John Hoyland (1934–2011) is one of Britain’s leading abstract painters. Renowned for his intuitive manipulation of colour, form, line and space, Hoyland emerged at the forefront of the abstract movement in Britain in the early 1960s, and remained an energetic and innovative force within the field, until his death in 2011.
Hoyland’s rejection of figurative painting occurred in the late 1950s following his introduction to the work of American abstract expressionists such as Barnett Newman, Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. The young artist was also informed by the emergence of formalist theory as a major innovating force within British sculpture, as exemplified by the work of Anthony Caro, with whom Hoyland was to become a collaborator and close friend. Describing abstraction as a ‘revolution of twentieth century art’, Hoyland began making early enquiries into how rational thought and visual perception could be used as the sole basis for pictorial composition. Disclaiming a visual culture dominated by objects, he would later write:
“We have refused to look and enjoy abstract relationships, harmonies of colour and form, which we do without question in music. No one surely would ask: “Does music have meaning?” It appeals to the emotions but we don’t attempt to specify those feelings [...] So it is with painting.” (Hayward Annual 1980: Contemporary Painting and Sculpture Selected by John Hoyland: [exhibition] 29 Aug. – 12 Oct. 1980, Hayward Gallery, London)
Despite consistently maintaining that non-figurative imagery embodied ‘the potential for the most advanced depth of feeling and meaning’, Hoyland disliked the label of ‘abstract artist’, asserting that its implications of premeditated action did not apply to his working methods. Describing the instinctive nature of his process, he asserted that painting provided a means of ‘measuring one’s physical and emotional responses’. Simultaneously monumental and poetic, the works presented in ‘Power Stations’ are, above all, sensory experiences. Serving as an overdue affirmation of Hoyland’s significance within the field of abstraction, they provide fascinating new insights into the artist’s practice, and through it, the object of painting itself.
Hoyland was born in Sheffield and studied at the Royal Academy Schools, London, where he completed his diploma in 1960. The same year, he appeared in the pioneering Situation exhibition at the RBA Galleries, London, the first show to present large-scale abstract paintings by British artists. In 1964 he featured in Bryan Robertson’s group show, The New Generation,at the Whitechapel Gallery, and three years later he was the subject of a large-scale exhibition at the same gallery. In 1969, Hoyland represented Britain in the São Paolo Biennale with Anthony Caro. From the late 1960s to the early 1970s, Hoyland split his time between New York, London and Wiltshire and in 1979, the Serpentine Gallery presented a survey of his latest work. A long-standing and outspoken Royal Academician, he was appointed Professor of Painting at the Royal Academy Schools in 1999 and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Sheffield Hallam University in 2000. Later in his career, retrospectives of his work were held at the Royal Academy (1999), the Graves Art Gallery in Sheffield (2001) and Tate St Ives (2006). In 2006 he was the subject of a major monograph by the critic Mel Gooding (published by Thames & Hudson).
On the significance of the artist, Hirst has stated: “In my eyes, John Hoyland was an artist who was never afraid to push the boundaries. His paintings always feel like a massive celebration of life to me.”