During the 1960s Hitchens began to move towards a style of work with a basis in total abstraction. This approach shifted and varied between works as some continue to cling to the visual representation of their subject and others of the same period are almost entirely composed of brushstrokes and planes of colour. Peter Khoroche proposed the question of Hitchens’ stylistic choices: ‘how far could a picture develop away from nature, so as to give aesthetic pleasure in its own right without snapping the life-giving umbilical chord that connects it with nature’ (P. Khoroche, Ivon Hitchens, Aldershot, 2007, p. 152.). Painted in 1969, A Boat and Foliage in Five Chords, Second Study can be seen as the culmination of this dynamic shift from visual representation that Hitchens developed throughout the decade.
The work is composed of five distinctive sections separated by vertical stripes of inky blue/black and green paint. Within these sections clean, wide horizontal brushstrokes are contrasted with rougher patches of unbroken colour, thin calligraphic lines and areas of partially mixed paint. Hitchens’ palette is particularly varied combining vibrant areas of cobalt blue, violet and yellow with muted shades of grey/green and blue. Within the aforementioned shift to a picture self-sufficient from nature came the use of colour for its own sake. This is in contrast to earlier works such as Water Foliage and Sky (1965, Private collection), in which the shades of blue and earthy greens and browns evoke the works subject.
A Boat and Foliage in Five Chords, Second Study and the series of these pictures are perhaps the most demonstrative of the influence of music on the artist. In 1933 Hitchens wrote ‘I often find music a stimulus to creation, and it is the linear, tonal and colour harmony and the rhythm of nature - what I call the ‘musical appearance of things’ … I should like to be able to put on canvas this underlying harmony which I first feel rather than see, and then extract from the facts of nature, distil and later develop according to the needs of the canvas’ (ibid., p. 161). Hitchens hoped that his paintings could be ‘listened to’, the viewer could enter the picture and read or ‘listen’ from form to form, as if being carried from note to note. This should be experienced without consciously thinking about what the picture might represent, should be something that filters in gradually, while the subject would filter in subconsciously. The present work with its five sections or ‘chords’ engulfs the viewer into a stimulating plane where colour and movement combine to create a fully symphonic composition.