London has a new art gallery. And this one comes from the pockets – and the collection – of Damien Hirst. Newport Street Gallery is the result of Damien’s efforts and commitment to put the 3,000 pieces of art in his personal collection on public display so that as many people as possible can see them.
As Damien said on the opening of the gallery last week, “I’ve felt guilty owning work that is stored away in boxes where no-one can see it. Having a space where I can put on shows from the collection is a dream come true.”
And kicking off the exhibitions in his new gallery is one on John Hoyland, one of Britain’s leading abstract painters (though he hated that term, preferring to emphasise the instinctiveness of his process). And Power Stations, which is what the exhibition is called, presents over 30 of John’s large and brightly coloured abstract paintings, hung broadly in chronological order.
The paintings are huge – literally and metaphorically. The canvases are vast and there’s a terrific dynamic energy barely contained within them. Bold colourful strokes, splatters of paint, thick chunks of oils scraped across the canvas with a palette knife… Yet the works are powerfully emotive too.
The exhibition starts with a room filled with warm, sensual red and maroon canvases, some of which have a smattering of spherical shapes within them, others more rigid lines and rectangles.
This then gives way to a passage of work with far more rigid definitions in more stark colours – grey cubes, orange rhombuses and a quite nihilistic red square on a vast black canvas.
There’s a fascinating break from this bold palette in the early 1970s when the reds and blacks are replaced with pinks and creams. And instead of the sharp lines and squares, there are softer, more fluid shapes. Lines seem more porous and suddenly the art goes from angry, confused and tense, to romantic and warm.
And then just as quickly, this sentiment evaporates. Yet a marked change remains.
The reds and blacks return, but this time accompanied with deep blues. And though distinctive lines and shapes re-emerge, their form is not as sharp and precise as before. They’re softer, more reflective.
The show is a wonderful testament to John Hoyland’s much underrated output and it benefits from being in great surroundings.
There is a terrific openness and democracy to the Gallery – not only is admission free but there are no lines or ropes around the paintings, and you don’t ever feel as if you’re being scrutinised by over-attentive security.
Interestingly there is no accompanying text for the art either – though whether that will continue, who knows. But it does allow the art to speak for itself, without being framed or interpreted by others – instead allowing visitors to interpret it as they see fit.
The galleries are huge, giving visitors plenty of space and opportunity to both get up close and stand back from the art, to see it from various perspectives. The whitewashed walls may be featureless (and pretty standard for a gallery) but given the riot of colour and emotions in the canvases, a simple background is appropriate here. Who’s to say they won’t change for other shows?
The gallery itself, which is in Vauxhall, spans five buildings, part of which was initially used by Damien as a studio space. The redevelopment of the site took three years (and a lot of money) but it has been well worth it.
On the opening of the gallery, Damien said that “Newport Street is an incredible space with an amazing sense of history” and that is true as three of the converted buildings were listed Victoria buildings that were purpose-built back in 1913 to serve as scenery painting studios for theatres in the West-End.
There is something romantic and just about that purpose and history not being lost, that art will continue to have a place in these streets. Future exhibitions, though unannounced, will vary between solo and group shows. And given that Damien Hirst is both a prolific collector of art and a damn fine curator (whatever you think about his dead sheep), expect the Newport Street Gallery to put on some must-see exhibitions. Including this one.
John Hoyland: Power Stations showing at Newport Street Gallery, London to April 3, 2016
- Gallery 1 -® Victor Mara Ltd, Photo by Prudence Cuming Associates
- Gallery 4 -® Victor Mara Ltd, Photo by Prudence Cuming Associates
- Gallery 5 into 6 -® Victor Mara Ltd, Photo by Prudence Cuming Associates
- Gallery 6 -® Victor Mara Ltd, Photo by Prudence Cuming Associates