Obituary: Geoff Hollow

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The Independent Culture
THE ABSTRACT painter Geoff Hollow belonged to a vital, if largely uncelebrated, group of abstract painters and sculptors based in south- east London. The existence of this "underground" reflects both the richness and diversity of hidden talent in Britain and the difficulty that abstract art has traditionally encountered in achieving public recognition within a predominantly literary culture.

Hollow was born in Hammersmith, west London, in 1944. He was brought up in Kent but by the early 1970s, intent on progressing as an abstract painter (and inspired by Matisse and American post-painterly abstraction), he had moved to London. He acquired a studio at the Stockwell Depot, an old railway workshop which, appropriately, was becoming a centre for welded steel sculpture practised by a group of committed former students of Anthony Caro and the St Martin's School of Art. Hollow, however, was entirely self-taught, a mixed blessing, in that he developed intuitively rather than rationally, but lacked a circumspect style or formal structure upon which he could pin his considerable powers as a natural colorist.

Hollow's paintings, particularly, relayed a quiet and personal, though distinctive, feeling for those muted secondary hues like crimson, lime green, pink, mauve and peach that derive from primary colour. The softness of his palette was countered by a desire to exploit the tension at the root of all successful pictorial art - the tension between autonomous flatness and surface mark and the illusion of depth.

To this end, he introduced ribbon-like bars, sometimes painted, other times collaged strips of canvas, that created the cliched and much vaunted effect of "figure and ground". It was also the closest he came to drawing. In order to draw attention to the concrete aspect of the painting as an object he often "shaped" his canvases into lozenge, triangle or rhomboidal forms. Unwittingly, he was paying homage to the endemic influence of minimalism on fashion, design and art.

Such effects, however, reflected more particularly the influence of modern American masters like Kenneth Noland, Ellsworth Kelly and Jack Bush, and before them of the "push-pull" colour theories of Hans Hoffmann, all of whom number among Hollow's prime influences. Another, Helen Frankenthaler, Hollow knew through his involvement with the Triangle Workshop in New York State during the summers of 1982, 1987 and 1996. He greatly enjoyed these group efforts and the congenial social events that lay in attendance. This well-liked artist was at his best in the pub after a long paint-splattered day in the studio.

But the serious business of making inroads into the art market - though not without its occasional successes, in that he was collected by Sir Anthony Caro, Robert Lodder and Tim Sayer among others - proved very difficult. Both he and his painter partner Kay Saunders, who shared a large studio throughout the 1980s at the communal Greenwich Studios complex, had to rely on other activities to make ends meet. This situation was compounded when, unlike several of his Greenwich colleagues, such as Mali Morris, Clyde Hopkins and Geoff Rigden, he failed to join the new Francis Graham- Dixon Gallery in Farringdon, London, when the Greenwich studios closed. Hollow and Saunders worked alone, and did not follow the others to the large new APT Studios in nearby Deptford.

Hollow ran a one-man art transit company, driving a van and delivering art from various galleries, including Graham-Dixon's, to clients such as the former Who guitarist Pete Townshend, Sir Anthony Caro or Robert Lodder. One trip, to the painter Patrick Heron's home at Zennor, Cornwall, ended in an impromptu two-day stay when he and Saunders shared with their eminent host a love of the world of colour and an interest in the artistic legacy of Matisse.

During the course of his long illness, Hollow's work lightened in key, drawing on a very necessary spiritual optimism that sustained him. A benefit exhibition, organised last month at the Beardsmore Gallery, in north London, by the painters Paul Tonkin and Cuillin Bantock, was a spectacular success, with half the 80 submissions selling. The crowded opening was a testimony to his popularity both as a person and as a painter's painter.

As is so often the case, the work itself may well elicit greater interest posthumously.

Geoffrey Max Hollow, painter: born London 11 December 1944; died London 8 June 1998.