Patrick Heron (1920-1999) was a painter, writer and designer. He was probably England’s greatest expert on the use of colour in painting, best known for his vividly coloured abstract paintings and prints, but he was also an excellent critic, talker and campaigner. He received many awards and honours over the course of his career, but turned down a knighthood and declined to become an RA.
Heron’s early work was influenced by Georges Braque and Henri Matisse, but he started to paint in a more abstract style after seeing an exhibition of American Abstract Expressionists in London in 1956. His abstracts were varied, including stripe paintings, vertical and horizontal, as well as looser formats with soft-edged shapes, but all his work is notable for its vibrant colour.
Heron was also a very talented art critic, contributing to the New Statesman, Nation, New English Weekly and Arts (New York) magazines, and many of his friends such as William Scott, Roger Hilton, Bryan Wynter, Terry Frost and Peter Lanyon owed much to Heron’s intelligent critical championship of their work.
Heron first came to Cornwall in 1925, when his father moved from Leeds to run Crysede Silks, a textile company. They moved back to London in 1929, but Heron frequently returned to Cornwall, including a 14 month spell as a potter with Bernard Leach during the Second World War. He finally moved permanently when he bought Eagle’s Nest overlooking Zennor in 1956.
To start with, Heron like Nicholson ten years earlier, painted at home, but soon found he needed a bigger studio to paint larger canvases. His application for Studio 5 in 1958 makes reference to its floor area and height, but also its top lighting from the large skylight and its ‘superb quiet space’. He immediately embarked on a new series of major works which were critically acclaimed, and in 1960 had his first solo show at Waddington’s and his first show in New York. He was awarded First Prize in the John Moores Prize Exhibition in 1959.
He used Studio 5 only for works in progress. Its size enabled him to work on several paintings at the same time, and he stayed in Studio 5 until the end of his life.