Rose Hilton paints every day in her studio in Newlyn. Her retrospective show was at Tate St. Ives in 2008. One of a large family brought up in the Plymouth Brethren, she was a prize winning student at the RCA when the artist Sandra Blow introduced her to the much older painter Roger Hilton in 1958.
When they married and the second of their sons was born they came to live at the end of a bumpy moorland track near the cliffs edge in West Penwith. The house was a terrace of three small miner’s cottages built from local granite blocks and rubble, a couple of fields away from the tin workings whose shafts fissure the land and even tunnel beneath the sea here. It has no name or number, and its wide views across compartmented fields running over to the sea have not altered. The wind here is ferocious, it blows away garden sheds and the neighbour’s chickens. Now it also powers a whippy, hydra-headed mobile made by Peter Fluck from stainless steel and part-exchanged with Rose for drawings and pictures, the single vertical in the small garden plot.
For furniture there was Roger’s miscellaneous assortment of antiques. ‘ I suppose we just got the rest from second hand shops,’ she ponders. ‘I was still a student at heart. But I think if you’re an artist you’re visual, so you usually paint walls white and have flowers and nice materials.’ When the poet Sydney Graham arrived to look over what they had done, he privately observed, ‘Rose has the beat style.’
The house is full of paintings by both Hiltons. Hidden for years behind a boiler, the rampant nude which Roger Hilton frescoed onto the newly plastered wall outside the bathroom is now on view again. But as her biographer Andrew Lambirth observes, Rose’s sixteen year marriage was a ‘crucial but relatively short-lived episode.’ Since then, painting has been her ‘lifeline.’ Rose says, ‘When you are painting you have to throw yourself into it. You have to think it all the time. Go to bed early. You cant just go up an do a bit and come down again. It’s a whole way of life. You need to concentrate on the work and look at it a lot too.’ The paintings here, photographed in her Newlyn studio in 2012, are transcendent.
Rose Hilton, ‘Something to Keep the Balance,’ Andrew Lambirth (2009)
Rose Hilton’s painting studio in her house at Botallack.
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