John Hoyland started using cotton duck in the 1960s, a tightly woven canvas more absorbent than other varieties. This support helped him to create a uniformly even surface, free from the texture of brush marks, in which the paint surface appears as pure colour. In 16.9.66, the canvas has been washed with a distinctive hue of darkened red which Hoyland made his own during this period. Though related to the brilliant vermilion and red prominent in Patrick Heron’s work since the late 1950s, the colour was modulated and became richer and flatter in Hoyland’s work. The rich field of red in 16.9.66 is structured using four evenly spaced vertical channels of contrasting colour, two of brown-black, one of blue and one of vermilion. Two of these channels are joined together by a horizontal channel at lower left. These channels approach the edges of the field but never touch them, allowing slivers of the red field to appear beside the contrasting channels in a manner reminiscent of Mark Rothko’s contemporary work.
Hoyland was one of the leading abstract British artists of the post-war years. Despite undertaking a conventional pupillage at the Royal Academy Schools in the late 1950s, he responded warmly to the Tate Gallery’s 1956 exhibition, ‘Modern Art in the United States’, which was the first display of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning’s work in London. He started exploring painterly stylings in the manner of Nicolas de Stäel and, in 1958, received further training from the avant-garde painter and sculptor William Turnbull in evening classes at the Central School of Art. (Like other students studying at London’s more conservative schools, evening classes provided a stimulating deviation from standard practice, as Leon Kossoff and Frank Auerbach – students at the Royal College of Art – had found earlier in the decade at David Bomberg’s evening classes at Borough Road Polytechnic.)
In the early 1960s, Hoyland began to develop his own distinctive abstract vocabulary. Like an older generation of semi-abstract painters, who received their training before the Second World War and were mostly based in Cornwall, Hoyland took up the defining tropes of the New York School, adopting a large-scale canvas format and dispensing with the obvious presence of figures. Rejecting the Francophone painterliness of Peter Lanyon and Bryan Wynter, Hoyland was closer to the example set by Heron, who was more concerned about creating ‘space’ on a canvas by using large areas of pure, untextured colour – a development preceded by the elementary ‘colour field’ work that Barnett Newman started making in New York in the late 1940s. Hoyland’s place at the forefront of experimental Yankophile painting in Britain was signalled by an exhibition at the Marlborough New London Gallery in 1962, which included Hoyland alongside Turnbull, Peter Stroud and John Plumb.
In 1961, Hoyland began titling works by their date of completion. Following the American creed of ‘action painting’, articulated by the critic Harold Rosenberg, Hoyland cultivated an appearance of rapid execution; though his works are often layered with paint, resulting in a rich saturation of colour, the use of a single date in his titles can give an impressive (if misleading) impression that a work was started and finished in a day. As its title suggests, 16.9.66 was completed in mid-September 1966.
The painting was probably executed in the new studio which Hoyland had built for himself in Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey. Building work began in 1964, and 16.9.66 was among the earliest works he completed there. Having worked in a relatively constricted studio space in Primrose Hill between 1961 and ’65, the new studio in Kingston allowed him to work on an even larger scale. Where works of the early 1960s had seldom measured any wider than two metres, some paintings produced in the new studio could stretch beyond three metres. 28.5.66 (1966, Tate Collection) is one example of the new size and freedom in his work of the period.
Save & Prosper Foundation At Sotheby's, London, 4 July 2001, lot 177 Private Collection At Sotheby’s, London, 13 Dec. 2007, lot 182 With Paisnel Gallery, London, 2011 Private Collection