Having travelled with his friend and contemporary William Scott through a period of minimal abstraction, reduced to a limited palette and a mostly linear compositional framework, Hilton began to rebuild his imagery in 1955 and 1956, assimilating colours and forms which led critics to start to compare him to the American abstract expressionist painters whose work had recently been shown in London. As with much of his painting, the work of this period step forward little by little along the tightrope between success and failure that few of his contemporaries could match.
Schooled in the formal abstraction of post-war Paris, Hilton’s work employs a level of bravura which, when at its best, is truly stunning. Simplified forms which carry with them no implicit figurative references dive back and forth across the canvas, using only a gift for placement and paint manipulation to achieve their effect. Often incorporating a free charcoal under-drawing into the finished images and using the simplest of palettes, his paintings become images representative primarily of an emotional expression.
Hilton carried on long correspondences with many of his artist friends and at the time September 1956 was painted, he was in constant contact with Terry Frost, then based in Leeds as Gregory Fellow of Painting. His letters express concern as to the direction his work could take, recognizing the way in which his abstraction could embody a figurative element without being compromised and yet without consciously aiming to do so. By creating a surface that is full of tensions and by using colour planes that advance and recede through the picture space, September 1956 is a work which highlights the best of Hilton, the contrast between the intention and the execution.