Squares on Dull Green, 1960 by Patrick Heron
Oil on canvas
122.5 x 75.5 cm
Signed and inscribed with the title on the stretcher
Galerie Charles Lienhard, Zurich, Switzerland.
Offer Waterman, London.
Private collection, UK.
1960, Patrick Heron, Waddington Galleries, London, cat.no.24.
1961, Middle Roads: Four British Abstract Painters: Adrian Heath, Patrick Heron, Roger Hilton, Bryan Wynter, Manchester City Art Gallery, Manchester, cat.no.12.
1962, New Art, Festival of Labour, Congress House, London, cat.no.23.
1963, Patrick Heron, Galerie Charles Lienhard, Zurich, Switzerland.
2002, Patrick Heron: Works from 1956 to 1969, Waddington Galleries, London, cat.no.10, ill.p.21.
Squares on Dull Green: Jan 60 was painted at the high-point of an incredible burst of creativity and experimentation, in the same year that he exhibited for the first time in New York, at the Bertha Schaefer gallery.
Heron had established himself as not only one of the most important abstract painters working in Britain but also a major voice in America of the European avant-garde. This had not gone unnoticed by some of the leading lights of American art, many of whom, including Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock, were very aware of the powerful images being created in London and St Ives – a remote fishing village that was the epicenter of abstract art in post-war Britain.
The paintings of the late 1950s are masterful in their exploration of Heron’s concept of ‘space in colour’ - that is to say, the creation of space and light through the careful juxtaposition of colours and the moment of contact between colours - which he had first expressed in a 1953 exhibition of the same title at the Hanover Gallery in London. At this point in time in his career, Heron didn’t sketch the composition of his paintings, beyond a rough route-map in his head, before applying brush to canvas. As such, the works grow organically on the canvas, as each form and each colour follows the suggestion of the preceding elements, as the Artist explained himself in the catalogue of the 1963 exhibition at the Galerie Charles Lienhard: 'I do not find myself "designing" and canvas: I do not "draw" the lozenge-shaped areas or the soft squares. And there forms are not really "forms" at all, anyway, but simply areas (or soft vermillion? violet? ceruleum? brown ochre?) materializing under my brush when I start to try to saturate the surface of the canvas with, so to speak, varying quantities of this colour or that' (the Artist, quoted in Mel Gooding, Patrick Heron, Phaidon, London, 1994, p.174).
After seeing Heron’s new paintings in 1958, which moved away from the ‘horizontal stripes’ of 1957, Clement Greenberg wrote a note of advice to Heron: ‘Always, I felt, a few too many discs or rectangles were put in to prevent that wonderfully original colour of yours from realising itself… every one of the five paintings could have been decisively strengthened by simply or mechanically wiping out every silhouetted form that was less than a foot and a half away from the edge of the canvas, that is, by bunching and clearing…’ (Greenberg, letter to Patrick Heron, 17 August 1958, quoted in Michael McNay, Patrick Heron, Tate Publishing, 2002, p.57).
The relationship between Greenberg and Heron was both complex and fraught, and Squares on Dull Green: Jan 60 is certainly evidence of the back and forth which took place between them – while there is space for the colour to ‘realise’ itself and a few of the figures are ‘bunched’ towards the top of the composition, those figures certainly seek to encroach on the borders of the composition and break beyond it, almost in opposition to Greenberg’s patronising advice. In further response, Heron went on to challenge the hegemony of Greenberg’s views with two articles published in Studio International in the late 1960s and a conclusive long essay in The Guardian in 1974, which defended the position of European abstraction.
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