The Ivon Influence

“Who?” was often the response when I told friends about how excited I was about the plethora of art exhibitions devoted to the British painter Ivon Hitchens.  Now I can forgive those people who have no real interest in art beyond something colourful for the lounge wall for not knowing about Ivon, but those friends who are interested in art, many of whom also have degrees in Fine Art, not knowing who he was, is frankly disappointing.

I first came across Ivon and his work almost two decades ago when he had been dead for around 30 years.  It was one of Hitchens’ earlier works, ‘Curved Barn’ which drew my attention.  Painted in 1922, it shows a barn at Bex Mill near to Heyshott in West Sussex as a symphony of dynamic flowing lines and muted colour a kind of ‘abstract realism’ reminiscent of work by the Futurists, and Hitchens himself recalls being influenced by the French painter Andre Lhote. This painting can be seen at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, West Sussex, 

Red Roof Barn under Curved Tree after Ivon Hitchens
(by Gillian Collins, linocut)

Summer 2019 has definitely been the Summer of Ivon Hitchens with a small, but fascinating showing of some of this floral inspired works at The Garden Museum followed by a major retrospective of his work at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, as well as THREE other West Sussex based commercial galleries held exhibitions devoted to Hitchens and those influenced by him.  NOTE: If you find abstract art is difficult to understand, here is an excellent (and brief) blog post from Pallant House Gallery to help demystify it https://pallant.org.uk/perspectives-how-to-understand-abstract-art-with-the-help-of-ivon-hitchens/?fbclid=IwAR09HvEq_Cy0LBfXxxVW12pHvdq2V-1X2-tOIVCEPhO-CpvTdLuMlWnaHoE

Probably the best show I have seen this year, this small exhibition showed 20 paintings by Hitchens in an intimate space set within the old church that houses the Garden Museum at Lambeth Palace.  On the day I visited there were only 2 other visitors in the gallery room and it was possible to get very close to each work and see the individual brushstrokes.  It was a magical and I felt, a quite moving experience being in the presence of these wonderful images painted so many years ago, but which still retain their vibrancy and vitality.

Of the independent gallery exhibitions the first I saw was at Petworth based gallery Kevis House, a small and pretty building located close to the historic market square along a cobbled lane.  This fascinating show featured four generations of the Hitchens family, his father Alfred, Ivon himself and then work by his son John and grandson Simon.  Walking round the gallery the work flowing between artists, it was clear that each artist from the Hitchens family,while having some vestige of influence from their respective fathers, had developed a personal style which was fresh and contemporary to the period in which they worked.  Alongside the Hitchens family work hung a selection of work by other contemporary artists who had been influenced by Hitchens including Emma Jamison, Tuema Pattie and the late Peter Iden

A short drive from Petworth is the stunning and tranquil rural location of Moncrieff-Bray Gallery who were also having a ‘Hitchens moment’.  This time the main focus was on John Hitchens, Ivon’s son.  It drew together a selection of work made between the 1960’s and the 1980’s through which it was possible to see a clear development of his landscape style from something akin to that of his father, to a much more economical, yet compelling style as seen in the 1977 painting “Earth, Air and Rain, Duncton Hill”.   Again, a selection of artists influenced by the Hitchens family were hung alongside work by John Hitchens, including Lucy Powell, Jemma Powell and Sarah Warley-Cummings.

The trio is completed by the Candida Stevens Gallery in Chichester.  This very ‘trendy’ looking white cube space was showing work by Ivon Hitchens and John Hitchens, with a couple of works by other notable 20th century artists Patrick Heron, Howard Hodgkin and Winifred Nicholson were also represented together with contemporary painter Lindy Guinness.  

Having seen the ‘satellite’ exhibitions, I have yet to see the Main Event at Pallant House Gallery.  I will be doing this over the next few weeks and will share my thoughts here.

Sadly, all of the work by Hitchens and the other artists I saw today is heavily copyrighted so I have no images to post here.  Because I like to see images with posts such as this, I have created two small paintings influenced by Ivon Hitchens, I hope you like them.  They are for sale if anyone is interested, contact me at gilliancollinsartist@gmail.com for details

Red poppies after Ivon
(by Gillian Collins, acrylic on paper)
Garden Border after Ivon
(by Gillian Collins, acrylic on paper)

Navigating the past

Tucked away behind the cricket ground in Guildford are the Wey Navigations.  Opened in 1653, the site was dominated by two boat building families the Stevens and the Edwards but is now owned by the National Trust. This compact property offers an interesting snapshot of a what traditional barge building yard was like. It has been over a decade since I last visited and much has changed including the  addition of the Wey barge Reliance, built at Dapdune between 1931-2 and which sank in the Thames after striking a bridge.  It was acquired by the NT it is now moored at the Wharf for visitors to board and sample cramped, dark conditions that made up everyday life for watermen. Various outbuildings and old stores provide an array of information panels and interactive exhibitions including model navigation system and the block and tackle weight lifting exhibit, where three 56lbs weights are attached to different lifting methods to demonstrate how difficult and easy it can be to lift the same weight.  The complex is very child friendly and would make an excellent schools visit, with plenty of activities available for families.

Relaince, built at Dapdune Wharf 1931-2

The day I visited was the final day of an exhibition by 4 graduate students at UCA Farnham, titled ‘Tumblehome’ it is the result of how these four artists reacted to the surroundings, history and traditions of the wharf.  I found out about this exhibition by accident, and being a huge fan of site specific artwork, was curious to see their ideas.  There was disappointment from the start as there was no information available at the entry kiosk, now it may be because it was the last day of a month long exhibition, but the reception staff didn’t make any mention of it when they spoke about what there was to see on site.

There’s an exhibition here….somewhere

A couple of inconspicuous ‘A’ frame poster boards  signalled where artworks were sited, but I almost missed the largest exhibition area completely as it was so inconspicuous!  A quick check on the NT website revealed a short section about the project and the inevitable self-important verbose statements by each artist.  Of all the work on show, the digitally printed papers and fabric of Noelle Genevier, I felt were the most engaged and relevant pieces on display.  I have to confess that the large piece of canvas and rope suspended from a makeshift wood frame did little to provoke any questions, while the slideshow running in the background opposite was pretty standard stuff, modern photographs interspersed with archive images presumably drawing comparisons to how the use of the wharf has changed from industry to pleasure.  The quirkiest piece was the installation of cottage shaped teapots on show in the Smithy and the giant papier mache teapot in the main exhibition area and which apparently draws attention to our relationship with tea and comfort, a comment I am assuming, on the changing nature in use of the site from industrial workplace to leisure attraction.

Digitally printed fabric in the old stable
teapots in the old smithy
Giant papier mache teapot

Unfortunately most of the labelling of the artworks had disappeared and in the absence of any other information I think that most visitors would have found it all very hard to engage with.  This is hugely disappointing and a massive missed opportunity.  Art is a fantastic way to draw attention to an historical collection or site and to engage a more diverse audience than may usually be expected.   Overall I suspect that the students were not given enough time to work on this project alongside their degree show work which is a shame, although I feel that some of the work missed the mark in terms of thinking and display.  Still, there is always next time.

Live your own life

“Live your own life” – no idea who said that first!

Thank you for taking the time to read this first post of my new blog. My name is Gillian and I am an artist, curator and social history nerd. The above quote, and I assume it is a real quote although I have no idea who may have said it first, sums up what this blog is all about living my own life. The modern world puts us under so much pressure to fill our lives with ‘stuff’, buckets lists of places to go, things to do, food to eat and so on. It has even become a ‘thing’ to have a huge map of the world in your home with flag pins stuck in to show off to your friends how many place you have visited, as if this makes you a better or more superior person in some way.

I am an advocate of the global Slow movement, I think we all need to slow down and put more thought into what we do, and to care more about how our actions affect other people and the world around us. This blog will be a sort of shared ‘personal’ journal of my thoughts and ideas on a variety of mainly art and heritage related subjects and places and from which together we might stumble across something awesome that we didn’t about know before.

The image at the start of this post is the Atlas fountain in the grounds of Castle Howard in North Yorkshire. It was commissioned by the 7th Earl in 1850 from the landscape gardener William Andrews Nesfield. The gods surrounding the central figure of Atlas were carved by the sculptor John Thomas of London and were transported to Castle Howard by railway, something that not so many years earlier would have been impossible.