Page 34 - Studio International - July/August 1967
P. 34

Patrick Heron : the development of

                              a painter

                              Ronald Alley

                                                                                major one-man exhibitions of Picasso, Matisse, Braque,
                                                                                Bonnard and other great contemporary artists in Lon-
                                                                                don in 1945-6 helped to turn British artists away from
                                                                                the Neo-Romantic styles dominant in England during
                                                                                the early 'forties towards the mainstream tradition of the
                                                                                School of Paris. In Heron's case it was the Braque exhibi-
                                                                                tion at the Tate Gallery in 1946 that made much the
                                                                                most profound impression. He wrote a brilliant and very
                                                                                enthusiastic review of it at the time for the New English
                                                                                 Weekly  (one of his earliest pieces of art criticism) and
                                                                                many of his pictures were strongly influenced by Braque
                                                                                for the next ten years.
                                                                                 Heron's post-war figurative paintings were mostly do-
                                                                                mestic still-life subjects or, occasionally, compositions
      Patrick Heron in his studio                                               with one or two figures in an interior. They were pictures
      at St Ives
                                                                                with a complex pattern of interlocking (sometimes partly
      A retrospective exhibition
                                                                                transparent) shapes, an interweaving of foreground and
      of Heron's paintings is at
      Richard Demarco Gallery,                                                  background forms, in which arabesque-like linear draw-
      Edinburgh, until July 22                                                  ing was combined with flat areas of colour. But whereas
                                                                                Braque's colours tended to be somewhat muted, Heron
                                                                                from 1947 onwards used bright flat colours applied
                             The work of Patrick Heron is bound up with what is  straight out of the tube. Each area in his pictures was
                              probably the most crucial series of events in British art  given equal importance—none was more positive or
                             since the war : the impact of the new American painting,  negative than its neighbours. The linear structure of his
                             the absorption of its influence and, eventually, a reaction  pictures tended by 1950 to take on an almost baroque
                             against it and an attempt to go beyond it. The fact that  extravagance : an intricate network of meandering and
                             Heron is himself exceptionally articulate (having been  zigzagging lines which embraced and linked together all
                             one of the best English art critics of the post-war period)  the forms in the painting and at the same time led the
                             means that his development can be followed stage by  eye into depth in one or more directions. The small
                             stage in a very clear way which provides valuable insight  irregular colour patches not only created a sensuous,
                             into the development of recent British painting as a  lyrical vibration but were used to enhance the spatial
                             whole.                                             recession and to establish the relative positions of the
                              Patrick Heron was born at Leeds in 1920. His father,  planes in space. Heron often deliberately chose a subject
                             T. M. Heron, was the founder of Cresta Silks Ltd and an  which allowed him to achieve a complex spatial effect—
                             enlightened patron who employed leading artists, includ-  one space leading back into another—such as a still life
                             ing Paul Nash, to design textiles. Part of his childhood  in front of a window with a glimpse of buildings or a
                             was spent at St Ives in Cornwall, where his best friend  harbour beyond. The harbour window theme, which is
                             was none other than Peter Lanyon; then from 1930-9 he  particularly characteristic of this period, is one that arose
                             lived at Welwyn Garden City. He was very precocious as  out of his visits to St Ives: although he lived in London
                             a painter and at the ages of sixteen and seventeen, while  from 1945-56 and did not settle in Cornwall until 1956,
                             still at school, painted some pictures inspired by Cezanne  he spent part of each summer at St Ives where he was in
                             and Sickert which are not only astonishingly accom-  the habit of renting a studio overlooking the harbour.
                              plished but show a remarkable understanding of these  While still a somewhat isolated figure stylistically, in
                             artists' work. He attended the Slade School as a part-time  terms of the English art scene, his closest ties were with
                             student from 1937-9 but his career was then interrupted  the painters of the St Ives area, such as Ben Nicholson,
                             almost completely for five years because of the war. When  Peter Lanyon, Bryan Wynter and John Wells, and with
                             he resumed painting in 1945, British artists were just  such artists as Ivon Hitchens, William Scott and Roger
                              beginning to emerge from their period of enforced isola-  Hilton.
                              tion and to learn what the great artists of the School of   His preoccupation with colour as a means of creating
                             Paris had been doing during the war years. A series of   pictorial space—an interest which is still alive today and
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