Philip Hogben, b.1945

 

‘I paint anything around me that takes my interest, usually on a small scale, as directly as possible. Choosing a viewpoint and exploiting the pictorial space, sometimes lifting the ground plane towards the picture plane enhances the sense of immediacy and surprise, and facilitates interest in the handling of light, colour and surface.’

In March, 2013, as we photograph and write about Philip Hogben’s paintings, there is a sizeable exhibition of his work at The Art Room, Topsham, Devon. This followed another show, in 2011, at The Great Atlantic Gallery, in Falmouth. It is clear that, since 2008, when – after more than forty years – he stopped teaching at Falmouth School of Art[1], there has been an outpouring of paintings, drawings and studies. Hogben’s output had always been consistent, but the number of quality of images which he has produced latterly is marvellous.

Falmouth itself, of course, must play a part in shaping the individual skills and interests of the artists who work there. There are benefits to be derived from the distinctive land- and sea-scapes. The quality of light and atmosphere on this south-western peninsula is luminous and mysterious, and has attracted artists for many years. Certainly, it is far from London; equally certainly, it has developed its own, very lively, artistic community, with Falmouth Art Gallery, complemented by numerous commercial galleries, creating a centre of contemporary and performance art, as well as of more traditional art practice. At the core of all this is the School of Art, responsible for the constant inflow of new and ambitious talent arriving, to explore, learn and practise: it is not surprising that, for the tutors who worked at the School year in, year out, there was an opportunity – an imperative, even – for constant renewal.

Hogben was born in the countryside, in a village to the west of Derby. His own account of these early years tells us much about an artist for whom the experience of the high, moorland landscape of his native county imprinted itself on his imagination and ensured that, when he encountered the ‘wild and beautiful place’ which was Cornwall, around Falmouth, it found an immediate response in him. Likewise, Hogben’s childhood interest in the visual world was stimulated by the colours and patterns he saw in reproductions of paintings on his family’s walls, on a tea caddy, a board game, button box and place mats. Indeed, many children of that same generation will have a bank of memories threaded-through with the, ‘deep primary colours’ of jigsaw puzzles, comics and annuals which were the stuff of daily life. It seems that Hogben’s enthusiasm for these things was refined and fostered, from quite an early age, by visiting the paintings in Derby Museum and Art Gallery – especially the extraordinarily powerful work of 18th century artist, Joseph Wright of Derby, for whom effects of light were at the heart of all he saw and painted.

From 1961-65, Hogben attended Derby College of Art, specialising in painting and lithography, and he followed this with a year at Winchester School of Art. In 1966, he was employed as a studio assistant at Falmouth College of Art - and it was there that he developed a career in education which was to continue until 2008.

Hogben credits many of his peers with helping him to develop not only his professional career, but also his own vision. Between 1967, when Hogben began teaching at Falmouth, and 1972, Michael Finn – whose work was later to be informed by American colour-field abstraction – was the School’s Principal[2]. Head of Painting was Francis Hewlett, who, in the 1960s, was making, ‘large ceramic sculptures, mainly consisting of large hands, Y-fronts and string vests’[3]. Between them, these two very different artists breathed, ‘life into Falmouth School of Art in the late fifties and sixties’. There were also visiting tutors - hence links with the Slade and the Royal College. And, it is fascinating to find Hogben’s recollection of the impact that John Berger’s remarkable series of television programmes had on him in 1972. Broadcast by the BBC, under the title, Ways of Seeing, this challenged preconceptions about the act of making, seeing and thinking about works of art. Hogben recalled the, ‘imaginative analysis’, which Berger demonstrated.

‘Of Watteau’s drawings he said, “Delicacy is not necessarily the opposite of strength”, and, “every drawing of a head discloses a skull but there is all the difference in the world between the skull as a structure and a skull as a presence”. Drawing and looking at drawing would not be the same again.’[4]

In 1998, Hogben was awarded a Ferdinand Zweig Travelling Scholarship. This allowed him to travel to Sweden, to learn more about the elusive work of Evert Lundquist, which had, ‘smouldered in his memory’, since he first encountered it in 1964. Lundquist’s painting remained, ‘closely in contact with visible nature’. But his images were subject to, ‘severe simplification and locked into a formal structure and strong surface texture of coloured paint strokes’[5]. There can be no doubt that Hogben learned much from this study tour. His own work wears its compositional architecture more lightly that Lundquist’s and his colour is in a higher key and more sumptuous in its application. Nevertheless, one can certainly see why Hogben continues to value the model of Lundquist’s compelling – almost hypnotic – paintings.

It is clear, then, that Falmouth School of Art – set between the estuary and the Cornish moorland and affording a lively artistic environment – must, indeed, have been a remarkable place for Hogben to learn about, interrogate and pursue his artistic practice, from the 1960s until the 21st century.

From the late 1970s, Hogben began exhibiting. He quickly attracted awards and, in 1982, had his first solo show in Plymouth Arts Centre, followed by others in the West Country and London. Thus, by 2008, with Hogben now living and working even further west than Falmouth, at Helston, he was able to take full advantage of the blessing of time that was conferred on him, when he retired.

For the benefit of the show at The Art Room, Hogben has contemplated his own practice and has evocatively summed up his paintings. He observes, quite simply, that his, ‘medium is light and the intention is poetry’. And Hogben quotes John Cowper Powys - Derbyshire poet and teacher, whose focus on the intimate relationships between people and the elements, and all the forms of life that live within those elements, is profoundly contemplative and Romantic. His poetry – and Hogben’s painting – is shaped by such intense attachments.

‘Memories .. come to all men, called up by particular objects in their daily life, in their dwellings and along the waysides that lead to their dwellings, rocks and banks, stones and paths, fallen trees in copses, broken masts by the edge of the sea … memories sometimes almost too wistful and poignant to be borne, by which the poetry of life is created’.

© Dr. Hilary Taylor, 2013



[1] Now, University College, Falmouth.

[2] See artcornwall.org for a summary of Finn’s work. In 1972, Finn became Principal of Bath Academy of Art, Corsham.

[3] See Seamas Carey, 'Francis Hewlett Obituary', The Guardian, March 19th 2012.

[4] The Art Room, Exhibition of Philip Hogben, March 2013.

[5] See commentary at the Tate, about Lundquist’s enigmatic and powerful Woman in Red, 1956-7.