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.
These paintings dating from the 1960s to the 1980s, provide a fascinating relationship to the current exhibition, Ivon Hitchens: Space Through Colour at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester. 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.
The exhibition also includes a group of paintings of Ivon’s Studio executed by John a year after his father’s death. John still owns the easel and the plaster cast. The paintings provide a unique insight into John’s working technique and his response to a space he would have been so familiar with. He is able to render the complex spatial relationships with complete mastery, creating a lyrical balanced interior with broad sweeping brushstrokes.
The wooded Sussex landscape nestling below the South Downs has been the major influence on John’s work throughout his life. 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.
John painted throughout the seasons reflecting the changing colours of the Sussex countryside. Continually searching and pushing the boundaries, his work has evolved into his current abstract style using a restricted range of earth pigments.