Announcement of major retrospective at Southampton City Art Gallery

13 Dec 2019

John Hitchens:  Aspects of Landscape

Opening at the City Art Gallery in Spring 2020, Aspects of Landscape will present the first comprehensive retrospective of paintings by John Hitchens, created over a period of more than six decades. The exhibition will include work that has never been shown in public before. It is timed to coincide with the artist’s 80th birthday in 2020 and the publication of a comprehensive monograph of his lifetime’s work.

John Hitchens’ main subject and source of inspiration is the landscape of the British Isles, its hills and field patterns, woodland, sea, the night sky and forms in nature.

He achieved early acclaim in the 1960s and 70s when his work was represented by Marjorie Parr and Montpelier Studios, both in London. A series of successful exhibitions led to acquisitions of his work by many public and private collections in the UK and overseas.

Since the 1990s John Hitchens’ work became increasingly studio based and abstract, but still influenced by the landscape of the South Downs and the woodlands that surround his studio and that he has known since childhood.

The exhibition will trace the artists’ journey from early descriptive paintings to increasingly abstract ways of interpreting landscape, reducing its forms to lines, circles and patterns. In his recent paintings John Hitchens has developed his own visual language which sets it apart from conventional abstract painting. This development was greatly influenced by a period spent photographing landscape elements from the air, which enabled Hitchens to gain an awareness of the land as a two-dimensional composition. Much of this new body of work has never been exhibited and remains little known.

Other elements, such as the strong earth colours, have come from observing bands of natural dye colours, in hand woven rugs, which ‘parallel the browns and ochres of field lines, linking back to the land itself. The sources remain, but the paintings themselves are the reason for the journey’.

John Hitchens is one of four generations of artists in his family, both his grandfather Alfred Hitchens and his father Ivon Hitchens were also painters of landscapes. A number of Ivon Hitchens’ paintings are held in the Gallery’s collection.

Dan Matthews, Collections & Exhibitions Manager said:

‘We are honoured to be the first Gallery to hold a major retrospective of John Hitchens’ work, whose approach to landscape painting is unique, with bold, abstract patterning and an earthy texture. It is fascinating to see how his work has evolved over the decades and to be able to bring so many paintings together, with some displayed for the first time, is incredibly exciting’.

John Hitchens said:

‘The exhibition has enabled me to present six decades of creativity. From the earlier years of painting out of doors directly from the landscape, through years of exploration to recent studio-based paintings. Landscape is the original source of my paintings. This is translated through motifs that represent Field and Furrow, Harvest and Plough, River and Track way, Fence and Form’. 

Councillor Satvir Kaur, Cabinet Member for Homes & Culture at Southampton City Council, said:

‘We’re delighted to announce another amazing exhibition coming to Southampton City Art Gallery next year from an artist with strong connections to the landscape of the South Downs. We hope everyone can make it to the gallery and enjoy this incredible work’.

John Hitchens in his Sussex studio, July 2015.

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