Adrian Heath

The 20th Century British painter Adrian Heath was born in Burma in 1920 and was known for his abstract and semi-abstract paintings done in oils and acrylics. At five years old, he moved to Dorset, attending the Bryanston School. From a young age, the artist was surrounding by creative inspiration, as the family had moved into a country house filled with paintings and engravings done by Gainsborough, Romney, and Leighton just to mention a few. In 1938, the artist studied art under Stanhope Forbes at Newlyn, before going to the Slade School of Art. Initially, he began to draw Academy-style nudes of female forms, however military service interrupted his course. He would go back to complete this part of his education in 1947.

During WWII, Heath served in the RAF as a tail gunner in the Lancaster bombers, however he spent most of this time as a prisoner of war at Stalag 383. Here he would meet Terry Frost, a fellow prisoner of war and future abstract artist, whom he began to teach at their time in the prison. After the artist went back to Dorset to complete the course at Slade School of Art, he visited St Ives in 1949 and 1951, where he would meet Ben Nicholson. It was during this period after the war as well that Heath decided to focus his art on scenes in modern life.

One his studies were finished, he moved to France, where he spent a year in Carcassone as well as drifting through Paris from some time. An exhibition of his work took place in 1948 at the Museé Carcassone, filled with impressionist landscapes, still-life paintings and portraits. Later he went on to exhibit at the Redfern Gallery in London, in 1953. Throughout his life, the time Heath would spend in London, Paris and Cornwall would shape his work, combining romantic and classical abstraction seen in the different places. As he continued to travel, the world would increasingly inspire his work. Adrian Heath quoted in his obituary that he preferred ‘looking at the barren landscape of the Hebrides or Spain to the countryside of Southern England’. Many of his creations were made whilst disappearing to the remote part of Scotland, working in a cottage far removed from anything.

During the early 1950s is when Adrian Heath’s work began to take a turn into more abstract and geometric styles as a result to exposure to modern paintings, as well as his friendship with Victor Pasmore. He played an important role both in promoting abstract art in Britain, as well as in the avant-garde group of artists formed to life English art away from the deep insularity brought about by WWII. His studio at Fitzroy Street, as well as being an exhibition space, became an almost salon, like those seen in late nineteenth century France, with artist meeting there regularly. In 1953, Adrian Heath published ‘Abstract Painting: Its Origins and Meaning’, a minor yet perceptive volume on the development of abstract expression by the early modern artist who pioneered this movement. By this point, Heath as established himself as an important figure within the Constructive art movement, adapting his style of art at the same time. In the 1960s, his compositions became looser in their design, as well as getting larger. Expressive strokes of oil paint marked the backgrounds in geometric forms.

Adrian Heath started teaching, teaching at the Bath Academy of Art from 1955 to 1957, as well as the University of Reading at the start of the eighties. He was noted as being highly intelligent and enthusiastic, always excited to help his students have the opportunity to study, with bursaries and private funding.

The artist continued painting through the seventies, with his last exhibition commemorating his 70th birthday. Adrian Heath passed away in 1992, in Montmiral, France.

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