Patrick Heron at Tate St Ives

From 19 May until 30 September, Patrick Heron’s Horizontal Painting with Soft Black Squares (1959) from the Government Art Collection will feature in Patrick Heron at Tate St Ives, touring to Turner Contemporary, Margate from 19 October 2018 – 6 January 2019. The exhibition will span Heron’s early work in the 1940s through to his death in 1999, tracing the evolution of his practice and articulating the full range of his lively abstract paintings.

Horizontal Painting with Soft Black Squares

© The Estate of Patrick Heron. All rights reserved, DACS 2016

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In Heron’s Horizontal Painting with Soft Black Squares, square and rectangular blocks of colour appear to float in front of a vertically striped background, their soft edges blurring into one another. During the late 1950s Patrick Heron created a body of works collectively know as his ‘stripe paintings’. These works, which include this painting, were based around groups of soft discs and rectangles, which he likened to ‘islands in the sea’. In 1956 Heron, like many artists of his generation, had visited the first exhibition of American Abstract Expressionism at the Tate Gallery. The exhibition had a huge impact on his artistic practice and he came to recognise the importance of colour when creating the illusion of three-dimensional space on a flat canvas. This painting is characteristic of Heron’s work from the late 1950s, which saw his most intense engagement with abstraction.

Heron regarded colour as the over-riding subject of his art, and he often publicly commented on it. Speaking in 1958, he said:

My main interest, in my painting, has always been in colour, space and light. [Colour] is both the subject and the means; the form, and the content, the image and the meaning in my painting.

Patrick Heron was one of Britain’s most acclaimed artists. Born in Leeds in 1920, he studied part-time at the Slade School of Art in London from 1937-1939. During the Second World War he was a conscientious objector, and from 1944-1945 worked as an assistant at the Bernard Leach pottery in St Ives, where he met Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth. From 1953-1956 he taught at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London and in 1955 he published the highly influential book The Changing Forms of Art.

Heron had seen Henri Matisse’s Red Studio at the Redfern Gallery in 1943, and later described it as ‘by far and away the most influential single picture in my entire career’. Until 1955 he worked in a figurative style derived from Matisse, painting still lifes and interiors with bright colours and complex spatial relationships. His conversion to pure abstraction in 1956 coincided with his move to Eagle’s Nest, Zennor, near St Ives, where he lived and worked until his death. Later in life his work depicted the landscape of Cornwall and he incorporated figurative elements into his free-floating colour forms. He concluded that:

‘there is no such thing as non-figuration. The best abstraction breathes reality; it is redolent of forms in space, of sunlight and air.’

Heron was created CBE in 1977 and was a trustee of the Tate Gallery from 1980 until 1987. A major retrospective of his work was held at the Tate Gallery in the summer of 1998, and his work can be found in the collections of Tate St Ives; National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh; the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; and the Montana Museum of Art and Culture, Missoula.

Further Information

Patrick Heron
Tate St Ives
Porthmeor Beach
St Ives
Cornwall TR26 1TG