'When I was a child I was staying with my grandparents in a little village called Thundersley. It was a very rural area. They had a long garden and at the bottom of it there was a row of very tall elm trees. I happened to be up early one morning, and I saw the sunlight shining right through the foliage of the trees. I remember the rays of light were spraying out, creating a sense of depth in the trees and the surrounding area, and glinting on the bark, giving them an almost jewel-like quality. I'll always remember the effect it had on me... it was a very uplifting feeling, and it remained with me throughout my life. This experience was the germ of it all. It drove me to become a painter, because I wanted to capture that atmosphere, that vision of light'.

Riverside Evening 1996 700
Riverside Evening,1996

'I paint to create the world I live in mentally or spiritually... the world of this vision. When I start to paint, I automatically find myself painting a picture which is a transcription of that world. When I paint I just follow this feeling, without letting myself think about it. The play of light on objects has fascinated me ever since. When I look at trees and at light, I look at where the light comes through the foliage, the planes of light passing through the trees; even in the darkest shadow you can still see the light passing through. Whenever I visit places, I gravitate towards those aspects that bring that memory back, a memory which, in its essence, has remained with me.'

thundersley 1978 700
Thundersley, 1978

Along with Hitchcock's ecstatic experience of light slanting through trees came the resolution that he would spend his life trying to recapture it as a painter. It's as though the little boy standing in his grandfather's garden gazing at the long beams of sunlight coursing through elm trees intuitively felt that this was a vision that would nourish the spirit of his kind. Perhaps it's this double awareness - of vision AND vocation, or content and technique - that separates the artist from the rest of us. Samuel Palmer was 'a man born out of his time.' Both he and Hitchcock had intense epiphanies, or mystical experiences in rural England. In both cases this experience entered their inner lives, and became an impulse that sustained and powered their art. Both men, perhaps because of these experiences, placed the intuition, or the imagination, high above the intellect. Unlike Palmer, however, whose visionary period lasted six years (and unlike van Gogh, perhaps, who arrived in Arles in 1888 and shot himself three years later after one of the most intensely creative phases in the history of art) - Hitchcock has been able to sustain and develop his vision over a period of decades. This intuitive sense of another world, another time, occurs frequently in people's responses to Hitchcock's paintings. It's as though we retain a vague memory of a golden age, which is what his paintings could be said to evoke or revive. This golden age, perhaps, is our Dream Time, to borrow a phrase from the aborigines. Hitchcock himself says, "I've always had this feeling that the Golden Age exists. It's an era that is alive in everyone." His paintings are imprints, or transcriptions, of the early experience of sunlight in Thundersley. They are all, as he has said, about light. "The rendering of light on the surface of things, particularly on trees, is the central theme in my work." It is light that functions as, in his words, 'the unifying effect.' "The subject matter is not incidental, but always luminosity is important." "All aspects of the creative process" says his son Leonard," such as composition, colouring and colour balance, effects of light etc. come about in Harold's case through a highly developed sensitivity which enables him to feel what to do next in a rather spontaneous way... the subject matter of the paintings (the world which is depicted) also springs from Harold's inner feeling and can be said to be descriptive or symbolic of a spiritual life and feeling. Harold is a truly simple man in the sense that – unlike the vast majority of us – he has retained the child-like ability to avoid labeling or classifying the world more than is absolutely necessary. It is my belief that through the incessant activity of our minds we constantly 'name' the world around us and in so doing reduce it to a dead thing. It is in those moments when we lose our 'map' of the world that suddenly we are surrounded and immersed in something awesome and mysterious and very beautiful." Emmanuel Williams