Updated: Jul 8, 2021
Djanogly Gallery, Lakeside Arts, University of Nottingham
I had the pleasure of experiencing a retrospective exhibition tour of Ivon Hitchens (1893-1979) led by writer Peter Khoroche who got to know the artist personally during the last ten years of his life in Sussex. The exhibition considered a full scope of the artist's career spanning a remarkable six decades. The gallery was divided into four areas from Beginnings 1920s to his final years 1960s - 1970s enabling a wonderful sweeping walk through nature's landscapes and personal scenarios from daily life. It was visually and emotionally uplifting to watch his colour palette change over the years and heighten in the last decade of his life into almost abstract expressionism. Peter Khoroche began his tour explaining about Hitchens' early life and start of his career. I took notes of his talk so this is the result of them. His father, Alfred Hitchens, was a Royal Academy member who made his main income as a portrait painter. After leaving St John's Wood Art School, Ivon entered the Royal Academy Painting School in 1911, and in 1919 he set up his artist's studio in Hampstead, London. 1920 saw his first mixed exhibition and in 1925 his first solo exhibition. It was the start of a "twenty-year struggle, with sallies to Shropshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Sussex".
Peter urged us to see "the beauty of his brush works, his sheer bravura". For sixty years he was passionate about his art. Ivon always carefully thought out the type of canvas he would use. Peter remembered seeing about 100 brushes carefully stored from decorator brushes to the finest brushes in the studio.
Ivon was finding his way, through the Arts & Crafts world, and had a strong spirited side, always sensitive and sensitized. He focused on landscapes, rarely touching hills, mountains - trees and woodlands were his comfort zone.
In 1935 he married Mary 'Mollie' Coates. In 1940 their Swiss Cottage home was bombed and they moved to live near Petworth, West Sussex north of the Downs. Here they stayed until 1979, starting out in a real gypsy caravan with no electricity so it was tough going. As the years went on, they added a studio and built on a flat- roofed bungalow called "Greenleaves". This area became very important to him. He never owned a car so painted in his woodland garden or near his house. It was the experience of place that meant so much to him. They scraped a living but prevailing all, he had an iron will and sense of humour, and could be very serious but charming. Above everything, he wished to give pleasure, and he knew his own worth.
Ivon had very good patrons to help him. Howard Bliss, son of Arthur Bliss, was one of them who collected Ivon's paintings from 1944, and he loaned many of them to exhibitions around the world.
He made friends with Ben Nicholson and his wife Winifred, and Henry Moore, and in 1925 he stayed with them in Cumberland. Inspiration came to him on discovering Cezanne and Roger Fry's "Vision" and Clive Bell's "Art". Colour and colour composition were his focus and, thanks to Winifred, a lighter palette and paring down.
In 1936 and during the wartime he turned to wide format canvases. He met Mr and Mrs Cecil Harris in 1929, who were to become Hitchens' first major patrons for the following ten years. Hitchens was very interested in the composition, becoming more and more intrinsically pleasing using vertical and horizontal brush movements. Every scene was well plotted, and he had to paint in front of the subject or motif. It was the tension between Nature versus chaos and then bringing order into chaos.
He was a master colourist with space and hence the title of this exhibition. One can see he was much influenced by Cezanne, Matisse and Braque, and in some parts I think by Dufy. We enter the 1950 to 1960s area where we see water pools with white priming providing the sunlight. 'Colour is descriptive.' The 'River Pool' 1955 is very powerful and we discover Ivon's work is getting more abstract.
In the 1970s, we see, from the below images, brighter and broader sweeps becoming more and more abstract. I am not a professional artist but I do know how to look at paintings and to 'read' them. In the 1970s I lived and worked for most part in London, Islington being my home territory. For me, the colours and musical vibrancy of this time among the architects, designers and media houses I worked for, brought the final stages of Hitchens' artworks of the exhibition really close to me. They sang the same tune; I wore the same colours so this area really 'hit' home with the swathes of pinks, purples, blues, turquoises, reds, maroons, mustard and eggy yellows. This exhibition was my first introduction to Ivon Hitchens and I left elated at the discovery of such a master of colour and space who brought Nature up close and personal.
Thank you Peter Khoroche for telling us the story and journey of Ivon Hitchens as you knew and understo