Since early in his life, Patrick Heron was inspired to be creative. His family’s business started with woodblock prints on silks, before expanding into garment-making and retail after moving to Cornwall. Moving to Welwyn Garden City in 1929, Cresta Silks was fully established, working with several designers at the time. Heron himself started creating fabric designs for the company when he became a teenager. It was here he met his future wife, Delia, who was the daughter of a director of the company that founded Welwyn Garden City.
The Piano’ was Patrick Heron’s first mature work, which kickstarted his time exhibiting in several galleries. His first solo exhibition was at the Redfern gallery in 1943. That same year, the artists started a series of portraits of T. S. Eliot, one of which was acquired by the National Portrait Gallery in 1966. As recent as 2013, this specific painting was at the centre of the gallery, surrounded by original studies from both life and memory that Heron created around the same time.
During WWII, Heron registered as a conscientious objector, working as an agricultural labourer in Cambridgeshire before being signed off for ill-health. Following this, he returned to St. Ives to work for Bernard Leach at Leach Pottery from 1944. During this point, he met a plethora of fellow artists at the St. Ives School, including Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson. The artist married Delia, his school sweetheart in 1945 and had two daughters: Katharine in 1947, who became an architect and educator, and Susanna two years later, who is a sculptor. Heron made Cornwall his permanent home in 1956 after spending every summer there, spending the rest of his life there until he passed away in 1999.
Heron’s art features strong, bold colours and explores the use of light. His early figurative work and his figurative art later in his life are both highly regarded. Especially in his later pieces, the artists placed massive importance on all areas of a painting, striving for equality in his vision. First and foremost, Heron worked with gouache and oils, however his designs were made into other mediums as well, such as silk scarves for his father’s company and a stained-glass window in St. Ives for the Tate.
After his wife Delia unexpectedly passed away in 1979, Heron took a pause in painting. When he eventually returned to the canvas, he found new ways to reinvigorate his passion. Starting to paint from the arm rather than the wrist and using large brushes to glide paint across the page is just one of these methods he adapted to his newer works. These intense periods of creativity let Heron make larger paintings, exhibiting throughout the country.
Writing was another medium that Heron actively engaged with. Part of this was critic, regarded for his ability to articulate art from the perspective of a practitioner. He began writing about art in 1945 when invited to contribute to a journal by Philip Mairet, the editor of The New English Weekly. Several articles were to follow, and after two years began broadcasting a series of talks about contemporary art on the BBC World Service, as well as continuing to write for New Statesman, Arts Digest in New York. Routledge featured some of his criticisms in The Changing Forms of Art, which ended up being one of his last features. In 1958, Heron took a ‘vow of silence’, claiming that he wanted to be a painter who writes, rather than a writer who paints. Although he continued to write here and there, his focus realigned onto creating art.
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