Photography By Colette Smith
‘A Fresh Batch’ an exhibition by James Hutchinson.
Foreword By Michela Parkin, formerly Curator of Contemporary Art at Tate, London.
“It's on the strength of observation and reflection that one finds a way. So we must dig and delve unceasingly.” Claude Monet
All art seeks in some way to make sense of the world around us. This ‘fresh batch’ of work by Hutch carries on in a long line of artists who have worked directly from nature in order to bring a feeling of immediacy and personal experience to their art while attempting to achieve a greater understanding of their surroundings. In a world saturated by digital images, where the instantaneous snapshot has such currency, painting and drawing are in themselves acts of love and commitment. For Hutch they are also acts of necessity, a way of taking stock; driven by a deep-rooted need to draw and paint, his work is imbued with the expansiveness of the Suffolk landscape combined with more personal details of his everyday life. While paying homage to the greats of outdoor landscape painting – most notably Claude Monet, whose expansive landscapes, love of colour and refined application of paint remain a source of inspiration – Hutch’s art retains a fresh modernity that makes it unmistakeably of this day and age. This project is a coming-to-terms-with not just the technical aspects of how to paint and what to paint in the twenty-first century, but also with what it means to be a painter, family man and devoted father. Indeed the two are inextricably linked within Hutch’s work which, since the birth of his son Myles, has become increasingly concerned with notions of abundance and fruitfulness but also of patience and nurture.
These concerns are vividly expressed in the oil paintings produced during a residency at Helmingham Hall – made in the surroundings of the Hall’s greenhouses and flower gardens – not just in their richly figurative subject matter, but also in the linear, near-abstract application of the paint. Mixing figuration and abstraction, with a nod to both Monet in his garden at Giverny and Mark Rothko’s purely abstract fields of colour, these paintings painstakingly blend colour with line and a feel for abstract rhythm and pattern which lifts them beyond their immediate subject matter. Paint is applied in regular, repeated brushstrokes or in sinuous, organic lines reminiscent of Van Gogh’s late paintings. This riot of colour and natural form is contained within the canvas by a simple hand-painted line which acts as a framing device and whose casually overlapping corners recall the strips of masking tape used by artists and photographers to pin up work in progress in their studios.
On a more modest scale, Hutch’s drawings in watercolour and ink show the artist in his daily routine of walking by the River Deben in Woodbridge, sketching all the while. Balancing spontaneity with considered precision – as evidenced by the sometimes long series of numbers with which they are annotated to indicate the dates of their production – they capture not just changing moments in the landscape and the weather but also moments in the artist’s own life, seized with both hands and enjoyed to the full. Essentially figurative in their subject matter, these watercolours nevertheless retain a degree of abstraction in their detail and in the controlled way in which the colour is applied. As with the oil paintings, in these watercolours line, colour, pattern and even text – in the frequent plays on words which the titles introduce – intuitively complement each other. The drawn line is both urgent and delicate, nervous yet pensive, while the washes of colour and abstract repeated patterns are both subtle and expressive. Anyone who has walked the Suffolk estuaries and experienced the continually changing skies, colours and light will share the sense of what it is to inhabit this landscape, both physically and in the imagination.