Light and its vivid transformation of the landscape is everywhere in the works of Turner Contemporary’s Patrick Heron exhibition; curated by Andrew Wilson, Curator Modern and Contemporary British Art, Tate Britain and Sara Maston, Curator, Tate St Ives with Sarah Martin, Head of Exhibitions, Turner Contemporary. How do the skies of Margate and St Ives compare? This thought resurrected itself on my train journey to Margate.
A couple of nights previously, I had a conversation with Susanna Heron at the launch of our brand new Art360 App; a huge copy of Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper just behind us. I had been transfixed by a detail, which is hidden in full view but overlooked by the likes of Dan Brown. Who had decided to serve The Last Supper on a white linen tablecloth, the horizontal band of paint which must occupy 20% of the canvas?
An abstract matrix of geometric folds, brushwork attending to a surface of irregular creases hanging above the feet of the guests. The conversation began in contemplation of the new exhibition of Patrick Heron at the Turner Contemporary in Margate, the first major retrospective of his works in a U.K. gallery in 20 years. His legacy resides in works made in variety of scales but most anticipated are his larger works.
The materiality of legacy in paint is precarious. We know that Leonardo’s original painting began to fall from the walls almost immediately. For Turner, we know his great works on the metamorphosis of the industrial landscape through the prism of the ruins of Arcadia but we don’t know his erotic works, because this legacy was destroyed by the critic Ruskin. For Heron, a fire at the art warehouses of Momart destroyed some key works, which now only exist as photographic documents. A revelation at the Turner Contemporary show his last works, experimental and joyous works in gouache on paper.
Reflecting on the surfaces of Heron’s paintings is to contemplate the evolution of his painting style and painting as a discourse on the possibility of pigment in space. JW Turner visited Land’s End, the most westerly point of mainland England, on his West Country tour of 1811. We can imagine that Turner visited Mên-an-Tol after painting Land’s End and then perhaps took the coast path past to Eagles Nest, the home that Heron bought on the prehistoric Moreland peninsula near St Ives. To protect this landscape, which was an inspiration to Heron, he purchased 150 acres which today remain wild and unspoiled, covered in yellow Gorse and overgrown granite hedges.
The eyes of visitors are met with exquisite oranges, purples and yellows that illuminate like traps for curious bees, the selection of key works from private and public collections. Throughout the exhibition, images are arranged in harmony and riffs on line and colour that jump, cut between historical epochs. In the gallery at Turner Contemporary we met daughter Katherine Heron and Sarah Maston, Tate Curator. They agree that this approach to the hang is an attempt to simulate the views through the house at Eagles Nest, which Patrick would curate himself.
This play between styles is intoxicating and we find the surface depths of paintings vary radical. A work; Big Complete Diamond, March 1972 to September 1974, for example, sits naturally opposite Square Green with Orange, Violet and Lemon, 1969. They are a few years apart and the brushwork is quite different. The former composed of myriad fan-like brush marks and the latter a less visible mark but an organic logic bounces across the space between them. Nearby is Sydney Garden Painting, 1990 which is a predominantly white canvas with shapes of flowers picked out in rapid purples lines against grids of green, vertical and blue/black lines.
The exhibition demands multiple visits, which is perfect for the new arrivals from London, who will surely love this cosmopolitan show of a real icon of British painting. As DACS’ Chief Executive Gilane Tawadros pointed out, like his contemporary, Frank Bowling, Heron was not only a genius of colour and composition, but a critically engaged theorist about the contemporary medium of painting.
In the exhibition we are invited to read his words on his works and also his more general writing in support of campaigns for independent art schools and arts education. The Turner Contemporary galleries also host The Script by Akram Zataari, 2018. This is a commissioned work with Modern Art Oxford and New Art Exchange and ironically plays with our ideas of religious ritual. A man wearing a t-shirt that reads, “knowledge is power” prays on a rug with two small children playing around him and eventually climbing onto him whilst he bows. The routine reappears and the context changes. Meanwhile, on an adjacent wall an iPad plays YouTube clips which mirror the occurrence. This follows a strategy the gallery has used previously to mix audiences for painting and film when they showed John Akomfrah, Vertigo Sea during their Tuner show.
Patrick Heron at Turner Contemporary runs from Friday 19 Oct 2018 to Sun 6 Jan 2019. Download the official exhibition press release here, or click here to find out more. All images courtesy Turner Contemporary.