Yorkshire landscape artist whose vividly coloured work earned comparisons with the St Ives school
DEREK HYATT, who has died aged 84, was a British artist who painted landscapes of Yorkshire in a bold palette. His works blended nature, personal history and symbolism and drew comparison with those of the St Ives set, in particular the aerial views of Peter Lanyon, yet his canvases also embraced the vibrant colour schemes of Fauve artists such as André Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck.
In the mid-1960s, having studied in Leeds and Norwich and enjoyed a spell in the limelight of London’s art world, Hyatt immersed himself in the North Yorkshire of his youth. He would remain there for the rest of his life.
“I bought a farmhouse on a 1,000 ft contour and you looked down into Bishopdale,” Hyatt said. “I tasted another life, another time and history.” He painted the surrounding hills, the dry stone walls, the eerie moorland and the curlews and owls passing his window, although as Andrew Lambirth noted in The Spectator, “painting for [Hyatt] is not a record of appearances, but an investigation into the mysterious heart of things”.
This tendency to abstraction was aptly illustrated by his later work Grey
Rain and Signs (Malham), which fused together fault lines in limestone rocks, peculiar figures, a crucifix and a giant raindrop. It was, he said, a “landscape where things are worn away and little clues are wedged in the cracks”.
The son of a turf accountant, Derek James Hyatt was born in 1931 in Ilkley, Yorkshire. Derek attended Ilkley Grammar School during the war. On a sketching trip to Langbar Moor he found a live grenade, caked in mud and missing its pin, and “cycled all the way back down from Langbar Moor with the grenade bouncing about in the basket on the front of my bike”.
Between 1948 and 1952 he studied at Leeds College of Art before continuing to Norwich School of Art (part-time while he completed his National Service in the RAF) and the Royal College of Art (1954-58). At the RCA he won the Royal Scholar prize and a J Andrew Lloyd Scholarship for Landscape Painting, and edited Ark, the college’s journal. As a student he was greatly influenced by the colourblocked landscapes of John Nash.
Hyatt taught at various institutions, including Kingston School of Art (1959-64) and a stint as a visiting professor at the University of Cincinnati in 1980. His longest tenure was at Leeds Polytechnic School of Creative Arts and Design, where he lectured from 1968 to 1984. His command of words was almost as fine as his handling of paint.
Hyatt exhibited widely in the North – in Halifax, Sheffield, Bradford – but (after his return to Yorkshire) infrequently in London. He showed at the Waddington gallery in the 1970s but there could be gaps of decades before new material was seen in the capital. There were, however, solo presentations in recent years at Art Space in Islington, including Meetings on the Moor: The Bishopdale Paintings (2012) and Time Glides in Secret (2014).
He was made a companion of the Guild of St George in 1990 and, five years later, a member of the International Artists for Nature Foundation. His works sit in many corporate and public collections, including those of Balliol College, Oxford, Leeds and Harvard universities, the New York Museum of Modern Art and the Financial Times; and were bought by fellow modern British artists such as Ivon Hitchens.
When Hyatt exhibited in London last year his sequence of paintings once again dealt with Yorkshire’s harsh beauty.
Hyatt himself claimed that he did not have a style, only a subject: Yorkshire’s wilds. “Always there was something happening there,” he said. “There was the day of the red bull, the day of the snowstorm, the day of the multiple rainbows.”
His wife, Rosamond, whom he married in 1960, died a few weeks before him. He is survived by their daughter.
Hyatt (right, his painting Hawk’s View, oil on board): he immersed himself in the landscape of his home county