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Study Visit: Hoyland & Auerbach

Join Gerald in London on the 16 January 2016 for a double study visit.

John Hoyland ‘Scando 2.10.80’ 1980 Acrylic on cotton duck

Perhaps the biggest surprise about the opening of Damien Hirst’s new gallery in London is his choice to debut with John Hoyland, one of the best known British abstract painters from the seventies and eighties. This is because for many the late artist’s homage to American colour field painting seems a million miles from Hirst’s tongue-in-cheek conceptual art. This study day will enable students to compare Hoyland’s work to that of Frank Auerbach whose current retrospective at Tate Britain is one of the most impressive exhibitions of the year.

Frank Auerbach, Head of J.Y.M ll 1984-85, Painting, Oil on canvas 660 x 610 mm
Frank Auerbach, Head of J.Y.M ll 1984-85, Painting, Oil on canvas 660 x 610 mm

All the works in the John Hoyland exhibition were bought by Hirst himself and the selection does not entirely do him justice. Yet, by coincidence, the Tate is currently displaying one of the artist’s earlier paintings in the room next to the Auerbach. This underlines the contrast between the former’s large open canvases and Auerbach’s more intense and heavily-worked paintings. Where Hoyland’s early works are all about space and structure – a comparison borne out by the placing of his work at the Tate next to Early One Morning by Anthony Caro – Auerbach’s subject matter includes portraits and figure studies as well as street scenes of north London. The latter are typical in that when reproduced the buildings seem to comprise a few bold patches of colour. Yet in the gallery they reveal themselves as made up of layer upon layer of sensuously worked paint.

In contrast Hoyland’s early works are magisterial in their simplicity. They recall the paintings of American artists such as Barnett Newman in their use of colour to define space, their emphasis on the flatness of the canvas and their attention to its edge. Time and again he lets his paint bleed into the canvas or uses devices such as scale to suggest their presence and authority. By comparison Auerbach is much more European in his sensibility. His work is all about revision, uncertainty and second thoughts. He alludes to Velasquez in his depiction of a nude or creates an effect of light that is reminiscent of Titian. More importantly, he shares their passion for the physicality of paint while seeming as contemporary as his friends Bacon, Kossuth and Freud in the sense of anxiety that characterises his works.

Frank Auerbach, Mornington Crescent 1965
Frank Auerbach, Mornington Crescent 1965

It would be unfair, however, to suggest that Auerbach always has the last word. For upstairs in the Damien Hirst Gallery one discovers a completely different side of Hoyland. In his penultimate works he pushes the paint around in a way that is playful and much less serious. All of a sudden one is reminded of the comic book splashes and confectionery colours of one of Hirst’s contemporaries such as Fiona Rae. Then in the last room the paintings change again as he combines these experiments with his earlier understanding of form to create the most confident and successful of his works. In a sense the exhibition is almost like three shows in one. But it would be interesting to know which of the artist’s incarnations persuaded Damien Hirst to buy a job of his work.

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Posted by author: Gerald
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