Arena: Six Days in September (1978): John Hoyland

Accessed though the ‘Technician’s workshop’ in the Painting Department.

I’m not going to post on every video I find, but this was the first one and it is also relevant to my practice so I am going to blog about it.

Arena Six Days in September [Arena – Six Days in September (s.d.) In: BBC At: (Accessed 21/04/2021).]

First transmitted in 1979, Arena profiles John Hoyland, seen by many as England’s finest abstract painter. 

As a major retrospective of his work opens in London, Hoyland faces hostile criticism, starts a new painting and explains why, in his bleaker moments, painting can seem little more than ‘ flicking away in a corner with a feather duster ‘

These are my notes…

Two extremes of painting… 1) Dominating/on top/enjoying… 2) Going wrong/struggling/touch and go… feinting/blocking/playing… throw something in… not sure… gets exciting.

I recognise both these states.

Can’t think about colour… respond to it… not an intellectual choice… comes over one… if I’m in trouble think my way out of it… (mostly) unlearn colour analysis… simple state… childlike.

This is how I work.

(Not random)… even choice of stretcher not random… everything relates in a total way… absurdity of talking about it…got to reach into it.

Theoretically I agree, everything comes together to make a whole… but I don’t think at the stage of a stretcher I have any subconscious idea of what it will be… that may develop with experience. As I don’t ‘think’ when I’m painting (I look) I agree about the absurdity of talking about it.

Find out how to do it by painting… can’t think through it and then do it… got to ‘think’ while you’re doing it. Eye and brain together.

Totally agree. Like acting, however much prep you do and however many video’s you make with friends there is no substitute for the real thing… that’s when you ‘really’ learn. I think uni is a bit like passing your driving test, it qualifies you to start learning.

Go through a horrible time when I don’t think I know what I’m doing… figurative painting the more precisely you work the better it is… with abstract the more control the more superficial… needs to be raw… the other extreme is (too loose) like a faggy caveman.

I am going through the process of discovering this as I move from figuration to abstraction. Reinforces what I’m discovering in Exploring Media and my Option work on liminality/mystery.

Uses his hand as a painting tool splashing on thin paint… acrylic on canvas… smears paint on newspaper and presses on canvas which gives an after image… gives some control but also chance… 1st layer will mostly disappear. He stands large canvas on paint-pots and turns regularly.

I never thought of turning my canvas – a little difficult with an easel in my front room. I may have made my lounge into a studio but splashing is at a minimum unless I move outside. Liberating to see how he uses different tools/processes to add paint. This is something I can adapt and incorporate.

2nd layer… palette knife… loves the intensity of loading… palette knife records the energy of gesture but no good on its own… whole painting has to build up energy… rougher the better… nothing to lose/can tidy up later… bangs painting to help runs (must be slightly thinner paint) then turns to arrest them… helps direct and pulls painting together… overlaps colour so they tie into each other… hours looking… deciding what to do.

I discovered about the palette knife work in a recent painting where the gestures had energy but the painting as a whole didn’t build up energy. The concept of using drips as a painting tool is brilliant… I may not have the facilities to do it yet but it’s definitely something I’ll incorporate. It’s putting the idea into my head that I am making an image object (and can use anything to hand) rather than making an image… a hybrid of sculpture and painting.

Getting fiddly a danger… nagging at a painting instead of just leaving it… need to reflect… get too close to a painting… can change a whole painting with one tone of the same colour.

Definitely a danger of fiddling and making it worse… equally the answer maybe one dab of colour. I hadn’t thought of changing tone of colour… I’d usually change the colour… so that’s another technique… working on the tonal construction as well as the hues.

(John looking at his painting)… Top and bottom… related forms… but can’t be simple minded need to work through synthesis… great paintings look effortless… but go through complexity and struggle to make an effortless painting… when is a painting finished? Somer days when you’re not painting and you come in and think… I’ll just try this… and you spend 5 to 10 minutes and it unifies the whole thing… you’ve found the key.

I agree… you just have to build up the intuition for knowing when a painting is finished… when to leave it… and when one mark will unify it. I did this on a recent painting where I added one mark after leaving it for several days and it brought the whole composition together.

(Sometimes he)… feels vulnerable… (in 1978 there was a lot of anti-abstract sentiment among critics and a move towards figurative painting)… have to keep going… look at people you admire… most critics are feeble against people I respect… not interested in idiosyncratic British painting like Hockney… want to mystify and overwhelm… jungle… desert… mountains… not English garden with gnomes… want (my) paintings to overwhelm and people think about it afterwards… blow their minds.

We all feel vulnerable at times but I think you’ve just got to find yourself and be true to it, and keep going. Be happy in your own skin. Not copy anybody else… not try to be something you aren’t.

Looking at his work at this time his colours are more muted than mine and it’s interesting to note how he uses lines (squares, rectangles, triangles) in works that are so gestural, ‘rough’ and broken. His style is not my style, but a fascinating watch and much to learn.

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