Patrick Heron – Tate, St. Ives – July 2018
So this was it. My long-awaited summer exhibition of one of my artistic heroes. Patrick Heron. So keen to see this, I booked it on the Monday and the Wednesday, just in case I missed anything. I didn’t. This followed on closely from my time in Amsterdam, and I was on more familiar soil in more than one respect.
Heron probably did more for abstract art in the UK than any other painter. He brought not only his undoubted skill in assembling a painting, but also his intellect. He rode the storm of occasional public and critical indifference throughout his career – and did it his way. This, more than anything is why I have so much admiration for him as an artist.
One of the standout works for me is Cadmium with Violet, Scarlet, Emerald, Lemon and Venetian:
I looked long and hard at this work, twice and still came away amazed. I think only by being up close and personal with this size of painting can you really see what the artist is striving for. After a hot summer in Devon, I felt this encapsulated the actual feel of the weather outside. This work followed a lengthy period of inactivity for Heron, following an accident. These sorts of works need to command the space that they are hung in. And they do. What really hits home visually are the stunning colours and their audacious juxtaposition. The brightness of the red sears the eyeball. The image is imprinted on the long term memory. These “wobbly hard-edge” paintings, for me at least, represent the end of Heron’s great period of abstraction. A period of roughly a quarter of a century.
This included the early abstractions such as Camelia Garden in 1956.
It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of Rothko, and I know Heron was too. You can see the influence in a lot of the early works, such as Horizontal Stripe Painting above. However, instead of sticking to one signature format, Heron was always striving towards new goals. Did he succeed or fail? Partially. The less successful examples of his work in my eyes are the later works towards the end of his life. The don’t command as much canvas real estate as the earlier works. They are more experimental, and for me, they don’t engage my senses as much.
Of course, it is all subjective. He seems to be entering an almost child like state. They lack the punch, colour and vibrancy that I associate with this great artist. But clearly, at this point, he doesn’t care what I or anybody thinks. That’s why I love his work so much. Perhaps in time, I will warm to the later works.
In conclusion then, you have to get to this exhibition if you can, it will open your eyes!