Ivon Hitchens: Four

It is in the nature of a Hitchens’s painting that we catch its music at a moment of poise, of natural and painterly kinesis alike held in tension. Always implicit in such a momentary stasis (I think of Hitchens’s analogy with conjuring: the held moment of revelation and surprise) are the dynamics by which it is maintained: we sense the oppositional tension of the potential energies whose dynamic mechanics will in an instant dissolve this perfectly held balance of natural forces. A sudden gust will ruffle the surface of still water and tremble the leaves of the trees, bend the grasses; a pebble cast into a pond will create a succession of outward-moving ripples; a shadow will fall across the bright -lit field. (I recollect Gainsborough ’s quivering foliage, Turner’s early morning meadow mist, Constable’s clouds: all miraculously momentarily paused, held in a moment’s perception.)

It is essentially an art of reverie or meditation, in which (as in ancient Chinese and Japanese painting) a perfected technique, made natural and automatic by repetition and routines of preparation, and by a sustained attention to the flickering actual, a moment of reality is caught in a rapt stillness, what Gaston Bachelard calls ‘a lucid tranquility’. In a series of quick gestures, arrived at with the certainty of a Zen master in a dramatic configuration of horizontals, verticals and diagonals – pure paint applied with no disguise – we are presented with a visual reverberation, the complex sounding of a natural moment, the sonorous visual equivalent of a single sustained chord: a moment of illumination. I think again of Bachelard: ‘ The lake, the pond, the still water very naturally awaken our cosmic imagination through the beauty of a reflected world.’

I referred above to the ‘exactitudes’ of Hitchens’s art, and implied the descriptive ‘distinctiveness’ of its motifs. And yet we may well feel that his paintings represent their world in brilliant but vague adumbrations, quick summaries of diverse simultaneous effects, visual sensations that have the ‘indefiniteness’ that so bewitched the great Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi, and which were characterised in his precise observations of that quality in nature. They bring irresistibly to mind Hitchens’s own visions of landscapes and interiors, and remind us of that ’creative incertitude’ that connects Hitchens to Cézanne:

‘... the light of the sun or the moon, seen from a place from which they are invisible and one cannot discern the source of the light...’ [Indeed, there is no sun or moon ever visible in Hitchens’s paintings.] ‘... the penetration of such light into places where it becomes uncertain and obstructed, and is not easily made out, as through a cane brake, in a wood, through half-closed shutters... the same light in a place, object etc. where it does not enter and strike directly reflected and diffused by some , other place or object where it does strike; in a passageway seen from inside or outside, and similarly in a loggia ’ [or in a conservatory] ‘... places where the light mingles with shadows...[as] among rocks and gullies, in a valley, on hills seen from the shady side so that their crests are gilded ... all those objects , in a word, that by means of various materials and minimal circumstances come to our sight, hearing etc. in a way that is uncertain, indistinct, imperfect, incomplete, or out of the ordinary .’