Eye of the Huntress PresentsIona Hutley
04.11.2022 - 23.12.2022
It is often said that to break the rules you must know them first. So, it may come as a surprise when gazing into the luminescent pools of hypnotic paint to learn that Iona Hutley honed her skills creating meticulous oil portraits at the famed Academy of Arts in Florence where the rigorous training includes a year of drawing from life before any painting is even attempted. In an age when art runs the gamut from conceptual to figuration, Hutley’s paintings re-address the visceral power of gestural abstraction, all the more potent for the fact that the artist has had to entirely recalibrate her use of the medium. They are without any doubt a joyous celebration of the material as a means of conveying powerful emotion – shimmering lakes reflecting ever-changing light to the point in which it becomes a component of the works themselves.
Hutley chooses not canvas but wood, primed with rabbit skin glue and gesso to create a gleaming sheen on which to pour, spill and drip layers of Indian ink, acrylic, oil, and furniture paint which can take months to complete. Inspired by the decayed and peeling walls found in cities she has visited, an effect that cannot be replicated with a brush. Free from formal constraints, Hutley allows herself to be playful, even messy, describing her state of mind as oscillating between frenzied passion and quiet reflection. There is a sense of revelling in surprise and ambiguity, moments when logic is thrown into the air and the materiality of the paint itself takes control. The forms by turn come apart and cohere, finding tension and release in the interplay of shape, texture and pigment of lapis blue, viridian green, ochres, pinks and purples that hover between surface and depth. The malleable properties of the medium acquire alchemical qualities of molten gold, spun silver and burnished copper that transition between liquid and solid, transparent and opaque states that form organic compositions of tumultuous beauty.
In many respects Hutley follows in the pioneering footsteps of great women abstractionists from Joan Mitchell to Cecily Brown, who also took inspiration from the Old Masters. Her influences are drawn from many sources but in particular the fleshy Baroque style of artists like Peter Paul Rubens, sublimated to convey the raw emotion itself rather than any direct appropriation of palette or subject. “Rubens is one of my favourites, his paintings are breathing with life. I am always drawn to things that are extremely dynamic and energizing, like the war paintings or Rape of Sabine Women which are quite dramatic but really alive.”
The risk and uncertainty of outcome of gestural abstraction is something artists in the 50s and 60s also relished and sometimes feared. Hutley recalls the moment she realised that the ‘accidents’ in the studio constituted something more interesting and arresting than the work she was labouring over. This shift from conscious to unconscious, from looking without to looking within, is an extraordinarily bold move. These works express both a deep sense of liberation and the courage to rewrite one’s personal history. She says, “I’m fascinated with whatever is going on internally, the power of the subconscious and how that comes through. “For years I was tied up in a straight jacket of my own rigidity of mind and felt very inhibited and now I am trusting my intuition and stepping into a fierce, bold passionate self.”
Hutley’s titles reference Classical mythology but also suggest a lyrical and romantic spirit, acknowledging the poetic power of the medium to communicate female narratives and representation. The smaller pair of works Psyche and Eros, poignantly separated, tell a tale of sexual and psychological awakening and overcoming of obstacles – an allegorical journey of love, loss and reunion that resonates on both a personal and universal level. Though Psyche is usually referred to by her Greek name, her Roman name is Anima the Latin word for soul. In Jungian psychology Anima represents the feminine principle, the inner personality turned toward the unconscious, the very thing pulsating through Hutley’s incandescent work.
“I love the potential and materiality of oil paint itself and to allow for a higher intelligence to work through you than to feel totally in control. To me, true creativity begins on the fringes of possibility, the intersection between skill sets and ideas. The process of painting itself is an avenue for personal development, you have to continually ask questions and be seeking to find that flow state.“