Patrick Heron (January 30, 1920 – March 20, 1999), was an English painter, writer and designer, based in St. Ives, Cornwall.
Born at Headingly, 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, Joannah 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 Silks, then four years later his father founded the firm Cresta Silk in Welwyn Garden City. It was here at his new school thet Patrick Heron met his future wife Delia Reiss.
Becoming a painter
Patrick Heron 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. At the beginning of the 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 until 1945. 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.
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 much 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 oganised, 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 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 and Lyonel Feininger. In the 1970s he claimed that American painters practising Post-painterly Abstraction (a term devised by the critic Clement Greenberg in the 1960s) had actually been inspired by his own work.
Heron's writing on art and art education
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.
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.