Virtual Art Gallery and living Flamenco Museum

Welcome to the Ron Hitchins (1926 - 2019) Virtual Art Galley and living Flamenco Museum.
Subscribe below and come back to visit to see how we are developing this exciting project.
To Download a PDF of the latest Artwork Buyers Catalog
seen below, CLICK HERE!

Ron left a substantial and important art collection which is currently being curated. Selected items will be released for sale from time to time to fund projects to promote his legacy such as an art book of his life. As more of Ron’s work is released it will be announced on his website and in future newsletters. To arrange viewings, which we recommend, and for pricing, please contact:

Mike Jingle:
E-mail Flamenco.Jingle@hotmail.com
Mob. +44 (0) 7563370324

Or Russell Whitbread:
E-mail RussellWhitbread@gmail.com
Mob. +44 (0) 7905021990

FINANCIAL TIMES Article Oct. 2021

House of the spirits: the magical afterlife of No 43

The flamenco dancer and artist Ron Hitchin lived in the same house in Hackney for nearly 70 years. It has now become the launchpad for a new interiors brand, Atelier LK.

VOGUE MAGAZINE Sept. 2021

Inside No 43, London’s Coolest Interiors Destination Right Now

This month sees Atelier LK formally launch with an exhibition, No 43, at the former home of Chinese-Lithuanian artist and dancer Ron Hitchins in London Fields, displaying a range of Hitchins’s works alongside pieces from contemporary designers inspired by either the space or Hitchins’s life.

Ron Hitchins infamous 4 poster bed

All enquires please  contact:
ed@edbutcher.com
Mobile: +44 (0)  7768287420

The Amazing Art of Ron Hitchins by Mark Hill

Ron Hitchins (1926-2019) was a British born artist, sculptor, and flamenco dancer whose life and soul was rooted in Hackney, East London from age 13. He was born to a Lithuanian prostitute working in a Soho opium den, and a Chinese father. Although largely self-taught, he studied as a toolmaker and engineer before WWII, and took further education courses in various art techniques at Isleworth Polytechnic (now Thames College), and at the Sir John Cass College of Art in the late 1950s & 60s.

Fashion & Flamenco

From the late 1940s, after National Service working in a coal mine, and then working as a fishmonger, he embellished, designed and made fashionable mens shirts and suits, which he sold himself on East End market stalls. That and his snappy dress sense earned him the nicknames ‘Flash’ and ‘El Chino’. This name suited him as, after WWII, he earned a large part of his living from his innate talent for dance - initially Jive and Cha Cha Cha, but most notably Flamenco after he saw the legendary Antonio (Ruiz Soler) perform in 1951. From then into the 1990s, his commissions to teach and dance at events and parties introduced him to a wide range of people, including artists, aristocrats, and socialites. In 1975, he even appeared as a flamenco dancer in an episode of ‘The Sweeney’. He continued to dance flamenco into the 2000s, when he was well into his 80s.

 

The Genesis of Art

During the early 1950s, inspired partly by the perceived lifestyle of an artist that he aspired to and partly by a need to create with his hands and the ability to do so, he began to sculpt and make art. His house at 43 Malvern Road, Hackney (bought in 1955) included at least one room as a studio, and one room for teaching and practising dance. He was inspired by the work of Picasso, Brancusi, Ernst and Hepworth, the naive art that in turn inspired them, and modern architecture. Various rooms in his house contained piles of copies of magazines such as ‘Domus’ and ‘Art and Artists’. In June 1964, he was given his first exhibition, at the John Whibley Gallery in Marylebone, but most of his work was sold from the 1950s-2000s on an ad hoc basis at infrequent gallery exhibitions (mainly Whibley) during the late 1960s & 70s, via market stalls, and privately to locals, friends, and those who displayed a genuine interest in it. Sometimes, if someone was particularly ardent and impecunious, he would give it away. He was suspicious of gallerists and was never ‘represented’ in the traditional art world sense of the word. As such, no comprehensive period exhibition catalogue of his work is known to exist, although his work was apparently covered in art journals of the time and he exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1967.

 

Thousands of Tiles

Hitchins was a highly prolific artist with a vast output, and he worked with ceramic, plaster, metals, Perspex, fibreglass, wood, paint, ink, Biro, and felt-tip pen across his active period of some sixty years. But it is for his idiosyncratic and instantly recognisable small clay (terracotta) tiles that he is celebrated today. These apparently came about after the Canadian sculptor Maryon Kantaroff (1933-2019) asked him to sit for her in the mid-1960s. He was fascinated by the way she both used clay and created moulds for her sculptures. Using left-over clay, he developed unglazed clay pendants and necklaces inspired by Mexican designs, and these were the genesis of his 5cm (2in) square tiles that he is now best known for.

 

Carved and impressed by hand with low relief geometric designs from a shallow block of terracotta clay and baked in a kiln in his basement, he produced tens of thousands from the mid-1960s until the 2000s. His tools were simple, comprising knives, paperclips and even a Biro tube, and he often worked naked due to the heat from the kiln, earning himself the nickname ‘The Naked Sculptor’. Although many motifs were repeated, each tile - astonishingly - is unique in precise design and composition. Many were combined to decorate the surfaces of mirror frames (which are comparatively common), picture frames and furniture - including his huge four poster bed. They were also carefully assembled and mounted onto wood to create panels of varying sizes, many of which decorated walls and surfaces of the interior of his Hackney home. Many such assemblages were stained (such as with boot polish), or sprayed with car paint, to give them colour. Colours range from gold and silver to copper and bronze, dark red, and black.

 

We will never know why he chose tiles of this size, or exactly what the inspiration behind them was, let alone what drove him to produce such a truly vast quantity. There appears to be no precedent, except a fusion of Art Deco architectural panels,  Brutalist architecture (then, new), or the geometrically embellished surfaces of Pre-Columbian (Aztec) or ancient Southeast Asian buildings which he would have only seen in books and magazines. Perhaps making them was a catharsis, or a constant internal compulsion to create consistently that was linked, maybe, to the constant beat of flamenco dance music.

Prolific Panels

He expanded the theme by producing other larger forms, such as rectangular, pentagonal, oval, circular, teardrop-shaped or crescent terracotta wall pendants, and by using fibreglass to create even larger panels of varying sizes and shapes with the same type of geometric motifs. These vary from unique pieces (even entire doors), to serially produced pieces such as numbers and larger wall panels. Some were used to decorate the exterior of his home, and many were painted, sometimes to give the effect of being made from metal, often with a verdigris coloured finish. The designs are equally successful, regardless of size or material.

 

Whilst fibreglass panels include his ‘RH’ initials in the design, or were signed in felt-tip pen or ink by hand with his name on the back, combinations of square terracotta tiles in panels (except those attached directly to the walls of his rooms) most often bear a ‘Ron Hitchins’ signature tile, with his name being impressed into the clay using a custom-made metal stamp. Some are signed with his name in ink on the back of the panel. Each assemblage was intended, rather than random, with each tile and its position and orientation being carefully chosen by Hitchins as he assembled them. Some of his work was unsigned, particularly sculptures.

 

Spiky Sculpture

Hitchins also produced metal sculptures, often in copper, where metal sheeting was cut, bent and sometimes welded into an angular form, often inspired by birds or flora and fauna, or even the spiky forms of origami. As with his moulded fibreglass works, his prior experience as an engineer and toolmaker was useful here, and these 30 or so metal sculptures were primarily produced during the 1970s.

 

During the 1990s, he fused his interest and experience in flamenco and sculpture to produce assemblages of painted geometric wooden offcuts from furniture lessons contained in glazed deep box frames. Some seem to have been inspired by elements of Postmodern architecture and design in terms of design and colour, with some resembling the work of designers for Alchimia or the Memphis group. From 2005 up until a few weeks before his death, he also produced many hundreds of ink and felt-tip pen or acrylic paint artworks on paper that echo Aboriginal and South American art in their abstracted and complex colours and patterns, sometimes incorporating animals, such as snakes, and human forms. Always interested in experimenting with new media and technologies, some of these were digitised, with some being printed onto canvas.

 

Hitchins’ House
Whatever the medium, Hitchins’ work has a highly-developed and harmonious sense of form, design and colour united by a unique core style. His legendary timing and rhythm in dance translated into balanced movement in his art. He filled his entire house with his art, placing it where it fitted size-wise at random in every room, with even the bathroom walls covered with panels of thousands of terracotta tiles. His house, although a working art studio and dance venue brought alive by a myriad of late night flamenco parties, was thus arguably a work of art in its own right. Both he and his art inhabited his house.

 

Glassworks
When I viewed the collection in Hitchins’ house some time after his death (all Covid precautions in place at the time were followed) and largely untouched since his death, two works intrigued me the most within the plethora. These were two glass sculptures formed from arching fusions of multi-coloured glass, one of which almost resembled a meteorite. They captured the essence of the fluidity of molten glass, so were true to the material of glass itself. Mounted on pedestals, they were clearly important to Hitchins as they sat on shelves on either side of his sofa. Both were damaged, with a couple of losses indicated by sharp, glossy edges, and one had been broken and re-glued. They were covered with a solid layer of dust implying they had been there for some time. Where were these made, and how were they made? There were only two, implying that he either didn’t like working with glass or that it was (understandably) too troublesome, time-consuming, or expensive to repeat.

 

These glass sculptures appear to be lampworked - so, formed by melting and fusing rods of glass using a gas blowtorch. As some of the colour has flaked off, they seem to have been made from colourless glass that was then painted with transparent enamel colours. But the glass is variously thick, massive and hollow (blown?) in places and the works do not resemble traditional lampworked pieces in look or feel. They also cannot have been made by simply blowing or even trailing trailing molten glass. The Studio Glass movement only came to the UK in 1965, and didn’t blossom for a few years after that - even then access to a furnace in London was reserved for students, or (after 1969) graduates using The Glasshouse. I’m also not aware of any easily accessible course anywhere in the UK that taught lampworking, let alone glassmaking, so Hitchins must have learned to melt and manipulate glass ‘on the fly’ from (probably) a lampworker he met somewhere - maybe during the 1970s when studio glass was ‘hot’, new and exciting. He must have gone his own way and combined different techniques, experimenting and learning as he played with this magical and mercurial molten material. We will probably never know the story behind them, but experimenting with - and arguably succeeding in - different media seems to have been the story of Hitchins’ life.

 

Future Fame
I firmly believe that Hitchins’ work will continue to rise in desirability, and values will remain strong and grow as his posthumous fame grows. The fascinating story and unique and enigmatic work of this artisan artist - almost folk artist - working on the margins of the traditional, staid art world will undoubtedly write him into not just the story of the mid-20th century East London art scene, but also the history of British art in the 20th century.

 

Mark Hill, London, June 2022.

 

With thanks to Mike Jingle and Russell Whitbread.

 

To learn more about Ron Hitchins and his house and art, visit - ronhitchins.com

To see me appraising an example of Hitchins’ work on the BBC Antiques Roadshow, click here -https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p07m275b
For an interview with Mike Jingle and views of Hitchins’ house displaying his art work - click here https://vimeo.com/572264421
For an interview with Hitchins, directed by Ken Russell, mainly about his life and flamenco - click here https://vimeo.com/150900813

Postcript - The Victoria & Albert Museum has acquired two of the largest panels of Hitchins’ tiles, which will be displayed in the V&A East museum in the Olympic Park, London. The Museum of London have also acquired some of Hitchins’ art and flamenco-related items.

 

Mark Hill

Antiques & Modern Design

Author & Publisher at Mark Hill Publishing Ltd

Managing Director UK at RONATI
Accredited Lecturer of The Arts Society

Member of The British Antiques Dealers’ Association

Online shop and blog at www.markhill.net

www.facebook.com/markhillantiques
www.instagram.com/markhillantiques
www.twitter.com/antiquemark

About Ron Hitchins

Ron Hitchins was born in Poplar 20 April 1926. He passed away peacefully in Hackney 19 November 2019 at the age of 93.
Ron was the quintessential Londoner, born and brought up in Pennyfields, the original Limehouse Chinatown, to a Chinese father and a Lithuanian mother.
He was a Bevin Boy during the War, working down the coal mines in Nottinghamshire. He always loved Jazz, and used to spend his leave in London, jiving at the Feldman Club, later the 100 Club. He later apprenticed as a toolmaker, which would come in useful when he became a sculptor. He started his creative career by making shirts to sell in Petticoat Lane. He had them made up in the best fabrics such as Sea Island Cotton and he would personally embroider monograms on the pockets.
Ron just wanted to earn enough money to enable him to go out and dance in the evenings. He refused business offers to expand and was keen to keep his prices down, to make his shirts affordable.
Ron discovered flamenco when he saw the famous 'Antonio and Rosario' perform at the Cambridge Theatre in 1951, from then on Flamenco and later his artwork became the focus of his life. In August 1957 he jived non-stop for 24 hours and five minutes, to win a bet that he couldn't dance for a full day. (The extra five minutes or so were just added on for the joy of it).
He took up sculpture and gave up the shirts when he found he could scrape a living selling his tiles and sculptures. He was known as the Naked Sculptor, as he disliked the heat of casting his pieces clothed (and wanted the freedom, no doubt). He worked to the sound of his favourite Bebop Jazz, or Sarah Vaughan.

 

 

 

 

Virtual Art Gallery and living Flamenco Museum

Exhibitions

Date


Medium


Colour /BW


Description


Taken by/Note


30 June to 30 July


1964


Gallery Card


BW


A GROUP OF SIX, The
John Whibley
Gallery
, 60 George Street, W1.  RH
Listed


Published by John Whibley Gallery


5 January to 13


February 1965


Gallery card


BW


ARTISTS OF THE
GALLERY,
The John Whibley Gallery, 60 George
Street, W1.  RH listed as sculptor
permanently showing at the gallery.


Published by John Whibley Gallery


19 April to 7 May


1966


Gallery card


BW


Ron Hitchins First Solo Exhibition.  RH First one-man show at the John Whibley Gallery, 60 George Street, W1.


Published by John Whibley Gallery


28 April 1967


Exhibitors’
varnishing


& Season


Ticket


C


The Royal Academy
of Arts
199th
Exhibition 1967
.  Catalogue numbers
1428, 1433.


The Royal Academy of the Arts


16 May to 3 June


1967


Gallery card


BW


Ron Hitchins ceramic and fibreglass panels.  RH solo exhibition at John Whibley Gallery, 60 George Street, W1


Published by John Whibley Gallery


7 October to 9 December 1967


Exhibitors single season ticket


C


To The Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts
where RH was exhibiting.


The Royal Glasgow Institute of
Fine Arts


Until 17 February 1968


Gallery card


BW


Painters and
Sculptors of the Gallery also Permanent Exhibition of Graphics
at the John Whibley
Gallery
 


Published by John Whibley Gallery


Undated 5 May


Invitation


BW


From St Catherine’s
College Art Society
to see ceramics by RH (and paintings by Michael Tain)


Issued by St Catherine’s College
Art Society


15 September to 13


October 1968


Exhibition Catalogue


Gold


Hampstead Artists’
Council Ltd. Exhibition


Hampstead Artists’ Council Ltd


19 April 1969 to 3


May 1969


Exhibition Catalogue


C


Hackney Festival, 4th
Annual Arts Exhibition 


London Borough of Hackney,


Libraries and Amenities
Committee


1970


Exhibition Catalogue


B


Hackney Library
Services


Hackney Library Services


5 October 1971


Programme


BW


A Spanish Song and
Dance Show
, Stoke Newington
Assembly Hall
, Stoke Newington Church Street, N16.


Organised by London Borough of
Hackney Library Services


12 November to 5


December 1971


Exhibition Catalogue


BW


Exhibiting at Camden Arts Centre, Arkwright Road,
London NW3.   


Organised by the Hampstead


Artists’ Council Ltd


15-23 April 1977


Exhibition Catalogue


C


12th
Annual Arts Exhibition Hackney Jubilee Festival


Hackney Libraries and Amenities
Committee


Date


Medium


Colour /BW


Description


Taken by/Note


12 March to 16


March 1975


Exhibition Catalogue


Art


Hampstead Old Town
Hall
, Haverstock Hill, London NW3. 


Published by The Circle Artists


18 April to 2 May


1975


Exhibition Catalogue


C


Hackney Festival,
10th Annual Arts Exhibition


 


20-22 April 1976


Exhibition Invitation


BW


Exhibition of
RH at the Temple Lodge, Hammersmith.  


Published by RH


April 15-23 1977


Exhibition catalogue


C


Annual Arts
Exhibition Hackney Jubilee Festival


Hackney Libraries and Amenities
Committee


Undated circa May 1977


Gallery brochure


BW


Heal’s Art Gallery (Source for date: Ideal
Home magazine May 1977)


Heal’s
Art Gallery


16 July to


14 September C1980


Exhibition Brochure


C


An Exhibition of
Photographs, Hackney Creates at the Geffrye Museum


Hackney Umbrella Arts Project


9-15 March 1982


Exhibition Brochure


C


17th
Annual Arts and Crafts Exhibition 


Hackney Leisure Services


21 November 2015


Exhibition Brochure


BW


Open Cinema
Home.  Ron Hitchins; Made in Hackney
a 10 minute film  


Open School East publication.


Undated 15-31 October


Exhibition Catalogue


BW


Glass and
Reflective Surfaces for Architecture, Euston Station Concourse and Piazza


Richard Demarco


Undated


Exhibition Catalogue


Blue


An Exhibition of
Paintings and Sculpture
by John Wobey and RH.


LB Hackney Library Services


World of Flamenco

Ron Hitchins was a living flamenco legend in the UK scene during the 60’s and 70’s but his influence spanned over 50 years. From the moment he cast eyes on Antonio and Rosario in the 1950’s at the Cambridge Theatre, his Hackney home became THE meeting place and party dance centre for every famous flamenco artist to visit the capital. The Spanish said of him “Tu eres muy Flamenca” (for us you ARE flamenco).  

Artwork For Sale

All enquires please  contact:

ed@edbutcher.com

Mobile: +44 (0)  7768287420

Ron Hitchins’ Original
Four Poster Bed

Hand-made by Ron Hitchins for his own personal use, the frame is made from deal wood and decorated with 3582 hand-made 2” ceramic tiles, each one unique.

Ron constructed the bed as a present to himself for his 50th birthday in 1976. He spent nearly 15 hours a day over three months to construct it. The bed measures 1981 mm long x 2134 mm high x 1422 mm wide.

It comes with its original red velvet covering. The bed also features electric lighting at 2 corners of the canopy (not 4 as shown) and an overhead bronze-tinted mirror which can be hidden behind curtains (not included) and drawn open by means of a pull cord at the head of the bed. There are also four clips below the base which were apparently designed for use with restraints.

The bed has been solidly constructed yet designed to be easily disassembled. The top lifts off the verticle uprights and the bed base is fixed to the head and footboards by four sliding bolts.

It has been shown at several exhibitions and in 1981, Harrods offered Ron £4,000 for the bed.

There are two original drawings which will accompany the sale together with copies of various press cuttings that feature or mention the bed.

Letters from the past

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Ron wasn’t shy in striking up correspondences with characters that intrigued or aroused his interests. This led to many personal letters and tributes from more prominent contemporaries in the worlds of film and TV, art and flamenco, some of which will be featured here in the coming months.

Despite his nicknames of  ‘The Prince of Petticoat Lane‘ and ‘El Flash‘, Hitchins didn’t court fame or fortune as he didn’t want his Hackney life to change. He did however enter into correspondence with artists he admired amongst many were Ernest Hemmingway, Sara Barass and Mario Maya. Many personal artifacts and letters survive his death and are held in the collection.

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Chessington Surrey

KT9 1AZ

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