Roger Hilton CBE
Roger Hilton CBE
Roger Hilton (1911-1975) was a leading figure in post-war British ‘abstract expressionism’. He is recognised as one of the finest artists of his generation, and was important for highlighting the importance of St Ives as a centre for contemporary art in the 1950s and 60s. He represented Britain at the Venice Biennale, and his exhibition in 1964 earned him the UNESCO Painting prize.
Hilton served in the army during the Second World War, was captured during the Dieppe raid in 1942, and then spent three years as a prisoner-of-war. After a period of teaching, he began to spend more time in Cornwall during the 1950s and renting studios, including Porthmeor Studio 8 from Trevor Bell, before moving down permanently in 1965.
His style stands apart from his contemporaries, but he was always interested in his peers work. Trevor Bell recalls a time when Hilton barged into his studio shouting: “BELL – I have come for ideas!” When he was first introduced by William Redgrave to Francis Bacon, who has just arrived at Porthmeor, Redgrave recalls that Hilton greeted Bacon with ‘I’ve always wanted to meet you because you are the only non-abstract painter worth consideration,’ adding, ‘Although of course you’re not a painter – you don’t know the first thing about painting.’ Bacon replied ‘Good. I think my work is perfectly horrible. Now we can get together, you teach me how to paint, and I’ll lend you my genius.’
Hilton was bed-ridden for his last few years, and died from a stroke in 1975. Victor Pasmore called his death ‘a serious loss to truly independent painting’, as he seemed ‘to be one of the people who knew what it is all about’.
Text: Ben Crack