Roger Hilton 1911 - 1975


The Artist

Private Collection, Spain


From the spring of 1960, Roger Hilton began to reintroduce figurative elements into his paintings. This new imagery, more suggestive of the human body than explicitly recognisable, was also accompanied by a change in technique. Hilton progressed from the flat, crisply delineated shapes he had used in the 1950s, to a range of more gestural marks and motifs, made with a looser, more fluid application of paint.

By 1962, the year of this painting, Hilton had separated from his first wife Ruth and, while still based in London, was spending more and more time in Cornwall. He had joined Waddington Gallery’s stable of artists in 1959 and, newly in receipt of a regular stipend from his art dealers, was able to focus solely on painting for the first time. These changes in both his personal and professional life prompted a renewed impetus and a marked increase in Hilton’s output.

Hilton’s sensual, improvisatory images from the first few years of the 1960s are characterized by looping, curvaceous lines and roughly described organic shapes, whose origins trace back to his drawings. Around this time, Hilton began to draw into the paintings themselves with charcoal. His drawn lines can sometimes be seen underneath the paint, and at other times are inscribed into or on top of it. The charcoal is not only used as line, Hilton would also smudge and smear it into the canvas, and he often treated the oil paint in a similar way. Hilton’s unorthodox mixing of traditionally separate media, was his own discovery and the resulting paintings have a hybrid feel, positioned somewhere between drawing and painting. The apparent spontaneity and speed of his drawn marks added a distinctive and vital quality to the paintings, which stand in contrast to the cooler, formal abstraction of the 1950s.

When one refers to Hilton’s figure drawings from this period, the figurative element of these ‘abstract’ paintings becomes more apparent. Hilton's numerous charcoal drawings show female figures kicking up their legs, sprawled in the bath, with arms flung upwards or bending over. His drawings are bawdy, erotic and perhaps even abject representations of women. The figures are rendered in an immediate and emphatic line, of a kind which one might find in children’s art, but of course here their naivety is intentional and highly controlled. In his paintings we find only fragments of the whole figure - shapes which resemble breasts or bodily crevices, spaces which might be internal or external. In this new phase, Hilton appears to have found a subject which, for him, mirrored his sensual engagement with the medium of paint itself.

In the catalogue for his solo exhibition at the Charles Lienhard Gallery, Zurich in 1961, Hilton clarified his new thinking:

‘Abstraction has been due not so much to a positive thing but to the absence of a valid image.

Abstraction in itself is nothing. It is only a step towards a new figuration, that is, one which is more true. However beautiful they may be, one can no longer depict women as Titian did… For an abstract painter there are two ways - out or on: he must give up painting and take to architecture, or he must reinvent figuration.’