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  • Patrick Heron, 28 February : 1999 : I, 1999 © estate of Patrick Heron. All rights reserved, DACS 2018
  • Patrick Heron, 28 February : 1999 : II, 1999 © estate of Patrick Heron. All rights reserved, DACS 2018

Turner Contemporary is delighted to include a group of never before seen late gouaches by Patrick Heron (1920-99), as part of the retrospective exhibition currently open to the public at Turner Contemporary.

"We are delighted to include this group of incredibly vibrant works on paper in the exhibition. Patrick Heron made gouaches throughout his career and they were for him stand-alone works in their own right – not substitutes or studies for oil paintings.  The dynamism, energy and brilliant colours in these gouaches are testament to Heron’s commitment to exploring the possibilities of paint and colour right to the end of his life." (Sarah Martin, Head of Exhibitions)

The group of seven gouaches on paper were produced in February and March 1999, in the last weeks of Patrick Heron’s life, and have never been exhibited publicly before. These vividly coloured paintings were produced in an extraordinary burst of creativity in the year following Heron’s major retrospective at Tate, after which he struggled to paint for some time.

Encouraged by his daughters to begin painting again by making small works on paper, Heron returned to gouache, a medium he had used earlier in his career, most notably in the group of over forty topographical abstractions evoking the light and colour of the Sydney Botanical gardens during a residency at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1989/90.

Between November 1998 and March 1999, Heron produced a series of over forty modestly-scaled paintings, a selection of which were exhibited posthumously at Waddington Galleries in June. The last gouaches however were larger in scale, allowing for an even greater liquidity and openness.   

The more fluid visual language of the late gouaches represented a new departure for Heron. They combine abstract arrangements of vibrantly coloured lines and spots, creating areas of solid or pooled paint against expanses of white. 

The gouaches were painted in the small front room Heron used as a studio at Eagles Nest, his home in Zennor, Cornwall, overlooking the Atlantic coast and his famous garden, which was bursting with early spring colour. He painted them flat on a table, using the tube of paint to draw directly onto paper, totally absorbed in observing and controlling how the colour ran.

The selection of gouaches includes 18 MARCH :1999, made two days before Heron’s death. Giles Heron, in an address given at his brother’s memorial service at St James’s Church, Piccadilly, in June 1999, recalled his own visit to Eagle’s Nest during this period, as follows: 

‘[H]e laid a clean sheet of paper on the table; and then he called Linda and me to go around the garden with him. This we did at a snail’s pace. We revelled in the dappled sunlight on the camellias. We inspected the greenhouse, which inevitably demanded a lot of watering… That garden stroll had prevented his painting in more than one sense. It seemed to me that what I was witnessing was not wilful or weak-minded avoidance of work, but slavish obedience to it, and that the garden experience was an inescapable part of the painting process. I suggested to Pat that this was the case. ‘Of course!’ he said. When I returned for the funeral the following week there was the new gouache on the floor of the little front room where he painted latterly.’

(Giles Heron, edited version of the address he gave at Patrick Heron’s memorial service at St James’s Church, Piccadilly, on 2 June 1999 published in Tate ETC, Issue 30, Spring 2014)

The retrospective exhibition, the first major show of Heron’s work for twenty years, opened at Tate St Ives on 19 May and is currently showing at Turner Contemporary. One of the most significant and innovative figures in 20th century British art, Heron played a major role in the development of post-war abstract painting. Spanning over fifty years of work from 1943 to 1996, the exhibition provides a rare opportunity to experience the scope and ambitious scale of Heron’s painting as well as his consistent attachment to the subject of colour.

Patrick Heron is curated by Andrew Wilson, Curator of Modern and Contemporary British Art, Tate Britain and Sara Maston, Curator, Tate St Ives with Sarah Martin, Head of Exhibitions, Turner Contemporary.

Posted by: Turner Contemporary on Fri 7 Dec 2018