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Aspects of Landscape is the first exhibition to give a comprehensive overview of John Hitchens’ work created over a period of almost six decades, which traces his journey from early descriptive paintings to increasingly abstract ways of interpreting landscape. The exhibition opens with his most recent paintings and sculpture, and works back through the decades, ending with his earliest paintings.
Artists featured in this Curation: John Hitchens (b.1940)
1 artwork

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September Hills
© John Hitchens. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2020. Photo credit: Loughborough University

Introduction

John Hitchens was born in Sussex in 1940. He has spent most of his life there and his studio is based near Petworth. The landscape of the South Downs has remained a major influence on his work, which has encompassed not only painting, but also found-object installations, sculpture and photography.

During the past decades his paintings have evolved from early, descriptive depictions of landscape and the use of distinctive brushwork. A period of photographing the South Downs from the air has led to increasingly abstract work, reducing forms in the landscape to lines, dots, circles and patterns.

September Hills 1959
John Hitchens (b.1940)
Loughborough University

Departure: Recent Paintings, 2000 onwards

These large-scale works painted in the past two decades have not been shown in public before.
They explore new ways of seeing and depicting aspects of landscape and represent a departure from the artist’s earlier paintings of landscapes with wide horizons and large skies, covering the period up to the late 1980s.

A time of working with aerial photography, flying low over the fields of the South Downs, had given Hitchens a different awareness of the landscape. The subject matter of these recent paintings is still landscape-related but freer in its interpretation, with objects inhabiting their own environment and space. The viewer’s relationship with these large canvases changes with proximity, as smaller areas of detail capture the landscape on a more intimate scale. Dots and lines reflect rows of stubble, fence lines in the ground, steams and paths on the hills. Dark areas hark back to the custom of stubble burning, which remained common into the 1990s.

2016

G1_J_Hitchens_2016_From_Sombre_Lands_orchestral_jpg
© John Hitchens, Photo credit: courtesy of John Hitchens

From Sombre Lands

oil on canvas, 163 x 380 cm


oil on canvas, 163 x 380 cm

2005

G1_J_Hitchens_2005_Emerging_JPG
© John Hitchens, Photo credit: courtesy of John Hitchens

Emerging

oil on canvas, 235 x 416 cm


oil on canvas, 235 x 416 cm

2004

G1_J_Hitchens_2004_Contour_Sequence_JPG
© John Hitchens, Photo credit: courtesy of John Hitchens

Contour Sequence

oil on canvas, 117 x 275 cm


oil on canvas, 117 x 275 cm

2002

G1_J_Hitchens_2002_Layered_Land_JPG
© John Hitchens, Photo credit: courtesy of John Hitchens

Layered Land

oil on canvas, 232 x 328 cm


oil on canvas, 117 x 275 cm

2000

G1_J_Hitchens_2000_Field_Boundaries_JPG
© John Hitchens, Photo credit: courtesy of John Hitchens

Field Boundaries

oil on canvas, 163 x 380 cm


oil on canvas, 163 x 380 cm

‘Land Quest’ and Related Works: 1990s / 2000s

The decade after 1990 saw fundamental changes in Hitchens’ work and in his approach to the subject of landscape.
He dispensed with many features of his earlier work and turned his attention to exploring landscape through its essential elements, such as stones, sand or wood. Structures were reduced to the basic forms of line and circle. The device of outlining an area repeatedly with parallel lines draws both on contour lines and tree growth rings and the more transient patterns created by the plough.

An innovation of this time saw Hitchens depart from the use of conventional square-cornered canvases. These paintings reveal the influence of other, three-dimensional art forms, such as land art and sculpture. The selection of works in this gallery includes examples of distinctive, irregularly shaped and layered canvases.

2017

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© John Hitchens, Photo credit: courtesy of John Hitchens

Land Quest

oil on canvas, 127 x 127 cm


oil on canvas, 127 x 127 cm

2017

G2_J_Hitchens_2017_Wind_over_Fields_JPG
© John Hitchens, Photo credit: courtesy of John Hitchens

Wind over Fields

acrylic on canvas, 77 x 203 cm


acrylic on canvas, 77 x 203 cm

2009

G2_J_Hitchens_2009_Field_Interweave_JPG
© John Hitchens, Photo credit: courtesy of John Hitchens

Field Interweave

acrylic on canvas, 113 x 206 cm


acrylic on canvas, 113 x 206 cm

2009

G2_J_Hitchens_2009_Harvest_Land_Forms_JPG
© John Hitchens, Photo credit: courtesy of John Hitchens

Harvest Land Forms

oil on canvas, 184 x 138 cm


oil on canvas, 184 x 138 cm

Far Wood and other Landscapes: 1970s / 1980s

The main focus of this section is the Far Wood series of paintings, which form a large part of John Hitchens’ work from this period.

Far Wood, with its dense vegetation, lies near the artist’s Sussex studio. Locations further afield gave rise to a contrasting group of paintings in the course of the 1970s. Painted at Selsey and Scotland, they show Hitchens interpreting other landscapes in the British Isles, such as the wide, sandy beaches of North Uist.

The Far Wood landscapes of the 1980s are characteristic of Hitchens’ approach at this time. He was beginning to dispense with skylines and cloud formations, and his paintings were becoming freer in their construction and brushwork. A number of smaller paintings featuring the Wealden view from Duncton Hill, and scenes in Wales date to the same period. Towards the end of this period, the Great Storm of 1987 hastened these developments by introducing new and unfamiliar forms to Hitchens’ subject matter.

1986

G3_J_Hitchens_1986_Farwood_Foliage_JPG
© John Hitchens, Photo credit: courtesy of John Hitchens

Farwood Foliage

oil on canvas, 41.5 x 143 cm


oil on canvas, 41.5 x 143 cm

1983

G3_J_Hitchens_1983_A_Year_s_Turning_JPG
© John Hitchens, Photo credit: courtesy of John Hitchens

A Year's Turning

oil on canvas, 50.5 x 152.5 cm


oil on canvas, 50.5 x 152.5 cm

1981

G3_J_Hitchens_1981_November_Bracken_JPG
© John Hitchens, Photo credit: courtesy of John Hitchens

November Bracken

oil on canvas, 40.5 x 109 cm


oil on canvas, 40.5 x 109 cm

1981

G3_J_Hitchens_1981_Summer_s_Deep_Wood_JPG
© John Hitchens, Photo credit: courtesy of John Hitchens

Farwood Summer Deepness

oil on canvas, 50.5 x 183 cm


oil on canvas, 50.5 x 183 cm

1970

G3_J_Hitchens_1970_Church_Norton_March_Sunset_JPG
© John Hitchens, Photo credit: courtesy of John Hitchens

Church Norton, March Sunset

oil on canvas, 43 x 151.5 cm


oil on canvas, 43 x 151.5 cm

South Downs, Blue Hill: Early Paintings, 1960s / 1970s

One of the earliest works in the exhibition is South Downs Blue Hill. Painted in 1964, it shows a view of the South Downs landscape close to his Sussex studio – an environment which has been a defining influence throughout his artistic life.

This final section shows several examples of Hitchens’ early landscapes, featuring open spaces, hills, the sea, and cloud formations.

Flowers were another theme of this period. The resulting group of paintings includes examples of abstraction, reducing flowers to spaces of colour. The subject was pursued into the 1980s, with later works becoming more naturalistic.

1968

G4_J_Hitchens_1968_Summer_Fields_JPG
© John Hitchens, Photo credit: courtesy of John Hitchens

Summer Fields

oil on canvas, 45.5 x 91.5 cm


oil on canvas, 45.5 x 91.5 cm

1968

G4_J_Hitchens_1968_Downlands_Clouds_JPG
© John Hitchens, Photo credit: courtesy of John Hitchens

Downland Clouds

oil on canvas, 40.5 x 91.5 cm


oil on canvas, 40.5 x 91.5 cm

1967

G4_J_Hitchens_1967_Poppy_Arrangement_JPG
© John Hitchens, Photo credit: courtesy of John Hitchens

Poppy Arrangement

oil on canvas, 63 x 76 cm


oil on canvas, 63 x 76 cm

1964

G4_J_Hitchens_1964_South_Downs_Blue_Hill_JPG
© John Hitchens, Photo credit: courtesy of John Hitchens

South Downs, Blue Hill

oil on canvas, 40.5 x 91.5 cm


oil on canvas, 40.5 x 91.5 cm