Page 36 - Studio International - July/August 1967
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which is central to his work—led him to arrange an  many of the paintings. Their creative emptiness repre-
                              exhibition at the Hanover Gallery in July 1953 called  sented a radical discovery, I felt, as did their flatness, or
                              Space in Colour  in which he showed the work of ten  rather, their spatial shallowness. I was fascinated by their
                              British painters, including his own. The long catalogue  constant denial of illusionistic depth ...'  (Arts,  New
                              introduction which he wrote for it includes the following  York, March 1956.) Together with various other
                              summary of his ideas : 'Colour is the utterly indispensable  British painters of his generation such as Davie, Scott
                              means for realizing the various species of pictorial space.  and Wynter, he was one of the very first artists outside
                              . . . Pictorial space, I have suggested, is an illusion of  the United States to recognize the importance of the
                              depth  behind  the actual canvas. It may also be a pro-  new American painting and to learn from it. Moreover,
                              jection—of plane or mass—apparently in front of the  as London correspondent to the American periodical
                              canvas. But the existence of pictorial space implies the  Arts  from 1955-8, his whole-hearted support for their
                              partial obliteration of the canvas's surface from our  work was of great help to the American painters them-
                              consciousness. This is the role of colour: to push back or  selves at a period when they were still struggling to
                              bring forward the required section of the design.'   obtain recognition in their own country.
                               Although he was one of the first English art critics to   Heron's first abstract pictures done under American
                              write appreciatively of the Parisian post-war abstract  influence were tachiste in character and consisted of an
                              painters (especially Soulages and de Staël) and although  all-over composition of dabs or vertical brush-strokes of
                              his works of 1950-2 are sometimes quite difficult to  very liquid paint, which was sometimes allowed to trickle
                              decipher at first sight, he had reservations for some years  down the canvas. The brush-strokes were distributed in
                              about the absolute merits of non-figurative art. His own  shallow layers parallel to the picture surface. As might be
                              first venture into abstraction was very short-lived: in  expected, the earliest pictures were very experimental
                              July and August 1952 he painted a small number of  and showed a variety of influences, including the
                              abstract pictures mainly under the influence of Nicolas  dribbled, gestural lines of Jackson Pollock. But from the
                              de Staël whose one-man exhibition at the Matthiesen  late spring the influence of Sam Francis began to pre-
                              Gallery in February—March that year had had a power-  dominate, particularly in some pictures with delicate,
                              ful impact on English painting. They had block-like  mottled patches of glowing colour. As the titles
                              patches of colour tilted in different directions to convey  indicate—such as Garden Painting: August 1956—they were
                              an impression of contrasting movements. But he felt that  partly inspired by flowering shrubs in bloom and were
                              the elimination of the element of figuration had been an  connected with his move to Zennor, five miles from St
                              impoverishment, and he returned more or less to his  Ives, where he had just bought a house with a very
                              previous style for a further three-and-a-half years. The  beautiful garden; it was situated at a height of 600 ft on
                              only marked difference was that his post-1952 figurative  the edge of the moors, where the ground begins to slope
                              paintings tended to be brighter, with larger areas of  away towards the sea.
                              colour and fewer details (hence rather closer to the late   These tachiste pictures were followed in 1957-8 by a
                              paintings of Matisse).                             more regular series composed of parallel stripes or bands
                               Late in 1955 he began to experiment with tachisme  of different colours and widths executed in thin washes
                              in two or three pictures such as  Winter Harbour: 1955  like watercolour. In these works Heron attained for the
                              (exhibited in the C.A.S. Seasons  exhibition and now in  first time his full liberation as a colourist, a lyrical
                              the Vancouver Art Gallery) in which the original  romanticism and inventiveness which is illustrated by
                              composition was almost completely obliterated by an  such titles as Incandescent Skies—Yellow and Rose, Strata of
                              over-lay of horizontal and vertical bars of colour. His  Green and Scarlet Vermilion and  Atmospheric Painting (olive
                              full conversion to non-figuration did not take place,  and green).  Their seductive colours, laid on in loose
                              however, until January 1956 and it occurred not under  overlapping washes, produce a shallow spatial un-
                              the influence of the School of Paris but of American  dulation. Several of the earliest ones are reminiscent
                              Abstract Expressionism. Although Heron had not been  to some extent of Rothko's pictures, although they
                              to New York at this stage (he had been awarded a  tend to be narrower and to have a greater number of
                              travelling scholarship to the United States in 1950 but  colour bands, but the series as a whole is quite different.
                              had decided at the last minute not to go) he had seen  A picture like  Vertical Light: March 1957  even antici-
                              and admired works by several of the leading painters at  pates the stripe paintings of Morris Louis which were not
                              the I.C.A. and elsewhere in London, particularly paint-  executed until several years later, though it is looser and
                              ings by Pollock, Tobey and Sam Francis. What served as  more 'soft-edged' in construction. Nevertheless, the colour
                              the real turning-point for him was, however, the exhibi-  stripes are placed side by side like bands of coloured
                              tion of Modern Art in the United States at the Tate Gallery  light. He eventually stopped painting stripe pictures in
                              in January—February 1956, which brought together  the summer of 1958 when he realized that they bore a
                              paintings by a number of the principal figures in the  slight resemblance to sunset over the sea—the kind of
                              movement, including de Kooning, Motherwell, Pollock,  effect which could often be observed from his house at
                              Rothko, Tobey and Tomlin. Whereas he had previously  Zennor and which may have influenced him subcon-
                              been obsessed by Braque and Matisse, he now saw in the  sciously.
                              new American painting a revolutionary move away from   The pictures which provided the starting-point for his
                              Cubism, opening up exciting new possibilities. 'I was  next phase were a few works of 1957, such as  Red
                              instantly elated,' he wrote at the time, 'by the size,  Ground: May 1957, which contained both vertical and
                              energy, originality, economy, and inventive daring of   horizontal patches distributed over a ground of more or
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