Why artist Pete Hoida remains a favourite of ‘abstractophiles’

Peter Hoida's Doctor Viper. Picture: Alasdair Ogilvie/Damnable Iron Productions

Peter Hoida's Doctor Viper. Picture: Alasdair Ogilvie/Damnable Iron Productions - Credit: Archant

Hampstead School of Art’s new exhibition showcases Hoida’s striking large scale abstract paintings that express an intensely personal lyrical style, says Alison Oldham.

In the catalogue for his exhibition Doctor Viper at the Hampstead School of Art Gallery Pete Hoida describes an experience that is all too familiar to artists. In 1973, when he was studying at Hammersmith College of Art and Building, he experimented with painting in a spray-booth which was in painter/decorator territory. He submitted the resulting geometric, intensely coloured, hard-edged abstracts for the New Young Contemporaries exhibition at Camden Arts Centre in 1973.

“I was accepted, my canvas was hung, there was a private view. We were living at Gospel Oak, at that time an area of demolished and semi-derelict properties which provided us with very inexpensive accommodation; we strolled to the exhibition opening. I was, with the arrogance of youth, completely unimpressed and unfazed by my acceptance. It was only my due. I was after all set on a course to be a successful artist. Little did I know.”

This easy success was followed by years of relative institutional neglect but Hoida is respected for his commitment to abstraction. His anecdote concludes: “Some forty years on, I am showing in Hampstead again, land of small palaces, where the first hints of professionalism stirred, where I nonchalantly exhibited.”

Fortunately the Hampstead School of Art has at least two “abstractophiles”. Isabel H. Langtry, the principal, describes the paintings as “intensely personal, beautiful, striking and desirable” and art critic Estelle Lovatt, who runs courses at the school, wrote a catalogue essay that eloquently conveys her exhilaration when confronting a Hoida painting.

“Nose to canvas surface, I can clearly see and scrutinise thick, lip-smacking, heavy textures of impasto paint application as Hoida takes ownership of a Velazquez-like brush mark,” she writes. “Engaging scribbles, streaks and slashes of mesmerising colour explode, wave and drag at pigment, often brushed over, sometimes patted on, occasionally squirted directly from the tube, meeting in-between perky ornamentation and minimalist figuration.”

She identifies a particular shape as his signature form, a personal letter font that hogs the limelight as it travels around his canvases. It is “a sort of eclipsed-egg shape, a superellipsed squeezed ‘squircle’” which she names the Hoida-Old. This shape becomes the star of the show in many canvases, including the title work, Doctor Viper, painted earlier this year.

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Born in Birkenhead, Hoida studied architecture before attending art schools including Goldsmiths. He moved to Stroud in 1974 and has had regular solo shows in Gloucestershire and London and participated in many group exhibitions, including A Northern School at the Boundary Gallery in St John’s Wood in 1990.

Lovatt describes his work as a lyrical European form of Abstract Expressionism and his shimmering colours inspire her to lyricism too: “Hoida’s colours are aglow, from soft butter-yellow to Whistler-slate grey-black, through jungle leaf green to Leighton’s flaming orange, crushed raspberry to Turner’s earth sienna.” She ends with a plea that viewers of these impressively large-scale paintings do not ask themselves what it is supposed to be or what they are meant to feel but recognise that abstract art is a way of seeing, in itself.