Shell-shocked artist's works a mystery

HIDDEN TREASURE: Jared Holland is displaying paintings by ex-war veteran Lloyd Hillyer.
HIDDEN TREASURE: Jared Holland is displaying paintings by ex-war veteran Lloyd Hillyer.

The bold and methodically painted artworks of a shell-shocked war veteran have been unearthed for what is possibly their first exhibition.

Jared Holland, managing director of Newton-based gallery Nature: Art + Design, first came across the work of Lloyd Hillyer tucked inside a nearby second-hand bookstore.

"The owner Ron was telling me about his local art collection so I wandered in to take a look and I thought it was pretty interesting stuff," Holland said. "Then he tells me the story of this guy."

Mystery surrounds much of the artist's later life but it is known that Hillyer served as an army officer during World War II and was honourably discharged after being diagnosed as severely shell-shocked.

He came home from the North African campaign to live with his parents in a three-bedroom Victorian villa in Epsom.

Hillyer is said to have painted the floor and the ceiling of the house entirely black after the death of his parents.

The walls, furniture and even the windows were completely coated in white paint in stark contrast.

Hillyer then proceeded to pin his artworks, which were painted on cardboard with acrylic paint, all over the house.

It is said that in some places the paintings went five layers deep and as a result many of them are riddled with pin holes.

Holland said the works could have been painted anywhere been 1940 and 1990 and show a range of moods.

"It seems to me he has become introverted, and obviously from the stories, very eccentric," he said.

"You feel as if you are looking into a fractured mind, you can see shell-shock.
"You can see explosions that have been branded into his memory."

Symonds St book dealer Ron Harcus bought dozens of the paintings at an estate liquidation held at Webb's auction house about a decade ago after an auctioneer friend suggested he take a look.
He followed his friend's advice and was immediately struck by the geometric abstractions.

"I've never counted them, but I've got well in excess of 100 works.
"The auction house was selling them in piles, so I've got about a third of what was for sale."

The money garnered from the auction was to fund the care of Hillyer, who moved into a home.

Webb's auctioneer James Hogan went to the house to collect the works and said it was sparse aside from a few pieces of painted furniture and hundreds of paintings.

"I thought I was very lucky to see it.
"I could feel the pain he was going through," Hogan said.

"He'd painted quite a number of works - it was almost like a form of therapy I would think."

Hillyer died in 2006 aged 85. He had no children.

Holland hopes the exhibition in his gallery will prompt someone to come forward with more details about the artist.

"I can't stress enough how meaningful the work is."

Several works by Lloyd Hillyer can be viewed at Nature: Art + Design gallery at 18 St Benedicts St, Newton.

Auckland Now