Catalogue note for ‘The New Generation’ exhibition


The painter has only to lay one brash-mark on a canvas for all the ambiguities and tensions and secret inner life of a painting to have been set in motion. That one mark is immediately both a dab of paint and an image, part of a whole but also an independent unit. It can already be read as an activation of the surface, emphasizing its flatness, or as something existing separate from the surface in some kind of self-generated space. And it is from this duality of the "mark-as-image" and the "image-as-mark" that Huxley's painting mainly grows. It is the subject matter of his work.


In his earlier paintings, done in the two years after leaving the Royal Academy Schools in 1960, this "controlled mark" tended to be an enlargement of the single, decisive brush-stroke. Very much superimposed on, or standing in front of, the flat, geometrically formal ground, it set up a contrast to it as a different order of being - dynamic against static, colour against tone, pictorial space against two-dimensional plane. But always, whatever function it was performing as gesture or accent, it was also a kind of object - that personal, occasionally obsessive form that for want of a better word one calls "image". In the more recent paintings, where the ground no longer has any configuration of its own, this image has become more organic, developing various characteristics and absorbing into itself the functions of the previous figure-ground contrast. It tends to flow in slow ripples or spread out in pools. There is often a downward pull or a form lying low down in the picture, to "place" the verticality of the (always square) canvas. At the same time the forms, either wholly or in part, tend to flatten out in a sort of perspective. For Huxley - perhaps conditioned by his own relationship to the canvas on his studio-wall - likes to be aware that much of it is below eye-level, and therefore to suggest the possibility of a receding "floor" within the painting itself.


But given these purely pictorial functions (particularly in the concern with space, which is carried further in the colour organization - not in contrasts of hue so much as of tone; warm colours against cold made to register strongly as dark against light, for example) Huxley's "images" are not conceived in an abstract way. They are essentially evocative shapes, capable of various, if not specific, readings. Huxley would not particularize them, to himself or to the spectator, but they would not be valid if one did not feel oneself wanting to name them. Huxley is concerned with the metaphor; as with many modern painters, an unexpected juxtaposition of words, even in a dictionary, can spark an image for him; he has sometimes used green precisely because it is a colour with unavoidable associations. He is committed to a type of painting that uses the simplest possible elements. But they have to contain multiple meanings, a condensed complexity of effect.



© Bryan Robertson 1964