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) established his studio in the family home.
John’s major retrospective exhibition ‘Aspects of Landscape’ has recently closed at Southampton City Art Gallery. The first over view of his work, the exhibition spanned 60 years of John’s creative practice. Spread over four galleries and the main hall it showed the development of his work from his lyrical early downland landscapes the ‘cloudscapes’ of the 1960s though his more abstract landscapes of the South Downs where he eliminates the sky and the horizon to his recent monumental abstract works. The later works explored new ways of seeing and depicting the landscape, with objects inhabiting their own environment and space. This later work is influenced by aerial view points and a sense of mapping the land.
We are extremely lucky to be exhibiting the early paintings from the Southampton show in the gallery influenced by the Sussex landscape of the South Downs close to John’s home. In the 1970s and 80s John 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, analysing the shapes and patterns of trees, clearings, light and shade.
Many of these works were painted in the woods around Greenleaves where his father had his studio and where John now works. The Far Wood at Greenleaves, Tegleaze Wood up on the South Downs, and 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, Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne and the Chase Manhattan Bank in New York. A 300 page coffee table monograph John Hitchens Aspects of Landscape was published by Sansom and Co this year.