Cedari Ray: Recent paintings by Pete Hoida

'Pete Hoida, Recent Paintings' at Ashcroft Modern Art, Cirencester, September 2006

The Return by Pete Hoida
The Return, 2002, 173 x 88 cm

Is Pete Hoida one of the most important abstract painters of his generation? Born in Birkenhead in 1944, he was on the London scene in the 60s and early 70s, and has painted from the hillside of his isolated Gloucestershire home since 1974. Hoida’s uncompromising vision of art, and his pursuit of that vision without regard for changing tastes and fashions, can be daunting to the uninitiated, and is too easily taken for granted by the initiated. Neither reaction is justified.

At his recent exhibition of new paintings in Cirencester (September 2006, Ashcroft Modern Art), the immediate impact on each and every visitor walking into the gallery was the impact of colour: the vibrant, saturated phenomenology which simply happens to us behind the eyes. The mediate impact which followed was both conceptual and cultural, as uninitiated viewers wondered about the intentions and technique of the artist, and initiated viewers tried to evaluate the paintings according to formal criteria and historical precedent.

Neither immediate impact nor stock conceptual appraisal will uncover these artworks. This is because they require input from the viewer, who must stand in front of them, settle into them, and simply LOOK for a few minutes at the very least. Otherwise the viewer will not see the paintings at all; Hoida is in the business of eliciting temporal experiences, not a quick conceptual fix. He produces colourful objects which have the potential to cause a carefully controlled array of experiences in the viewer who runs his or her eyes over the surface of the canvas. Over time, one shape will eclipse another, a block of colour will move to the foreground as another recedes to peripheral vision, and the form that once made sense of the whole will fall away within a sudden gestalt switch that changes everything, only to initiate the process all over again until a balance is achieved. This may be the balance Hoida intended and it may be your own.

Rosy-fingered Dawn by Pete Hoida
Rosy-fingered Dawn, 2006, 30 x 40cm

The paintings in the Cirencester show ranged upwards in size from small canvases (approx 50 x 50 cm) to large ones (3 x 1.5 metres). The small canvases fall into two series. In the first, the title of one of the paintings, Sweetie, succinctly summed up the overall mood, with its delicious colours and Braquesque shapes superimposed. In the second, which includes paintings such as Rosy-fingered Dawn, and Co their? (Who will say?), there are psychedelic watery backgrounds on which more heavily textured blocks of colours have been placed, sometimes interspersed with avant-garde objets collaged within the paint and with delightful squiggles of paint from the tube aptly applied.

The larger canvases of the selection were in the main ‘cooler’, both in the colour tone and fashion sense of the word, with the blacks, purple and baby blue hues of Lesson on the Flood-tide, Sobhrach and Sedge-leveller replacing the hotter reds and greens of Hoida’s last exhibited oeuvre. A reminiscence of industrial landscape may be evoked in some viewers by the rust-colour interludes of the natural moor purples. Uisghé completed the selection perfectly; it was the large canvas which immediately confronted the viewer in the first room, but it repaid several visits to take in the forms and effects produced by the abundant colours on display.

There were also two mid-sized works at Cirencester, Vulcan and The Return, which are painted in portrait orientation, and which, while making use of motif and formal structure, avoid the limitations of the minimalist genre by employing brush marks and texture to vivid effect. Hoida provides the paintings with their imaginative titles after they are finished - he is a published poet - and sometimes the naming takes place after considerable time has passed. So given the non-representational nature of the paintings, how are they named? This is a question often asked of Hoida, and yet there is no particular mystery. The answer is: in the same way that pieces of music, almost always abstract, are named with imaginative titles such as ‘Epistrophy’ or ‘Straight, No Chaser’.

Big Chrysanth. Man by Pete Hoida
Big Chrysanthman, 2012, 92 x 243cm

At a studio pre-view of works to be shown in the forthcoming exhibition at Stroud, I noted that the cool theme in Hoida’s current works continues, extending as far as the almost black canvas of Big Red Obscured. She moves through the Fair and Wild and Sweet Foil, Change of all Objects Carry, indicate yet another new direction in Hoida’s work, in which patches of bare canvas are permitted to ruminate behind the cool, sketchy, and soft patches of paint which bind and balance across the whole. Big Chrysanthman may well steal the show on both first and subsequent impressions, for the vibrant colours employed amply repay sustained reflection; the viewer should soon be able to make inroads into the structure of this major composition.

Hoida’s painting is in the modernist tradition. The art of past masters such as Goya, Braque, Matisse, Hans Hofmann and Patrick Heron inform his painting to the core: Hoida paints with what Gadamer called wirkungsgeschichtliches Bewusstsein (‘effective-historical consciousness’), that is, a consciousness of the past which actively informs present behaviour. However, the viewer does not need to know anything about the artists who have influenced Hoida. In the same way, the undeniable influence of landscape upon his work does not need to be grasped by the viewer. A certain tradition in art and the natural landscape have already been effective in the production of the painting, and so fall away as necessary comparables once the painting is extant. The result is laid out on the canvas and the viewer is free to enjoy it.

© Dr Cedari Ray    September 2006