Thursday, 24 May 2018

Patrick Heron at Tate St.Ives May 2018

Patrick Heron at Tate St.Ives ,    May 2018

How great to be exhibited in the Tate but what a pity they couldn't arrange it before the artist died. Patrick Heron was however asked to design a window for the entrance which is marvellously colourful. I remember the artist giving a talk in front of it about how he designed it on a small piece of paper and how a German firm able to make a window with large expanses of glass was used. Although very famous and respected,Patrick must have been a bit nervous because throughout his talk he was jangling change in his pocket which made it quite hard to hear, but no one protested.

Like the subject of the last show in the new big gallery, Virginia Woolf, Patrick was a member of the Labour Party and committed enough to have large boards exhorting everyone to vote Labour put up at election times on the coast road outside his home, 'Eagles Nest' , a strange name to choose although apt for the wild location because it was also a house name used by Hitler for his mountain retreat. Perhaps Patrick didn't know that?  Or insisted on reclaiming it?

So, what of the show? Patrick's writing on art put the St.Ives artists into public view. All artists need writers to become known and to become part of the accepted 'canon' of art history.

It's very enjoyable with captions featuring remarks PH wrote about painting, about the need to achieve balance, about the way the edges of a painting are so important as the onlooker's eyes look from them to different points in the composition and back and to and fro.

Some influences from Braque, Rothko, Robert Indiana,  etc. can be seen and PH mentions looking at Bonnard. 
The early paintings are more figurative
Antibes 1949

Christmas Eve 1951

with a middle period of more solid coloured shapes that could have been cut from paper like Matisse, and then later looser ones with more space and calmer, lighter colour. I think these are the ones PH began thinking of them as entirely abstract but later realised how influenced he was by flowers in his garden.


I asked in the card shop if a favourite was emerging and they weren't sure yet, probably the ones indicating observation of St.Ives, maybe the one I chose 'interior with garden window' 1955 which is a complicated orchestration of shapes , colours and textures- enough going on to entertain you every time you see it and painted with what seems great aplomb possibly disguising the effort it cost him like watching a practised dancer whose arabesques seem easy.

Interior with garden window 1955

Crowds of children were being marshalled on the stairs and central area and asked to suggest rules of behaviour- not to run or knock sculpture over was being suggested  as I passed them. The Patrick Heron show is  going to suit the teachers because pupils will be encouraged to trust their instincts and enjoy themselves when they next get into the art room, as long as austerity allows enough paint and paper for their youthful exuberance. 

Perhaps this is PH's contribution, to enjoy the colours, shapes and fitting them into a rectangle.
He was doing this as art whilst I was learning it from a teacher, Mrs Roberts, who was in tune with what was going on, with Victor Pasmore and basic design exercises and that book teachers had that told you about good and bad design. How much more difficult to find a way to introduce the young to the fantastic array of art going on today. The influence of the PH sort of art is alive, very much so in St.Ives. Painters like Felicity Marr carry it on, most of the Penwithy art in the Penwith gallery down the road upholds it's aims, but there's so much more now, humour, politics, gender identity, ecology. After the Second World War 's carnage I think artists welcomed a refuge in a simpler world of art, art like music, form and colour, a rest from horror. I think our times cannot just keep that going, it's a new time.

However it's balm for the troubled soul to spend time in this show. I was visiting torn in two by the prospect of what disease can do to spoil our fun, on the edge of tears at the unfairness we all face at sometime, and it helped a little.

Thank you Patrick Heron.

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