Clyde Hopkins certainly fits into this group well. This show at Castor gallery (which has boldly moved from Deptford to Fitzrovia) consists of a dozen works from the late ’80s and early ’90s. They’re a curious but overall effective mix of intensity and floaty whimsy, often on the same canvas. You can almost see Hopkins – who was also head of painting at Winchester and Chelsea art schools – hiding his light under a bushel. His is a very English kind of abstraction: there is depth, darkness, a muted sadness and humour. ‘May and Dagwood’ and ‘Flattered by the Bee’s Attention’ (surely the most Cardiacs-like title ever applied to a non-Cardiacs work) feature what quickly becomes clear as a Hopkins trademark: delicate collage-like details almost cruelly interrupted by crashing black lines, like an itinerant pisshead spoiling a family picnic.
Sometimes, his work tantalizes you to see figuration. Which bit of ‘Seagulls, Brian Sewell, Kicking etc’ is the late art critic? Maybe it’s the flaming brain-thing or what looks like a knobbly turd dotted with nuts. And it’s hard not to read ‘The Minister for Transport’ as a kind of shambolic portrait. (The Tate has a Hopkins painting called ‘Kent to Yorkshire (Via the DT)’, so it seems like he also had a very English preoccupation with routes.)
I’ve got a soft spot for shows like this, and I like Hopkins’s work very much. You can imagine living with it, growing to love it. Sometimes you need quiet art as well as shouty drunk art.