Writing about Pete Hoida's paintings 1992 - 1993 in the living room Newsletter 4, January 1994
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 this show:
"Pete Hoida lives and works on the Brownshill escarpment, Chalford, by Stroud, facing across the Toadsmoor valley
to Quarhouse, and further to Nympsfield, 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 himself.
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
rust 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