvases produced
at his studio in the hills above Stroud since the millennium. They
broadly divide into two genera. The painterly and loosely constructed
horizontal pictures like ‘Lesson on the Flood Tide’
(2005) and ‘Sobhrach’ (2006) use long formats, naturalistic
colour, movement and flux that evoke associations, if of an oblique
and fortuitous kind, with landscape. The more obviously formally
ordered, even geometric compositions like ‘The Return’
(2002), ‘Vulcan’ (2003) and ‘Mercury’ (2005)
on the other hand complement their quiet containment with textural
and tactile explicitness through collage and coarse thickening agents
like volcanic lava.
The imagery is abstract in the sense that
nothing is described beyond the plastic language of paint as a tactile
and moving substance capable of producing sensations both of a spatial
and illusionistic or concrete kind. The titles are always ex post
facto, sometimes fanciful, frequently poetic (Hoida had collections
of poetry published by Alison & Busby, Penguin, Pig Press, Poet
& Peasant) and always adding to an air of pictorial inscrutability
that requires, indeed demands, imaginative input from the spectator.
In both the gestural and hard edge compositions there is an internal
dynamic and interrelationship between elements, the whole being
more than the sum of the parts.
The age-old process and act of laying paint
down on a flat surface is therefore an immediate and paramount feature
of these compositions, the scudding brush marks, floating ‘carpets’
of colour or soft rectangles of ‘Uisghé’ (2004)
and ‘Sedge-leveller’ (2005) creating a structural synergy.
The gestural and painterly sweeps, whether long and streaky or saturated
and pigment-loaded, seldom carry the entire picture surface, rather
they highlight the importance of illusion, plastic narrative ambiguity
and mystery. Developing as an artist against a backdrop of late
modernist minimalism – an aesthetic cul-de-sac, yet of a universal
stylistic impact – Hoida creates objects that temper subjectivity
and expression with formal and architectonic imperatives of the
picture plane conceived as a concrete and absolute piece of décor
within the wider domestic environment.
Hoida’s colour, like many artists’,
has an individual ring to it. A tendency – through recurring
use of black, dark grey, purple and brown – towards a sombre
mood reflects Hoida’s roots that are both northern and mid
European. Born in Birkenhead of Czech and Scottish parentage, Hoida
uses a palette that is perhaps temperamentally linked to his background.
The hot and phosphorescent palettes of Irvin and Hoyland, respectively,
are avoided. His closest allegiance is to that group of London-based
abstract expressionist painters – among them his friends Alan
Gouk and Paul Tonkin – associated with the Stockwell Depot
in the 1970s and since based around Greenwich and Deptford. The
evidence in Hoida’s latest works is that he has absorbed something
from Ivon Hitchens and Patrick Heron and beyond them from de Stael
in France and Hofmann in America.
Despite appearances to the contrary, Hoida’s
pictures are slow in the making. Marks and colours once established
lead on to others until the unpredictable is achieved. In the smaller
canvases, such as the playful ‘Little Eye’ (2000), ‘Putto’
(2004) and ‘Cullen Gull’ (2004) an abstract image is
created from simple, flat, undifferentiated brushmarks that are
far away from the explosive informalism of tachism. Hoida’s
mood is here tranquil fulfilling his declaration that “painting
is a formal exercise” in the pursuit of “resonance that
speaks of emotion in the face of the visual”.
© PETER DAVIES, September 2006
Reproduced from the original document published by Ashcroft Modern
AN INTERVIEW BETWEEN
PETE HOIDA AND JON BENINGTON
• The title of the exhibition indicates
that the landscape around your home in the Toadsmoor valley near
Stroud inspires your work. To some people this may not be immediately
apparent because of the abstract imagery you use. Can you clarify
the way in which nature intervenes in your work? Does it mean more
to you than just a motif, a point of departure?
It is essential. To give you an example.
I went to Mull a couple of years ago, it was early spring and everything
about he place was red – bracken from the year before, and
the whole colouration of the light was completely different from
the Cotswolds. I drove overnight coming back and got here at dawn,
and I suddenly realised just how white everything was: not just
the may blossom, the whole of the light in the Cotswolds is very
white. That certainly influenced the paintings I was working on
at the time. One of them was called Conference Blossom Arrest, a
title which was not arbitrarily chosen. I did not set out to paint
a Conference pear tree outside the studio, but when I had done the
painting I realised that the colours corresponded in some way that
was not directly representational, in that they contained something
of the startling rich creamy colour of this Conference blossom.
And I would like to think that the same force and positive energy
that is in nature is radiating from the painting. It is a general
rather than a specific allusion I am making to what is out there.
• Which is reinforced by the elongated,
horizontal canvases you like to use?
I do not consciously prefer them. In fact
I have tried to do square paintings but I find them more difficult,
perhaps because they are not as appropriate to my way of looking
at the landscape.
• Apart from the sizes of your
paintings, the other features which I find most striking are your
use of bold colours and broad, gestural brushstrokes. Are these
the primary vehicles for conveying feelings in your art, and would
I be right in thinking that those feelings are primarily positive
• Does that mean you have to wait
for inspiration, hold back until you are in the right frame of mind?
No, there is no waiting. The inspiration
comes through the work. You have to work through to it.
• The new series of paintings in
the exhibition seem a bit different from the ones I saw a couple
of years ago. The colours are not quite as intense, if anything
I would say they are darker in tonality and more fluid, more mixed
together. One could almost liken it to a change from a Mediterranean
mood to one which is more English. Would you agree with this analysis?
Yes. But I can give you no explanation for
this. Nor was I aware of this change of emphasis at the time I was
working on the paintings. It was only with hindsight, at the end
of the year’s work, that this became apparent.
• I thought the earlier ones had
a very instant, seductive appeal which I responded to immediately,
whereas the new ones have grown on me over a period of time. And
the longer I look at them the more I can see in them. Another analogy
would be to compare it with moving from a painting by Matisse to
one by Constable or Ivon Hitchens.
That is very interesting. I do not know if
they are slightly richer paintings or not, slightly more complex,
and as you say, not “so immediately appealing”.
• I find them richer, even in the
way the paint is quite often applied using these broad, layered
brushstrokes which introduce a feeling of movement to the picture
surface, as distinct from the more static and flatter areas of colour
you used before.
Yes, so that your eye runs across the canvas
more easily without jumping from point to point. There was probably
something subconsciously deliberate about it. They are also the
product of a different light, a different state of mind, different
circumstances and a different year. Exactly what is different technically
about these paintings would require a deeper analysis.
• The titles too seem to convey
a more elegiac mood. Can you tell me how important the titles are,
and to what extent we should be guided by them?
The titles are important, although I should
say that the paintings are not titled until after I have done them;
so I do not have anything in mind when I am doing the painting.
Sometimes the title arrives sooner, sometimes later.
• They seem to be sort of poetic
adjunct to the paintings, and a throwback to your other career as
a published poet. Of course the paintings stand on their own merits,
but I think the titles give them an added dimension.
Yes, I am not against that view. I wonder
if I could talk about any of the titles? This one, Lunar Harvest,
was done in September. It just struck me as having the richness
or peacefulness of a harvest scene by moonlight. There are little
images in there that might be like certain shapes you get in the
landscape, but I am certainly not concerned that anyone identifies
them. I am just as happy if people put their own interpretation
This one, Severn Garth and Gear – I
should explain that a garth is a stacking yard for timber or tools,
the kind of thing you find around a farm. It is all very subjective
and personal, but I was brought up on Merseyside and I lived near
the Cammel Laird shipyard, so I had the Mersey on one side and on
the other side of the peninsula was the river Dee. I have always
been fond of rivers. I have lived here for twenty years and got
to really know and like this side of the Severn, partly through
cycling up and down the country lanes. I think the painting has
something of the romance of a particular kind of light and a particular
kind of stacking yard near the Severn.
Similarly, Venus and Lighterman – a
lighterman is someone who unloads larger ships which cannot come
in to dock. It’s the sort of thing somebody like Rimbaud might
have written about. There is a story behind the painting to do with
a person I met at a particular time, but is nor really relevant
to anything else. If the title gives a poetic intensity I would
be quite happy. They are just hints to help the viewer come to grips
with the work.
• Could we talk for a moment about
other artists who have influenced you? I am very interested by the
fact that you can admire painters as different as Matthew Smith
and Kenneth Noland, the one a figurative and the other a completely
abstract painter. How do you reconcile two such different ways of
The figurative-abstract thing is no big deal
to me. I look at a Titian in the same way that I look at a Picasso.
The point is not whether a painting is representational or not,
but whether the artist’s manipulation of line and colour,
space and light, texture and rhythm does anything. And the only
way to find this out is to spend time looking at paintings. This
is how I learnt to paint.
• Who were you looking at then?
Was it the abstract expressionists?
Yes, certainly Rothko and Jackson Pollock.
Matisse, Braque and Picasso have been a greater influence, mediated
by Hilton, Heron and others.
• It is important I think for our
young painters to be aware of continuity in art and not to be sidetracked
by the demand for originality and innovation. Too much change in
art can be a bad thing, not least because the public becomes increasingly
alienated from what is happening. I am glad you are going to address
some of these issues in the talk you are giving at the gallery during
Yes, there has to be continuity in my estimation.
However, the degree of change the public may be ready to accept
is hardly a valid consideration. Discontinuity of meaning can be
a bad thing. Sabotaging the whole language of art can only be disastrous.
• Have you ever worked in a figurative
About ten years ago I did some life drawing
for three months or so, just for my own amusement. I never really
did any at art school, and I discovered that I could do it, in case
anyone wonders. I wondered!
• Do you still draw, either independently,
or in preparation for painting?
I have been dabbling a little with water
colours recently, partly because the studio is so cold in winter,
but they are not studies for larger works. I always paint straight
onto a blank canvas, and there is an element of drawing in the way
I apply the colours sometimes.
• Do you start painting, without
any preconceived idea as to how the picture might turn out?
Yes. You have chosen a shape of canvas, of
a certain size and proportion. You have probably got in your mind
the last painting you did. Whatever the kind of concerns that are
floating around in your mind they are subconscious, and you are
just chucking down a colour really. And the next move is a slightly
more decided one because you are putting another colour with it,
and the third colour is more difficult because that is affecting
two colours already. So the further you go, the more you have to
take into consideration. The decisions and processes are technical,
so that anything else that comes into the painting comes in through
work. Then there is a chance that an unmediated impression of nature
is getting through to the canvas.
• By unmediated do you mean that
it almost happens by chance, or intuition?
No. it is knowledge that is not at the forefront
of your brain. The simple analogy is riding a bike. If you think
about it you would fall off, but you get on it and you go. The problem
is: how to get up and go? You only get to the point of going by
working, and a lot of the time you are working it is not happening;
conversely, when it is happening you are not necessarily aware of
the fact that it is. After the event when you look at the work you
think yes, I’ll leave that because it looks convincing, or
I will cover it over because its not convincing at all.
• Does the way you choose the colours
you put down have anything to do with Matisse’s use of colour?
I’m thinking of the way he used colour resonances and harmonies
to create a sense of light and space in his pictures, without having
to resort to conventional linear perspective.
Yes, Matisse is crucial for the colour-based
painter. There are colours that recede and others that push forward.
Without those kind of technical judgements that you are making all
the time, the end product would purely be of decorative value.
• How long does it take you to
do a painting? I suppose it depends a lot on the size of the canvas?
No, it is not the size. I have done a very
large painting in a couple of days flat, and yet sometimes they
have taken a couple of years. Sometimes the mark is right straight
away, sometimes the mark may be essential as a means of getting
to the mark that you finally leave there. But you have to carry
on until you are satisfied.
• When I first saw your paintings
I made the mistake of thinking they were oil paintings, but they
are actually acrylic. Do acrylic paints lend themselves to your
way of working better than oils?
They answer the timescale of the painting
because oil paint dries very slowly. Also, when you are overpainting
in oils the paint has to get thicker and thicker. You do not have
this with acrylic because it dries very quickly, so that within
a couple of hours you can overpaint it. This makes the whole process
more rapid. Generally speaking, acrylic paint is quite inferior,
so often it has a linoleum quality about it. At the risk of being
immodest, I think there are no more than a few people who have found
out how to do something with it. This is why I am always very flattered
when someone – and you are not the first person to do so –
mistakes my pictures for oil paintings.
• Do you ever solicit a second
opinion before a piece of work is completed?
No, it is purely a personal decision, but
very occasionally someone gets to see the work in process, and sometimes
they say something quite illuminating about it. There are a handful
of people whose eye I value.
• Someone once said (was it Rothko?)
that a painting is not complete until it finds a sympathetic home,
and you have just given a good example of this. He went on to say,
however, that it was a much more frightening experience to put work
into a public exhibition where the responses of viewers would be
completely unpredictable. This is your seventh solo exhibition,
and your second one in Cheltenham, but I wonder if you would identify
with this attitude? Or perhaps it is a more pleasurable experience
to have work going out into the public arena?
I agree that a painting does not really exist
without a viewer. However, my feelings about exhibiting are somewhat
neutral. The painting is finally for a public. It is a job of work.
The unplaced paintings are simply awaiting the person who has the
eye and mind to see them.
Reproduced from the original document published by Cheltenham art
Gallery and Museum, 1995
Our new year's programme starts
with the work of Pete Hoida. Hoida studied painting from 1969-1974,
first at Hammersmith College of Art, then at Goldsmiths College.
Since the early 1970's Hoida
has shown his paintings, not frequently, but notably "New Young
Contemporaries" (1973 & 1974 Camden Arts Centre), "One
Man Show" (1975 International Art Centre, London), and "A
Northern School" (1989 & 1990 Bristol, Blackpool, London).
He is also an accomplished writer, with several volumes of poetry
published and a translation for the Penguin Modern Poets series.
The painter and critic,
Alan Gouk, has written the following piece on Pete Hoida to accompany
"Pete Hoida lives and works on the Brownshill escarpment, Chalford,
by Stroud, facing across the Toadsmoor valley to Quarhouse, and
further to Nympsfietd, surrounded by all the scenic beauties and
seasonal shocks of the western edge of the Cotswolds. In spring,
cherry and pear blossoms brush against the windows of his studio.
In winter, rows of sprouting cabbages stand stark in the ashen grey
soil, caked and crusted with frost, their fallen leaves crisp and
curled like brandy snaps. Stepping out of the studio door, one lands
in a lush tangle of wet grass and bramble runners, a minefield of
mouldering apples and dead leaves. And weather, so much weather!
Somehow winter is the inspirational season for a painter, more dramatic
at the beginning with its harsh descent, the gales that can blow
the roof off, and later at its turning, and the first new shoots,
the celandines and catkins appear. It is this polarity between lyric
sweetness and harsh contrast, the crack of ice on a black road,
which inflects the seeming abstraction of Hoida's work. Of course
these things happen in London too, but they don't impinge in the
same way. They don't matter. They are not wonderful dramatic events,
they don't penetrate the cerebral fog of striving and conniving.
In short, they are not really seen.
I'd like to think that someone
coming across Pete Hoida's work in say, a mixed show of "abstract"
paintings would sense, immediately or gradually, that it comes from
such a background, that his colour is not just thought up in the
studio as part of some "non-referential" building kit.
Remember all the talk in the 1960's about "non-referential"
colour. Well, in truth, colour can only be rendered "non-referential"
by suppressing the best of itself, its natural sensuous propensity
to evoke sensations of space directly out of its fulgently or fuliginously
inscribed flatness. For a painter at least, there is no such thing
as "abstract space", no such thing as "abstract volume",
and finally, no such thing as "abstraction". And no art
of consequence has in the long run entered the hearts and minds
of the art-loving public (the discerning ones) by suppressing the
full eloquence of the medium. When an area of colour is spread by
brush moving on canvas, this the essential vibrating antenna, dowsing
to give shape to unconscious impulses and imaginings, the result
is an irreducible, primitive pictorial fact, a plastic and spatial
grenade, which at the same instant expresses some inescapable aspect
of the temperament and character of the painter, for good or ill,
like it or not. Ask a dozen to paint a yellow flurry, and there'll
be a dozen different images. If less personal means are used, this
vital communication is lost, or never happens. Is there an easy
give and take between conscious purpose, aesthetic wilfulness (and
nothing is achieved without it) and the more involuntary promptings
of sensibility? Or is there an imbalance, the one over the other?
We can all think of examples where the balance has gone awry in
this regard. It seems to me that Pete Hoida has not gone awry, in
spite of the occasional eccentricity of the filigree twirling from
the tube in some passages, when one feels that he is not really
I'd say that Hoida's sensation
of nature ("Nature seen through a temperament" in Zola's
definition of art) lies in an interweaving, a counterpoint, and
sometimes the sheer opposition of downy lyricism and dramatic harshness.
And it comes across most forcefully in his small pictures - I'm
thinking of Le Beigne, La Foule,
and Round Pond, where he trusts his first impulses
and places them down in pungent tone-colours, and then further trusts
further impulses, cat and mouse with the developing stuff of emotion
in paint moving and interacting before him. In short, just painting.
Picture making, he makes us see, consists simply in setting emotions
side by side (not just colours side by side). Before colours are
ready to take part in the poetic intrigue which is the art of painting,
they must first of all register an emotion; they must be personalised.
They must be pungent of sensation, and one needs to trust one's
feelings, one's touch, and one's transforming impulse enough to
allow this to happen; - to paint from sensibility, the paint succulent
and alive in the minutest detail of its application without being
smothered by grand intentions, - otherwise architectural ambition
is blighted. Sometimes a new discovery is only made when a paradox
(of the artist's personality, perhaps) is allowed to be stated in
all its stark incongruity and with nothing but sensibility to guide
the painter through. This - and, yes, that too!
These small pictures of
Hoida's do take the risk of conveying the first shock of vision
("One never paints what one sees or thinks one sees; rather
one records with a thousand vibrations, the shock one has received"...
de Stael), and the thicket of paradoxes lying in wait for vision
when one attends to it. They are unusually frank, and raw, courting
even the ugliness of acrylic paint when scumbled and churned, without
finally ceding to it. He dares to set sensations in friction against
one another in an oppositional dance, and lets them ferment, lets
them brood on it for a while before confirming that they can live
together, are living together. Consider the acid yellow
shape, sort of like a gnarled tree stump, streaked and smeared with
black and other murky milky tones in La Bouanderie,
October 1992 and how it coexists like an askew keystone in an arch
of competing blues, reds, and that layer cake strata of strongly
contrasted colours on the right. Not to mention the lying down arrow
head 'V' which interjects from the left. And this is a picture which
on first seeing it strikes one immediately as a success, with all
its episodic compositional strangeness. Here the spidery tube-squeezings
certainly do work. It was the first of a family of successful pictures
of similar proportions, all with the `V', which form a distinct
group, although preceded also by the handsome Conference
Blossom Arrest of March 1992.
Early in 1992, Hoida completed
three or four striking large pictures, of which Indian Spanner
is perhaps the most original. It is in the feathery greyish tonality
that he has had success with before. (I am thinking of Stockend
1987, and Perimeter 1988). What this picture succeeds
in rendering is the dappling that is everywhere in nature, when
one begins to look ("Glory be to God for dappled things").
The impetuous and confidently stabbed areas of feathery stroking
rise up out of the surface of the picture like scudding clouds.
The space is modelled as if made up of fluffy rocks, transparent
masses looming out of the surface, their image distorted, pulled
this way and that on the crosscurrents and whorls of a choppy estuary
at incoming tide. Do you recall the skies in Monet's Sainte Adresse
seascapes of 1867? The Severn estuary at Purton, looking across
the mudbanks to the Forest of Dean on the far bank, is one of Hoida's
favourite haunts. This picture seems to convey one of those moments
of exhilaration before some natural cataclysm, and because the exhilaration
is conveyed with such bold certainty of purpose, it carries to us
and evokes multiple associations. I'm not insisting on mine.
Another such picture is
the smaller Black Severn Angel, where again the
artist has trusted his first impulses wherever they might lead,
has gone with the gathering spirit of the picture, and the result
is a fresh and exciting picture which, like an Antibes harbour by
Picasso, both summarises nature, and includes so much more of the
clangour and buffeting of sight than a more fastidious attentiveness
could hope to do.
The St Ives painters, or
some of them, were the last painters in England who can honestly
claim to speak about "light" without stretching credibility.
And their "light" is often at its best where colour is
relatively restricted, (this is an old truth). Terry Frost, whose
Force 8, 1962, comes to mind in connection with
Indian Spanner, is generally more successful with
the restricted grey-green, blue, black, and modulated white tones
of his earlier work (of the late 1950's) than in the more saturated
multi-coloured collages of his later years. "Light" means
tone-colour, which means sensuous body-full seen colour, the twin
sensation of tones which register the full lustre of objects illuminated
in natural sunlight, "submitted to the spirit of the picture".
More and more one sees that
the only paintings which continue to renew themselves on repeated
acquaintance, are those in which the artist has responded in a naive
and vivid way to the circumstances of natural light in which he
has found himself, with a new directness in that response, - less
artificial, more truthful, one might say, a submission to the bounty
which the sunlight of one's own day is forever throwing forth, and
an attempt to respond with "utter directness", artlessly,
without self-assertion or striving for effect. Nothing has changed
with the advent of "abstract" painting, though there are
special problems for an artist not working directly in front of
nature which require a new scrupulousness in his relationship with
his sources and his colours. So, we see here, the formal advances,
the bold planar architecture of modern painting need not, indeed
cannot be overthrown at a stroke. But an unsettling breeze has begun
to blow through the musty stage-sets, the mechanically cranked-out
productions of "abstraction", with its artificial bright
"light", by times cheap and garish, or else thin, dry
and lack-lustre. Matisse would turn in his grave. It is rare nowadays
to find an "abstract" picture which tastes and smells
of the full lustre of natural sunlight and air. But a start has
been made with Indian Spanner, Black Severn
Angel, Round Pond, and other of Hoida's
best new pictures.
Hoida began as a poet in
the psychedelic 1960's. He is of Ashkenazic stock, his father Czech,
his mother a Lancashire Scot. It has taken no little fortitude to
convert to the arcane idiom, (in this country at any rate), and
to persist in proclaiming the pith of his experience in the medium
of non-figurative pictorial art. And as times have changed, and
fashions too, the pure unmediated sensuosity of painting, the "immediate
visual consciousness of things" (Patrick ,Heron) has remained
a closed book to most of the British public (especially the literary
ones). To be purely a poet in paint is to be doubly daunting. But
Hoida does persist, none the less, in trying to render fulgent the
fuliginous, to make clear things that are tacit and cloudy, that
have no name until painted, and then only fitfully, in making us
look and feel, non-verbally, without recourse to the consoling certainties
of trompe I'oeil description. He can be positively garrulous, once
you have learnt to read the signs."
© Alan Gouk, January 1994
Reproduced from the original
document published by the Living Room Gallery, 1994