Critique of Big Chrysanthman and other paintings by Pete Hoida at Stroud Subscription Rooms, February - March 2007
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 aware imagination
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 and desire”.
The three large earlier paintings shown, The Red Shack on the Brown Hill, 2001, Big Chrysanthman,
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 Chrysanthman,
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 outcome..
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
In Marguerita, 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