Patrick Heron: the 1970s

On my first visit, I caught the brief tour of the exhibition run by the Tate St Ives. The next day I came back to sit with the paintings and look. Paintings from across his lifespan are mixed up so that you can see the threads across time. I love this presentation and it works particularly well for Heron who returned to what he loved - colour, gardens, Cornwall landscapes - while consciously developing his techniques and style through involvement in French and US art.

I sat with the huge, solid colour abstracts of the 1970s. Left below is “Two reds with emerald fragment” (1977) and right is “Big complex diagonal with emerald and reds” (1974). Descriptive rather than poetic titles...

The edges where reds meet green really sizzle - my eyes were drawn to them and then moved away because it nearly hurt to look. The shapes of colour reminded me of cut-outs, and the negative spaces in photographs that remain after cutting out. He balanced the shapes as he painted.

The colour looks solid from a distance, and each is indeed just one pigment and tone. But there is texture in the surface and the edges are not hard. He called them “wobbly hard edges”. The edges of the canvas too are wobbly with small areas of the white canvas showing along the edge. The paint was applied, all over, with a small brush, ensuring the  process remains visible in the product.