Patrick Heron

(b Leeds, 30 Jan 1920; d St Ives, 20 March 1999). English painter and critic. In the 1950s he became identified with the ST IVES group of painters, although the roots of his aesthetic date back to earlier experiences, which included working as a designer for his father’s firm, Cresta Silks (1935–9, 1944–50), and assisting at Bernard Leach’s pottery (1944–5). Insights gained through friendships with Herbert Read, T. S. Eliot, Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson and Ivon Hitchens were also important. Influenced by Braque and Matisse, he evolved a flat, linear style in a series of still-lifes and interiors such as the ambitious Christmas Eve (1951; artist’s col., see 1985 exh. cat., p. 29), in which the lightly filled-in colours create an airy, luminous effect. In his writings as a critic for the New English Weekly, New Statesman and Nation and Arts (New York) between 1945 and 1958, Heron was unconvinced of the necessity for pure abstraction. His early paintings are in an ART INFORMEL style, but he then began to produce paintings composed of horizontal bands of colour, such as Horizontal Stripe Painting (1957–8; London, Tate). These simple bars of thinned oil paint, softly brushed on in one movement so the colours intermingle, still seem to refer to coastal landscape in their form and colour, bringing them as close to Hitchens’s abstractions from nature as to the Post-painterly Abstraction of Morris Louis, whose work Heron claimed to have foreshadowed. From the 1960s he concentrated on simple forms such as rectangles and a repertory of distinctive shapes that emphasized decorative values and contrasts of saturated colour. In the 1970s he favoured large surfaces of colour painted with small Japanese brushes (e.g. Long Cadmium with Ceruleum in Violet (Boycott), 1977; London, Waddington Gals), relaxing these self-imposed restrictions in the 1980s in more informal abstractions that hinted once again at landscape associations.


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