Alan Gouk

Writing about Pete Hoida's paintings 1992 - 1993 in the living room Newsletter 4, January 1994

La buanderie by Pete Hoida
La buanderie, October 1992, 56 x 293 cm

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.

Round Pond by Pete Hoida
Round Pond, May 1993, 74 x 114 cm

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. .

Conference Blossom Arrest by Pete Hoida
Conference Blossom Arrest, March 1992, 89 x 206 cm

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.

Stockend by Pete Hoida
Stockend, November 1987, 112 x 297 cm

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.

Black Severn Angel by Pete Hoida
Black Severn Angel, May 1993, 66 x 264 cm

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.

Indian Spanner by Pete Hoida
Indian Spanner, March 1992-2017, 57 x 199 cm

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