The Work

Extracts from Exhibition Reviews

Parables of Light, 1.04.03
by Marilyn Martin
Director of Art Collections, Iziko Museums of Cape Town

‘The etymology of the word ‘parable’ – comparison, a placing side by side, a similitude, an allegory, a proverb, a talk, a dark and enigmatic saying – allows me to begin the discourse on Diana Hulton's work. … The viewer finds movement and repose, exploration and consistency, spontaneity and calculation, feeling and logic in the paintings. Light, colour and atmospheric conditions are fugitive, but the landscape – particularly a mountain – is permanent.

… Her approach is highly structured and cerebral, but her response to nature, at the physical and metaphysical levels, is emotional. As a result, order is infused with contemplation and mood and the paintings resonate with natural forces.

Hulton presents three types of landscape in this exhibition: symbolic, place-based and abstract. They have one thing in common – they are born of extended meditation on nature. … The unflinching focus, study and absorption of the scene culminate in works that are at times frontal, direct and very real, at times symbolic and at times abstract. Because the series do not follow sequentially, but comprise simultaneous explorations of individual landscapes, the three types of landscape are inextricably linked. All are informed by Hulton's inner compulsion to come to terms with the experience of a landscape at a particular moment, with the spirit of the place and with the numinous potential of her art ….

Hulton is a master watercolourist and the quality of light that is possible with the medium can be seen particularly in the Helderberg series, a vast landscape in the Western Cape, the province of her birth in South Africa. As the weather turns around in Thomas's Poem, so she moves between openness, horizontality and repose (Helderberg III and Helderberg IV) and the overpowering, almost threatening, symbolic force of the landscape and the personal experience (Helderberg VIII). It is interesting that the latter work emanates the same strong sense of permanence and connectedness that is found in Llandegley Rocks 1, Hulton's current home in Wales and the most recent Welsh painting, Black Mountains XIX (2003). She achieves this through smaller brushstrokes and densely layered paint that capture the colours, tones of the landscape and the light that moves across it.

Hulton's painting is rooted in a tradition and a genre that have occupied artists for centuries. The strength of her work lies in the renewal of that tradition, in extending the boundaries of the art of landscape, in her own terms, and flowing from a meditation on human kind's relationship to the primeval forces of nature and a striving for the metaphysical.


Opening Address, 2.11.93,
by Prof. Richard Verdi, Author of 'Cézanne' (Thames and Hudson, 1992),
Professor of Fine Art and Director of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, The University of Birmingham

‘The reason for bringing Diana Hulton and myself together at this exhibition must be Cézanne … However, Hulton has done infinitely more with Cézanne in her work than I have or ever will achieve with my book … The similarities between Hulton and Cézanne may be seen, firstly, in the shared love of nature – in the contemplation of the infinite complexities of the natural world. I refer also to Hulton’s thesis on landscape painting, and to her specialisation in the subject over the past fifteen years. Secondly, in the shared love of paint: the richness and pulsing variety of colour, the richness of the texture and of Hulton’s brush marks, the creation of continuous colour modulations and rhythmical harmonies over the entire surface. Then there is also the mutual love of structure – a love for abstract principles of formal design imposed on all the ever changing faces of nature … in short, Hulton is Cézanne re-born.’


T Grimley, Arts Editor, The Birmingham Post, 25.10.91

‘The medium throughout is acrylic, whether on canvas or paper, but what is striking is the contrast in technique, some paintings in quite heavily worked paint and others using overlays of transparent washes, like watercolour. The final painting falls into the latter category, with a curious sense of all its component parts being held in a delicate balance ... it’s striking to see how entirely different in colour and feeling are the few examples of the dry ochre-dominated South African paintings.’


Shiela McGregor, Assistant Keeper of Fine Art, Birmingham Art Gallery

‘Whether evoking the sparse vistas of the karroo in South Africa, the country in which she has spent much of her career, or her present surroundings … [Hulton] adheres to classical precepts of compositional balance and spatial orchestration. In this she looks back to Cézanne … ’


Terry Grimley, Arts Editor, The Birmingham Post

‘If you know your art history, it is impossible not to be reminded of Cézanne’s obsessive subject, Mont Ste-Victoire.’


Pat Williams, ‘Arts Review’ Vol. XLIII London, No.21, 18.10.91

‘Kenton has stalked the mountain painting its many faces and aspects, and the gallery is filled with these other views. It is like being transported there: twenty-four hours from the paintings, I remember not the canvasses but the place – an effect, which must be counted a triumph. As indeed must this whole exhibition: all but two of the paintings were sold before the private view. Probably because Kenton proves that when she left her native land she did not, like so many other painters, leave her landscape. Rather she recreates it … ’


Pat Williams, Arts Review, Vol.XL111 No 21, 18.10.91, London

‘Her African mountains are vigorous and monumental … filling the canvasses … They are dry, disintegrating, consumed by fire, scarred by shadows, teeming with energy, covered with bracken, constantly vegetative, constantly renewing, and she communicates all this with endlessly repeated marks and gestures suggesting bush, stone, rise and hill. The repetitions give these painted mountains their energy … Two African mountain paintings, part of a 20ft triptych, oil on canvas, dominate the exhibition entrance; one (bought by the South African National Gallery) implies an even larger scale by distorting space so the mountain rears from above as well as directly at our faces.


Alice King-Farlow, for The Birmingham Post, Nov 1990

‘She shows paintings inspired by the landscapes of Spain, South Africa and the fields of Warwickshire: all a mass of brilliant colour sensuous and inviting … Diana Kenton … find(s) new ways of representation through texture, colour and pattern … She prefers wilderness to ‘humanised’, inhabited landscapes. In the context of her native South Africa, where race determines a person’s environment, this is partly a political decision. The inhabited landscapes of white South Africa, easily assimilated into a Western artistic tradition, do not feature in Kenton’s work … Most important, her approach is accessible: modern, political and innovative, but retaining all the appeal of the landscape tradition. Her work should not be missed.’


Shiela McGregor, Assistant Keeper of Fine Art, Birmingham Art Gallery, 1990

‘Two mountain landscapes, resplendent in reds and yellows, greet the visitor … Each mountain fills the picture plane, reaching upwards to a skyline which just skirts the top of the canvas. It is as if the natural scene in all its vitality can barely be contained within the boundaries of the pictures’ rectangular format. Diana Kenton paints the natural world at its most irrepressible: clamorous colour, an expansive handling of paint and the insistent division and subdivision of space convey a sense of nature’s capacity for self-renewal.’


Richard Cheales, The Citizen, 20.7.85, Johannesburg

‘ … her technical skill tends to outclass many of our more serious Transvaal artists. The tremendous consistency of brushwork … and the underlying application sensitivity are what impress mountain … tends to create a form of foundation for revealing a highly subtle colour sense and that very intelligent handling of paint.’


Marilyn Martin, S.A.Arts Calendar, Vol.10 No.2, 1985, Pretoria,
In English and Translation from Afrikaans

‘With the exhibition which Diana Kenton held at the Karen McKerron Gallery in Johannesburg in July, she has added her name to the list of formidable female painters in this country …

The most striking aspect of this Natal artist’s recent work is a series of mountains, identical in format and composition. Like … Paul Cézanne and his Mont Sainte-Victoire, Ms Kenton lives near her mountain, which has changed from a real image to a more universal one. It has become a vehicle for her aims as a painter and for her emotions. The paintings are big and the monumentality of the mountain is further emphasised by the split, which divides the format in the middle. Thus the artist implies a greater scale and succeeds in compressing space to show simultaneously viewpoints from above, alongside the slope and from in front. The eye is forced to move up and down, in and out and to follow the subtle changes of light colour and pattern.

The various representations of the mountain vary from the painterly to the linear but certain aspects remain common to all of them: the unity of mountain and sky, the dominant colouration which envelops each work and which reminds one of the passage of the seasons; the lyricism and the intensity.’


D. Robbins, The Natal Witness, 20.10.82

‘There are some oil paintings on this exhibition which seem to slowly explode with light and a rich loveliness even as one looks at them … canvases teeming with coarse brush-strokes and colour redolent with a sort of fecundity which titles like ‘Feverwood’ and ‘Flowers for Virginia’ both illumine and enhance.’


M. Meijer, The Natal Mercury, 24.9.82

‘Durban artist Diana Kenton’s exhibition has made an unprecedented impact and the Durban Art Gallery advisory committee has taken options on several of the works … Johannesburg art lecturer Marilyn Martin, who opened the exhibition, said it did three things: it made a significant contribution to the interpretation of landscape; it commented on South Africa’s political situation; and it perpetuated this country’s tradition of formidable female painters.’


Andrew Verster, Painter and Critic, The Daily News 20.9.82

‘There are memories of Rousseau, the Fauves, Blaue Reiter and the Expressionists, but the mood she creates is her own, introducing us to our own subtropical surroundings in a new and special form. The works span five years. They are signposts in a familiar landscape, but as importantly they mark an inner journey of intense emotional and intellectual discovery. The perceptive critic and inspiring teacher is now seen to be an artist of substance whose creative contribution will be important’


M. Meijer, The Natal Mercury, 17.9.82

‘Since her arrival in Durban she has lectured at the University of Durban Westville and the Natal Technikon, but it is through the University of Natal’s extension unit drawing and painting course that she has had a tremendous influence and helped raise the standard of art in Natal … In her large expressive and very colourful expressionistic and abstract landscapes, Ms Kenton derives her forms from the dune forests and the tropical foliage of the Natal coast. These elements, she says are combined in a variety of imaginative reconstructions to express some of the mysterious forces in nature and their emotional impact.’