Roger Hilton, ‘Untitled (Dancing woman)’, 1974, Osborne Samuel

A gouache painted over the Serpentine Gallery poster for the retrospective exhibition in 1974

Signature: Signed with initials and dated 1974 in pencil in the image.

Though belonging to the late gouache phase that dominated Hilton’s output during the final two miserable, yet productive and creative, bedridden years, the sizable ‘Dancing Woman’ is a throwback to December 1963 when the artist produced two of his most celebrated and memorable larger oil paintings, namely the Tate’s ‘Oi Yoi Yoi’ and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art’s ‘Dancing Woman’.
The pretext for revisiting the theme of arguably his most famous image was, aptly, the fortuitous, improvisatory and makeshift painting over of a poster proof for his Serpentine Gallery retrospective exhibition in 1974. The poster’s image of ‘Oi Yoi Yoi’ seemed a dull shadow of the real painting, and so Hilton decided to bring it to life with the present eye catching image. Gouache, Hilton favourite medium during the late period, is sometimes called poster paint and, as such, is the medium par excellence for a reworking of the exhibition poster. It sees Hilton transforming the commercial reproduction of his painting back into an original painting, reclaiming art from its second-hand and reproduced echo. In the same way he had returned in the early 1960s to the traditional motif of the figure but retaining using the positive / negative forms and primary colours of his abstract painting of the 1950s.
The smaller scale immediacy of this late pastiche renders a brighter image where the red and blue negative spaces surrounding the dancing figure are sharper. The sometimes scribbled brushwork of the original oil painting is transformed into a think opaque inkiness using the intense fresh colours of gouache. The tricoleur scheme of red, blue and white - not forgetting that the third primary colour yellow is also present as a peripheral upper-left segment - suggests Hilton’s kinship with, and admiration for, French art in general and Matisse in particular. Thematically, too, the works relate to a domestic French incident - naming a marital row between Hilton and his second wife, the painter Rose Phipps while on holiday in the south of France.
By the mid-1970s the expansive, optimistic and experimental 1960s seems to have run its course, symbolised by, among other things, the Middle-East oil crisis and the growth of terrorism. Chris Stephens’ estimation that the figure of ‘Oi Yoi Yoi’ and its related works “seemed to dance in freedom and defiance” also points to the furtherance of that time of the feminist cause.

  1. Chris Stephens “Roger Hilton” p.57 St. Ives Artists Series, Tate Publishing 2006

About Roger Hilton