The Work


A dominant theme of Hulton’s work has been a mixture of nature and landscape symbolism. (Landscape as place did not feature in her work until the late eighties). At first she made the ‘phenomenon’ of the natural world her landscape subject. This series was called the ‘Dune Forest’, and was followed by the ‘Mountain’ series, which in turn led to the ‘Field’ series (UK period).

Her purely abstract work is concerned with colour as structure, in nature. For example ‘Aurora’ Series, Durban Art Museum; ‘Bean’ Series, Trust Bank Collection; ‘Colori di Paesaggio’ Series, Fidelity Investments USA.

Another theme, Hulton’s figurative paintings, are also concerned with forces of nature, often interpreted, from a feminist standpoint. For example ‘Frangipane Madonna’, SASOL Museum; ‘Mass Production of the Female’ Durban Art Museum.

Distinctive technical features of Hulton’s paintings, whether in oil, acrylic, or watercolour, are the expressive handling and structural usage of colour and mark.

Reference re feminist standpoint:

  1. Essay on ‘Feminist Issues and Art’, by Diana Kenton was published by the SANG in 1985.
  2. Analysis of some of these works in ‘Feminist Issues in Local Art: A comparison with International Developments’ Research Paper, V. Lager, University of the Witwatersrand, 1984

Hulton’s main subject matter, ideas of growth and regeneration in nature, first explored in the ‘Forest’ paintings, find a new monumental expression in her large metaphorical landscapes called, ‘Mountain’ begun in 1983 and exhibited on her next solo show in Johannesburg in 1985.These large 6ft canvases are abstract ‘orchestrations’ of paint, mark and colour. They are the artist’s major works and are ambitious in both scale and concept. The Mountain paintings are represented in public and private collections and have also inspired commissions for new work.

The first exhibition of the series in the UK led to a private commission, to paint the mountain of Bennachie in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Hulton’s next solo exhibition, in celebration of the Bennachie commission, was for the first time, a body of work concerned as much with the dynamics of place as with the metaphorical significance of the mountain theme.

The ‘Bennachie’ series stimulated a new interest in ‘real’ mountains, a very different challenge from the idea of a symbolic mountain. In these smaller landscapes, Hulton’s innate tendency to transform random nature into the ordered and universal, found a new form of expression.

During the course of the decade, Hulton’s smaller landscape pieces show a development towards increasingly complex geometric rhythms of open landscapes, with a monumental frontal orientation that compresses vast space into dynamic layers (‘Black Mountains’, ‘Helderberg’, ‘Santes Creus’). These landscapes have a pulsating quality of colour movement that is both spatial and atmospheric. They are transcendent celebrations of nature at once removed from the world of mankind, yet reflecting mankind in their structure (‘Mt Amiata’).

In both composition and handling, Hulton’s paintings are frequently described as highly structured and inherently ‘classical’ and are seen as extending, in an original way, the legacy of Cézanne. In all her work, a sensual response to paint is combined with individualistic colour harmonies. Her landscapes and other themes are imbued with a sense of the monumental in nature.

The association with Cézanne has long been a hallmark of the development of Diana Hulton’s style.