The exhibition of the British artist Patrick Heron, which covered his early figurative and later complete abstractions, featured fascinating vignettes of his life. The first retrospective show of Heron’s work in over twenty years, highlights Heron as a driving influence behind the St Ives School. As a critic, Heron made commanding arguments for abstraction, pushing the boundaries of what art could achieve.
I was enticed by the vibrancy of colour Heron chose to utilize in his paintings. It stayed in my mind. Both during and after I visited the exhibition it was, and still is, quite impressive. As a prominent representative of the genre, Heron’s work suggests that British Modernism sought direction and inspiration by peeking over the English channel at the French schools of art. After engaging with Heron’s paintings, particular French artists appear to have influenced his work more than others. Cezanne, Braque, and Matisse are three notable influences, but another stands above the rest, Pierre Bonnard.
Heron’s frequent usage of informally arranged interior spaces, several of which have garden views or references, is derived from Bonnard’s compositional and thematic choices.
Not enough focus is given to Heron’s writing, which results in a lack of context for important parts of this exhibition. More information about his tenure as an art critic would add another dimension to the show’s narrative. However, the time-line presented does highlight some prominent moments in Heron’s career, but it gives no indication as to how Heron can be placed in a broader art historical context.
As an artist, Heron made specific choices regarding colour, form, size, and spacing in his paintings. The manner in which he executed those choices is the true brilliance of his work. It allows the viewer to develop an individualized response and relationship to his creations. In a sense, Heron allows the viewer to put the finishing touches on the paintings.
I am thankful for having seen this exhibition and for being introduced to an authority on abstract painting. As a movement and genre of art, Modernism is quintessentially European. Author and art historian Serge Guilbaut has suggested that New York became the centre of Modern art during the 20th century. However, Heron’s body of work throws a wrench into the mechanisms of that claim. No artist in the States painted like Heron did. I was educated and trained as an art historian in the States and Heron’s name was never mentioned. Undoubtedly, this is a result of Heron not being included within the Greenberg domain.
I am inspired by this exhibition to lift that veil and pursue and research art beyond that sphere.
Turner Contemporary Museum Margate, Kent UK. Fri 19 Oct 2018 – Sun 6 Jan 2019
Volume 33 no 3 January / February 2019 p24
Alexander started the New Art Examiner’s online course teaching critical writing in November, and we are delighted to print his first published piece.