John Hitchens grew up in Graffham, West Sussex and studied at Bath Academy of Art. He was surrounded by art from his infancy. His Grandfather, Alfred, (1861-1942) was a successful academic artist and his father, the modern British artist, Ivon Hitchens (1893-1979) had his studio in the family home.
John’s major retrospective exhibition ‘Aspects of Landscape was closed as a result of lockdown but will reopen at Southampton City Art Gallery in Mid-July. The first over view of his work, the exhibition spans 60 years of John’s creative practice. Spread over four galleries and the main hall it includes recent monumental works exhibited for the first time. These explore new ways of seeing and depicting the landscape, with objects inhabiting their own environment and space. This work is influenced by aerial view points and a sense of mapping the land. The show is an extraordinary testament to one man’s creative output.
The wooded Sussex landscape nestling below the South Downs has always been the major influence on John’s work. In the 1970s and 80s he painted directly in the open air often on a large scale. After painting more conventional compositions with a traditional horizon line he gradually realised that the sky, for so long the starting point for the mood of a painting, had in fact become a limitation. He was searching for the compositional freedom to express the formation of the land with a vigorous, gestural means of expression. These paintings saw him flattening the perspective to eliminate the sky and horizon and entering deep into the woodland, analyzing the shapes and patterns of trees, clearings, light and shade.
Many were painted in the woods around Greenleaves where Ivon had his studio and where John now works. The Far Wood at Greenleaves, Tegleaze Wood up on the South Downs, the view from Duncton Hill are all places John returned to over and over again. Often he would start with a detailed painting that he would then refine and simplify in subsequent versions – painting in series extrapolating and refining the composition.
John painted throughout the seasons reflecting the changing colours of the Sussex countryside. Continually searching and pushing the boundaries, his work has evolved through many different permutations into his current abstract style using a restricted range of earth pigments.
Throughout the 1970s and ’80s John exhibited with the Marjorie Parr Gallery and Montpellier Studio his work is held in public collections across the UK including, Bradford Museums and Galleries, the University of Chichester, Brighton Museum and Gallery and the Turner Gallery, Eastbourne. A 300 page coffee table monograph John Hitchens ‘Aspects of Landscape has been published by Sansom and Co this year.