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Patrick Heron was an English painter, writer and designer, based in St. Ives*, Cornwall.
Born at Headingley, Leeds in Yorkshire in 1920, he was the son of Thomas Milner Heron and Eulalie 'Jack' Heron (née Davies), the first of four children (Michael, Joanna and Giles). His father was a clothes manufacturer, pacifist, socialist and leading member of the Leeds Arts Club. In 1925 the Heron family moved to West Cornwall where T M Heron took over the running of Crysede and four years later the family moved to Welwyn Garden City where Tom founded the firm Cresta Silks. It was here at his new school that Patrick Heron met his future wife Delia Reiss, daughter of Celia and Dick Reiss, co-founder of Welwyn Garden City.
He attended St. George's School in Harpenden and on a school visit to the National Gallery, London in 1933 saw paintings by Paul Cézanne for the first time. He immediately began to paint in a Cézanne-influenced style. Shortly after this he was asked to make designs for Cresta Silks and continued to design for Cresta until 1951. When he was 17 he attended The Slade School of Art* for two days a week, returning to the West Country to draw the landscape.
In World War II he registered as a conscientious objector and worked as an agricultural labourer for three years, then at the Leach Pottery at St. Ives between 1944-5, where he met Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth and many other leading artists of the St Ives School. He had just seen Matisse's The Red Studio, exhibited at the Redfern Gallery, London and soon after this completed what he later considered to be his first mature work, The Piano. in 1943.
The George Braque exhibition at the Tate Gallery* in 1946 deeply impressed him and he wrote an essay on Braque for The New English Weekly. Then up to 1953 he spent time in Europe visiting Paris, Provence and Italy. Heron visited Braque in his Paris studio and presented him with the New English Weekly article.
His first one-man exhibition was at the Redfern Gallery in London in 1947. In 1953 he organized, wrote the catalogue and exhibited in Space in Colour, an exhibition of ten contemporary artists, at Hanover Gallery, London. Following this he exhibited twelve paintings at the Il Bienal di São Paulo*, Brazil. The same year he began teaching at Central School of Arts and Crafts in London and continued there until 1956. In 1956 he saw, and praised highly the American Abstract Expressionists*, who showed their work for the first time in England at the Tate Gallery. He was inspired by this group of eight painters, their confidence and the large scale and flatness.
A development towards abstraction had been evident in his paintings, for example, Square Leaves (1952) and Winter Harbour (1955). The effect on Heron of the New York painters, together with his move to live at Eagles Nest, overlooking the cliffs at Zennor, that year was a pivotal point in the transformation into his now characteristic language of interlinking forms; his balancing of colour and space. Heron's deepest influences were Braque, Matisse and Bonnard, and he was connected first of all to the pure abstraction of European lineage; Naum Gabo, Pierre Soulages.
Patrick Heron's writing about art began when in 1945 he was invited by Philip Mairet, editor of The New English Weekly to contribute to the journal. His first published article was on Ben Nicholson, followed by essays on Picasso, Klee, Cézanne and Braque. Two years later he became art critic of the New Statesman until 1950. He became London correspondent to Arts Digest, New York, (later renamed Arts(NY)).
The Changing Forms of Art, a selection of his criticism was published in 1955. A further selection of writings , edited by Mel Gooding, was published in 1998 to coincide with his Tate Gallery retrospective exhibition.
In 1966, 1968 and 1970, he published a series of articles in Studio International questioning the perceived ascendancy of American artists. His final essay on the subject was in a closely worded article of some 14,000 words published over a period of three days in The Guardian in October 1974.
He defended the independence and autonomy of the English Art Schools, resisting their integration into the polytechnic system. The publication of his article 'Murder of the art schools' in The Guardian in 1971 precipitated an enormous correspondence over a period of six weeks. The article was reprinted in 'Patrick Heron on Art and Education' and was published by Bretton Hall Wakefield to coincide with presentation of Honorary Fellowship of Bretton Hall, University of Leeds and a one man show of gouaches.
Patrick Heron made several Public Works. In 1992 he designed the coloured glass window for Tate St.Ives, and in 1996 a site specific outdoor installation at Stag Place called Big Painting Sculpture in collaboration with his son in law Julian Feary of Feary and Heron Architects.[
In 1947 Heron began a series of portraits of T.S.Eliot. fThe final cubist version, painted in 1949, was acquired by the National Portrait Gallery in 1966. Daughter Katharine was born early in 1947 and Susanna in 1949. The summer of 1947 was spent in St.Ives (as were consecutive summers until 1956 when the family moved permanently from London to Cornwall) followed by first London exhibition at Redfern Gallery in October.
Heron's writings were admired by American art critic Clement Greenberg who sought him out in London in 1954. The friendship they formed eventually disintegrated when they disagreed as judges of the John Moores Prize Exhibition in 1965.
In April 1956 the family moved from London to Eagles Nest in west Cornwall, and in June he exhibited 'Tachiste Garden Paintings' at Redfern Gallery. The following year his first Stripe paintings were exhibited in a group exhibition at the Redfern Gallery 'Metavisual, Taschiste, Abstract' (exhibition title invented by Delia Heron).
In 1958, he moved to Ben Nicholson’s former studio at Porthmeor, St Ives, and two years later he held his first exhibitions in New York at the Bertha Schaefer Gallery and at the newly arrived Waddington Galleries in London.
Heron won the Grand Prize at the John Moores Prize Exhibition in Liverpool in 1959 and the silver medal at the São Paulo Art Biennial in 1965. He held retrospective exhibitions at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1972 and at the Barbican Art Gallery in 1985.
He visited Australia in 1967 and 1973, exhibiting at the Bonython Gallery, Sydney. He delivered the Power lecture in Contemporary Art entitled The Shape of Colour.”He wrote ‘ There is no shape that is not conveyed to you by colour, and there is no colour that can present itself to you without involving shape. If there is no shape then the colour would be right across your retina’
In 1978 he delivered the William Doty Lectures in Fine Arts at University of Texas in Austin entitled 'The Colour of Colour' coinciding with a presentation of over 30 large canvasses from the previous twelve years. This was the culmination of the ‘wobbly hard-edge’ period, works filled with intense fields of unadulterated colour and spatial brushwork. On the same visit Patrick and Delia Heron were made honorary citizens of Texas by order of the Secretary of State. In 1986 he was awarded an honorary D.litt. by the University of Kent at Canterbury, and in 1987 an honorary doctorate by the Royal College of Art. In 1989 he was made an honorary PhD by the CNAA Winchester School of Art, and in 1992 an Honorary Fellow of RIBA. He was created a CBE in 1977 but turned down a knighthood under Margaret Thatcher and declined to become an RA. He was a Trustee of the Tate Gallery between 1980-1987.
Delia died quite suddenly and unexpectedly at Eagles Nest in 1979. For some years Patrick was unable to paint. He returned to drawing and slowly a foundation for the later Garden paintings emerged. In 1989 he returned to Sydney as artist in residence at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Over a period of 16 weeks he produced six large paintings and forty six gouaches creating "...the final great breakout into the freely executed paintings inspired by his new acquaintance with the Botanical Gardens of Sydney and, once more, his abiding love, the garden at Eagles Nest."
In 1994 his Exhibition "Big Paintings" was held at Camden Arts Centre. Heron's largest and most ambitious paintings were 15–22 ft long. A major retrospective exhibition of his work was held at the Tate Gallery in 1998 selected by David Sylvester.
He continued painting until the day before he died. He died peacefully at his home in Zennor, Cornwall, in March 1999 at the age of 79. He was survived by both his daughters, Katharine Heron, now an architect and Susanna Heron, a sculptor.
Many of his works can be seen at The Tate Collection, London and at Tate, St Ives, Cornwall.
On 24 May 2004, the Momart warehouse fire destroyed a number of Heron’s most important works.
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