As a writer and art critic, Patrick Heron had been contemplating abstraction since his first published article in 1945. He began to experiment with purely abstract painting in 1952, largely as a response to the first London exhibition of Nicholas de Staël (1914-1955). It was not until the winter of 1955-56, however that he started to pursue a radical non-figurative approach in a series of Tachiste1 works that reflect a period of dramatic innovation and rapid change. These paintings preceded and in some cases coincided with Heron’s effervescent Garden series (inspired by the move to Eagles Nest, Zennor in April 1956), while anticipating the elongated brushstrokes of his Stripe paintings developed the following year.
Freed from ‘that troublesome entity, the subject’ Heron felt able ‘to deal more directly and inventively (I hope) with every single aspect of the painting that is purely pictorial, i.e. the architecture of the canvas, the spatial interrelation of each and every touch (or stroke, or bar) of colour, the colour character, the paint-character of a painting – all these I now explore with a sense of freedom quite denied me while I still had to keep half an eye on a ‘subject’’ (the artist, Statements: A Review of British Abstract Art in 1956, exhibition catalogue, ICA, London, 1957).
Following on from Vertical : January 1956 (Tate Gallery), in which a succession of uneven vertical strokes obliterate an earlier figurative subject, Blue Vertical : 1956 documents the progression of Heron’s expressive abstraction with a greater variety of mark-making and a more intensive exploration of colour. While working with a similar palette, the dark, roughly uniform screen of the previous picture has opened up to reveal a nuanced study
of blue, heightened with white in some areas, graduated with black to grey in others. Applied on the surface in broad, predominantly vertical strokes of translucent paint layered to create passages of opacity, the paint forms differ in strength, width and length, revealing beneath an even more diverse and active plane. This freely painted layer of gestural marks rendered in various directions, textures and primary colours is overlaid by a network of jagged black lines recalling the linear structure of Heron’s representational work.
1 Derived from the French word tache meaning stain or mark.