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Last year’s exhibition ‘Roger Hilton: swinging out into the void’ celebrated Hilton’s major contribution to painting in the 1950s and ’60s.
This sequel looks at the final chapter of his life. Wracked by long-term drinking and smoking, Hilton was largely confined to bed. At Christmas 1972, he started to play with the poster paints given to one of his sons and began a prolific output of works on paper in charcoal and gouache, which only ended with his death in February 1975.
Imagery had never been far away, even in his most abstract works and, years before, he had announced his wish to ‘reinvent figuration’. Now animals and birds, nudes and boats were conjured up with apparent abandon but with extraordinary control. At times frustrated, at times joyous, frequently hilarious, these paintings are a poignant testament to his determination to make art in the face of death.
At night Hilton wrote letters to his sleeping wife. Frequently illustrated, by turns affectionate and rude, they set out his needs for food, drink and paints and reflect on his condition, and on art and life.
The exhibition marks the publication of a new edition of the ‘Night Letters’, edited by Timothy Bond and published by the Archive of Modern Conflict.