Roger Hilton, ‘Untitled ’, 1956-1957, Osborne Samuel

The mid 1950s were years of great change, both personally and professionally, in the free-thinking bohemian Hilton’s colourful life. He embraced a degree of figuration again in his abstract painting that,hitherto, had amounted to a kind of painterly neo-plasticism. Tate curator and author Chris Stephens has described Hilton’s later 1950s work as being “much more changeable in terms of content and treatment.”1 On a personal level,too, he overcame a cosmopolitan snobbery and embraced the provincial by making initial visits to the artist’s colonies of south west Cornwall. While the famed light and long artistic heritage there was an attraction it proved to be his new friends there like the critic Patrick Heron,poet W.S.Graham and painter Terry Frost who were the real pull.
And so Hilton bought a small cottage near St Ives and rented a Newlyn studio during successive late 1950s summers. However, in 1956 and early 1957, with his first marriage on the proverbial rocks, Hilton worked in beachfront studios in St Ives and it is likely that ‘Untitled’ is a window view directly onto the sea at Porthmeor with assorted boats adding to the tangible maritime associations. One talks of association because Hilton’s characteristic expressionism is less literalist or descriptive than raw and paint-driven. Stephens again explains how at this crossroads “he found himself caught in this pull between abstraction and figuration.”
2 This conundrum was one he shared with Frost, with whom Hilton was conducting a long and soul searching correspondence at the time. In fact the older man told Frost how he was “tired of non-figuration… I am going to introduce a more markedly human element while endeavouring to dispose their forms in a space creating manner.” The human form is present, often rudely and erotically, in much of Hilton’s later work .His initial dalliance with Cornwall, however, which yielded ‘Blue Newlyn’ ‘The Aral Sea’ and this smaller oil, used beach or coastal landscape subject-matter.
Always intellectually alert and socially well-connected in art circles at least,Hilton was in no doubt about the way to go.By the time of his third and final Gimpel Fils solo show in London during autumn 1956 Hilton was aware of his European credentials through the recent impact of the epochal Tate show ‘Modern Art in the United States’ While his catalogue statement for his early 1958 ICA retrospective spoke of “a call to embrace paint as medium *3 his painterly signature was more discrete and aligned with Parisian tachism than with New York school abstract expressionism. ‘Untitled’ was first displayed at this ICA show where its de Stael - influenced handling confirmed Hilton’s avowed francophilia.

  1. Chris Stephens ‘Roger Hilton’. P.34 Tate Publishing 2006.
  2. Ibid p.36
    1. Hilton statement ICA 1958. See Stephens p 47.

Signature: Signed verso

Institute of Contemporary Arts, 'Roger Hilton Restrospective, Feb-March, 1958, catalogue no: 58

Private Collection, Italy, 1950's

About Roger Hilton