In the 1990s, while the UK was being lectured by the YBAs that art was cool and naughty and full of drunk people (something everyone in the artworld already knew, apart from the bit about it being cool or naughty), there was a whole load of artists plugging away, doing their thing and not worrying too much about what the Daily Star thought about sharks or Myra Hindley. Painters like John Hoyland and Frank Bowling doggedly pursued their craft of big, splashy, gestural canvases. Now those artists are getting a long-overdue reappraisal.
Clyde Hopkins certainly fits into this group well. This show at Castor gallery (which has boldly moved from Deptford to Fitzrovia) consists of a dozen works from the late ’80s and early ’90s. They’re a curious but overall effective mix of intensity and floaty whimsy, often on the same canvas. You can almost see Hopkins – who was also head of painting at Winchester and Chelsea art schools – hiding his light under a bushel.
His is a very English kind of abstraction: there is depth, darkness, a muted sadness and humour. ‘May and Dagwood’ and ‘Flattered by the Bee’s Attention’ (surely the most Cardiacs-like title ever applied to a non-Cardiacs work) feature what quickly becomes clear as a Hopkins trademark: delicate collage-like details almost cruelly interrupted by crashing black lines, like an itinerant pisshead spoiling a family picnic. Sometimes, his work tantalizes you to see figuration. Which bit of ‘Seagulls, Brian Sewell, Kicking etc’ is the late art critic? Maybe it’s the flaming brain-thing or what looks like a knobbly turd dotted with nuts. And it’s hard not to read ‘The Minister for Transport’ as a kind of shambolic portrait. (The Tate has a Hopkins painting called ‘Kent to Yorkshire (Via the DT)’, so it seems like he also had a very English preoccupation with routes.)
I’ve got a soft spot for shows like this, and I like Hopkins’s work very much. You can imagine living with it, growing to love it. Sometimes you need quiet art as well as shouty drunk art.