City-born abstract artist dies aged 76

Beverly Heath, Paul Moorhouse, john Hoyland, Ann Goodchild and Agnes Hoyland.
Beverly Heath, Paul Moorhouse, john Hoyland, Ann Goodchild and Agnes Hoyland.
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ONE of England’s finest abstract painters - Sheffield-born artist John Hoyland - has died at the age of 76.

Hoyland’s importance as an artist was confirmed in 1991 when he was elected to the Royal Academy, an honour which entitled him to put ‘RA’ after his name.

Only three other Sheffield-born artists have ever been elected to the Academy since its founding in 1768 - Thomas Creswick who lived from 1811 to 1869, George Fullard 1923 to 1973, and Kenneth Draper born in 1944. There have been only around 600 RAs altogether, including Turner, Constable and Gainsborough.

John Neville Hoyland, son of a tailor, was born in Sheffield in October 1934.

When war broke out, and with his father in the RAF, his mother Agnes refused to allow John and his sister to be evacuated from the city but instead kept a knife handy and made adventures of their nights in bomb-shelters.

Aged 11, Hoyland went to the Sheffield School of Arts and Crafts where, with friend and fellow student Brian Fielding, he wandered the bomb-ravaged city streets talking about art.

His mother encouraged her son’s artistic progress and, still alive today, aged 101, lived to see all his triumphs.

In 1956 Hoyland entered the Royal Academy Schools. His bold use of colour brought him notoriety when the President of the Royal Academy ordered his paintings to be removed from the diploma show.

In 1958 he married Airi Karkkainen, with whom he had a son, and in 1961 he was included in the New London Situation show at the influential Marlborough New London Gallery. From 1967 he began to spend more time in New York, divorced, and met jazz singer Eloise Laws, with whom he shared a New York apartment until 1973.

The minimalist ‘walls’ of colour which had earned him fame began to be replaced by increasingly textured surfaces and Hoyland travelled more, especially after meeting in the 1980s the woman who in 2008 would become his second wife, Jamaican model Beverley Heath.

His art reflected the tropical countries they visited, especially Jamaica, where they had an apartment.

But he disliked being labelled ‘abstract’. He was, he said, a painter full stop, who took the canvas off the easel and used the floor to make huge works at which he threw, sculpted and squirted his acrylic paints.