John Hitchens

John Hitchens was born in 1940 and grew up in Grafham, 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 was the modern British artist, Ivon Hitchens (1893-1979). We are fortunate to have a collection of John's work which have come direct from his studio spanning the period from the 1960s to the 1980s. In these decades John was painting directly from nature, taking his inspiration primarily from the South Downs and the landscape around Grafham as well as the Scottish Highlands on annual visits there.

John’s major retrospective exhibition ‘Aspects of Landscape’ was held at Southampton City Art Gallery, in 2020. The first overview 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 and the ‘cloudscapes’ of the 1960s, through 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, influenced by aerial view points and a sense of mapping the land.

The sky, open space and changing weather fronts become principal motifs for John. After 1975 his work departed from an emphasis on the sky, 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, 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.

John held his his first exhibitions in the 1960s, his first solo show was at Marjorie Parr Gallery, King’s Road in 1964 and exhibited there for over a decade, as well as the Ditching Gallery (1967-71), David Paul Gallery, Chichester (1967-82), and Gilbert Parr Gallery, Chelsea (1977-79). 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. in 2020.