John Hoyland: Power Stations – Paintings 1964-1982

Art Free
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Damien Hirst launches his new long-awaited new gallery with abstract paintings by the late John Hoyland

First impression: it’s red, very red. Not the gallery. Damien Hirst’s long-awaited Newport Street Gallery in Vauxhall is as pristinely white as any self-respecting mogul with £25million to splash on an entire street of bespoke exhibition spaces could justifiably expect. But, as you push open the double doors to the first gallery, John Hoyland’s paintings glow brilliantly crimson, magenta and vermillion.

Second impression: it’s big. Both the venue and the art: Hoyland’s 15-foot-long canvases appear sparsely hung, even when six are shown together in a single room. It makes for a powerfully coherent display, almost as if Newport Street had been designed with Hoyland’s epic paintings in mind.

There have been grumblings about Hirst choosing to open his gallery, home to selections from his 3,000-strong Murderme Collection of art, not with work by himself or his YBA buddies but with paintings from the early career of a late British abstractionist. Hirst first met Hoyland in 1992 and began to acquire his work in 2009, two years before Hoyland’s death. Outside the art world, Hoyland’s profile registers somewhere between a frown and a shrug. However, you can see immediately what Hirst, the artist who revolutionised a moribund British art scene in the late 1980s by looking across the Atlantic to the warehouse spaces of the Lower East Side and the ambitious art of Jeff Koons and co, sees in Hoyland, because Hoyland did something similar some 20 years earlier.

In the early 1960s Hoyland sought out US abstract expressionists such as colour field painters Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, Morris Louis and Helen Frankenthaler. On his return he made work that was bigger and better than anything any other British abstract painter was doing at the time. Geometric forms – squares, rectangles, trapezoids – are dispersed across vast fields of subtly fluctuating colour, sometimes appearing to float, at others given a more structural job to do. There’s nuance as well as impact, restraint as well as drama. One minute you’re awed by an expanse of pigment as you might be the rusting hull of a ship, the next you’re drawn to frills and spills of paint where one thing abuts with or overlaps another, or stray drips that look like sparks in the creative process.

That Hoyland’s art doesn’t look British, at least not in the self-effacing sense, isn’t surprising given its provenance. But neither does it look as derivative as you might fear. It’s assured, bold and oozes conviction. Did Hoyland remain this good into the 1980s and beyond? Unfortunately not. But at this point in his career he’s on fire. This is art that makes you acutely aware of architectural space and, by extension, the beautiful new spaces around you. If Hirst is paying a debt to an undervalued old friend, then it is repaid with interest, because Hoyland shows off his terrific new gallery brilliantly.

Martin Coomer

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