Ivon Hitchens: Two

Looking at Iping Church (cat. 8), for instance, painted a few years after Moatlands, we are immediately aware of the quick freshness of the strokes and masses of brown colour-tones, laid down in recessive parallels, that present us with the ploughed field, looking across which we catch a glimpse of the church through a gap between trees and hedges, all caught in a variegated and changeable autumnal light. The distant church, so solidly present to the eye, is a mere adumbration of two greys, a wall of the tower in shade, a wall in sunlight: two light brush loads, and a dab. To the right of the viewing point our eye discerns a shadowed passage, a meadow and beyond, a distant brown field seen through two feather-like poplars.

Two paintings must serve to demonstrate the exact virtuosity of Hitchens’s handling of diversities of colour, tone, light and shadow, space and form. Holbrook (cat.10) presents us with a bright summer day with a vista across water which takes on itself here the intense blue of the sky , here a silver white sheen of light, with a passing shadow. On the far shore a clump of waterside willows, and beyond them a glimpse of three tall poplars, in the shadow of woodland the boathouse of the title; on the near shore, green and marshy, three ash trees, untrained waterside shrub, and reed mace. In Arlesford Footbridge (cat.9) our eye is swept along with the moving water, its rushes and surface ruffles, its rapid transition from inky blue in shade to the silver gleam and glitter of caught light; at the right, the simple slatted footbridge with its single handrail sags and rises on its way over water to the autumn trees on the far bank.

But note with what economy and simplicity of both gesture and mark these descriptions are created – and yet my responses to them so certain, so utterly convinced of what I have seen! In each case I find myself looking at particular identifiable objects, some near, some far, into a particular atmospheric space, with a particular weather in the air , shifting and still, static or tremulous at a passing breeze. And I am contemplating , at the same time, and fully aware of it, brushed masses of mixed shades of pale blue paint, an irregular sign for a summer sky that does not even extend to the edge of the image, where a dull white coating itself stops short of the edge of the primed canvas; the trees and shrubs are summary , almost perfunctory strokes and scribbles of khaki greens. Or I register , on the other hand, without visual ambiguity, a shapeless mass of sienna red, and the dark blues, vivid purples variously thinned to washes and strokes for sky and bridge slats. In Patrick Heron’s phrase, we observe these objects in Hitchens’s paintings – bridge, boathouse, trees on the banks and waters of lake or river – ‘existing as paint’. Those objects and phenomena are pleasurably perceived as certainly existing in the reality of the phenomenal world, caught as it might be in a glance, perhaps after long contemplation, and, also, simultaneously in the material actuality the factuality, of paint. This latter aspect of that complex and shifting duality brings its own sensational pleasures. The eye is thrilled by the quick vivacity of the summary stroke or dab that deposits its brush load of pure colour or mixed tones with such satisfying certainty, as in the luminous floral crimson and purple in Summer Flowers in a Vase (cat.16), the radiant interior scarlet and gold and the vivid rushes of external blue light and garden shade in Flowers and a Garden Chair (cat.12), and the sonorous aqueous browns and greens in A Boat on Summer Water (cat.11).