John Hoyland RA 1934 – 2011
John Hoyland (1934-2011) was born in Sheffield in 1934. He was educated from the age of 11 in the junior art department at Sheffield College of Art (1951-1956), progressing to the senior school four years later. He began by 1954 to paint Sheffield landscapes and abstractions from still-life subjects.
Hoyland continued his studies at the Royal Academy Schools from 1956 to 1960. Classes with William Turnbull at the Central School of Art and a visit to the Tate's 'New American Painting' (1959) exhibition were important influences leading to the production of a group of exclusively abstract works for his 1960 diploma show. These were ordered to be removed from the walls by the then RA president, Sir Charles Wheeler, a conservative traditionalist. Hoyland's diploma was granted on the basis of his earlier figurative course material.
At the 'Situation' exhibitions of 1960–61 he showed some of his earliest fully abstract paintings in which he used bands of colour to explore perceptual effects such as the relationship of image to background or to create the illusion of buckling the picture-plane. This geometric character soon gave way to sinuous lines enclosing discs of colour, and eventually to a freer and more fluid application of paint.
In 1964 Hoyland had his first solo exhibition, at Marlborough New London Gallery, and took part in a group show at the Whitechapel Gallery, 'The New Generation: 1964', alongside David Hockney, Bridget Riley and Patrick Caulfield, with whom he became a good friend. The same year, Bryan Robertson, curator at the Whitechapel, helped Hoyland to gain a bursary for travel to America. Here he met artists of the New York School, including Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko and Robert Motherwell.
Elements derived from these American developments, especially from colour field painting and Post-painterly Abstraction, featured prominently in subsequent canvases by Hoyland in the use of staining techniques and acrylic paint, the interaction of unmixed colours, and an emphasis on the material weight of paint. However, he came to reject the American tendency to reductivism, concentrating in later paintings on the approach exemplified by Hofmann and de Staël, with varied and tactile paint surfaces and a disposition of blocks of different colours to create sensations of advancing and receding space. From the late 1960s Hoyland applied these methods also to screenprints, lithographs and later to etchings and monotypes.
It was the 1967 Whitechapel solo retrospective exhibition, 'Paintings 1960–67', that established Hoyland as a force within the world of abstraction. The subsequent five years saw him spending much time in America, working with the artist Peter Stroud, exhibiting at the Robert Elkon gallery and taking up a role as Professor of Fine Art at Colgate University, Hamilton, New York.
By 1973 he was back in the UK, based in London and Wiltshire and soon after started work as a visiting lecturer at St Martin's College and the Slade. A major retrospective was held at the Serpentine Gallery, London, in 1979, bringing together works from the previous 12 years.
Hoyland travelled widely, including visits during the 1990s to the Caribbean, Australia and Bali. Work based on this latter trip was shown at his inaugural exhibition upon joining Theo Waddington Fine Art in 1995. Describing the influence of the Indonesian island, he noted: 'There's something almost spiritual about the place and I really like its hybrid culture. It's always summer. And the flora and fauna are fantastic. You get bright red poinsettias as big as oaks supporting parasite flowers of burning orange or the most vivid violet. You should see the sunlight on the banyan trees. Everything's just so rich.'
Hoyland was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1983 and to full membership as Royal Academician in 1991. He became Professor of Painting at the RA Schools in 1999 and held an extensive retrospective there in 1999.
A painter and printmaker of prodigious creative energy and imagination, John Hoyland died aged 76, of complications following heart surgery in 2008.
Text based on the Tate Biography, The Observer and The Independent with personal recollections.]