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'Orange & Lemon & Small Violet'  1977

 

In my own work, colour is always paramount.  At Canterbury Art College in the early eighties, colour liberated my painting. How could it not? I was introduced to the sensuous canvases of Matisse and Bonnard and taught by Stass Paraskos, Thomas Watt, Mali Morris & Geoff Rigden, with visits from Patrick Heron and Terry Frost.

I have always remained ambivalent towards Patrick Heron, the painter: for every stirring painting, there were disappointments. (the 1994 exhibition at Camden Art Centre springs to mind, where the paintings were shocking not because of what they were, but what they weren't). The exhibition at Tate St.Ives exposes his range, from the powerful to the limp. I may have my own preferences, but the colour-saturated canvases, painted to the edge, are his most distinctive, radical work. I believe the painting above 'Orange & Lemon & Small Violet' is a great painting - his masterpiece - and viewing it, I was as physically affected as when in front of a great Matisse or Bonnard. The scale and saturation of colour seduces - the proportions/imbalance of colour outrageous, different. The uniqueness of Heron's shapes - the terrific tension of the hanging orange. The exquisiteness of surface and edges, painted with a small brush. Endless questions, spatial games: is the orange in front of the yellow, is the yellow in front of the orange. Is there a receding space or simply a smaller shape?  The best question of all - what am I looking at?

I was also moved by 'Two Reds with Emerald Fragment' and by the colossal 'Cadmium with Violet, Scarlet, Emerald and Venetian' with it's characteristic 'inter-penetration' of shape and negative space, leading the eye across and around the painting, 'bouncing off the edges'. I gave time to these paintings- they demanded it and I'll be back again on Saturday.This is painting as pure and sensuous as it gets, the western tradition of  image and ground made irrelevant and subservient to the senses. 

 For me, the spell is broken and the paintings less interesting in this period, when forms/shapes overlap or 'appear' to. 

 

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'Cadmium with Violet, Scarlet, Emerald & Venetian'

 

In contrast the paler, later works are disappointing. There is a sketchiness to them: confident, yes, but where is the invention, the reflection, the going back,? The missing elements are doubt and depth. Decorative; is this an artist running out of ideas? These linear paintings, with the white canvas prominent, just don't move me - they fail to grip the eyes like the best of Heron's work. Why couldn't the late garden paintings be as rich, alive and pulsating as 'Camellia Garden' from 1956 or 'Scarlet Verticals' 1957. One cannot help but think of Monet's late Giverney paintings - how revolutionary, tactile and sensuous they are. 

 

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'Camillia Garden'  1956

 

The hang is wonderful but themed instead of chronological. Whether intended or not, this had the positive effect of the paler, garden paintings giving us a breather between the hits of colour. A chronological arrangement would have shown us that 1977 was a very good year.

 

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Of course one can only praise his championing of the St.Ives school and certainties about the direction of art* but my view - which is probably career suicide for a painter living and working in Cornwall! - is that Patrick Heron made great paintings but is not a great painter, in that the quality and invention were not sustained over a complete career. For me, the giants of the St.Ives painters remains Peter Lanyon, Wilhemena Barnes-Graham and later Sandra Blow. However the exhibition did not disappoint; the new space at Tate St.Ives is fabulous, the paintings can be seen at their best and I went away uplifted and looking forward to mixing some colour...

 

*'What one should be doing is leaving oneself open to the invisible suggestions of one’s’ own reflexies when stimulated through the eyes. To make oneself available to previously uncharted rhythmic movements, suggestions and devices – this is the great ideal’   Patrick Heron 1987

 

 IMG 37761 Copy'Scarlet Verticals'  1957

 

IMG 37721 CopyA good wall...