Sunday 21 April 2013

Oi Yoi Yoi

More about a favourite artist, Roger Hilton, prompted by Friday's blog about David Brown, who was a close friend of his.

In 2008 I remarked to a friend, the art historian and critic Andrew Lambirth, that the logo for the Beijing Olympic Games seemed to owe something to Hilton's painting Oi Yoi Yoi. I was less than half-serious, and therefore surprised to read, in Andrew's excellent catalogue essay for a 2009 Hilton show at Kettle's Yard in Cambridge, that there may have been more to my off-hand comment than I thought.

Roger Hilton Oi Yoi Yoi (1963)

Beijing Olympics logo (2008)

The Beijing logo of a running figure (above) was designed by Guo Chunning, and is a stylised calligraphic rendition of the Chinese character 京 (pronounced jīng, meaning 'capital', from the name of the host city). The logo represents both a dancing figure and a runner crossing the finishing line. It's not just the shape, and the way the limbs seem to extend beyond the frame, but the abstract blocks of red that serve to outline the figure which reminded me of Hilton's painting. Andrew suggested in his essay that Hilton may indeed have had a Chinese ideogram in mind when he created the original painting - his wide-ranging interest in other cultures would support such a view.

Oi Yoi Yoi is a really great picture, and makes me happy whenever I look at it or think about it. It's all about life. Hilton said the subject was 'my wife dancing on a verandah, we were having a quarrel. She was nude and angry at the time and she was dancing up and down shouting 'oi yoi yoi''.  This was on the balcony of their remote French home, and the pair had been guzzling rum. What Hilton didn't include in the picture, apparently because he didn't notice it at the time, was that the local fire brigade were tackling a blaze in a field nearby.

Hilton made a second version that year (below) which is every bit as good. I'm not sure which one I like best. The title of the first is better. The second image is more bouncy, and especially the breast.

Dancing Woman (1963)

Hilton, à propos, pioneered the admirable practice of drawing nudes in motion by encouraging Rose, his wife, to walk around as he sketched her. Good work!

Images © The Estate of Roger Hilton; Tate Gallery

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