Although Heron was born at Headingly, Leeds, much of his childhood was spent in West Cornwall. His father was a manufacturer who founded Cresta Silks and employed such artists as Paul Nash, Cedric Morris and McKnight Kauffer. Heron studied part-time at the Slade School of Art between 1937 and 1939, and during the Second World War, as a conscientious objector, he worked as a farm labourer and later as an assistant in the Bernard Leach Potter, St Ives from 1944-1945, where he met Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth and many other leading artists of the St Ives School. Considerably influenced by Braque and Matisse, his early figurative works included interiors, landscape and still lifes. During this period Heron was also an influential art critic, writing for the New English Weekly from 1945-1947, New Statesman and Nation from 1947-1950, the London correspondent for Arts, New York, from 1955 to 1958, and published his important book The Changing Forms of Art in 1955.
It was not until 1956 that Heron took up abstraction, inspired by the first exhibition of American Abstract Expressionism at the Tate Gallery that year. This change to abstraction coincided with Heron’s move to Eagles Nest, Zennor, and the following year he exhibited his first stripe paintings at the Redfern Gallery in a group exhibition entitled ‘Metavisual, Techiste, Abstract’. In 1958, Heron moved to Ben Nicholson’s former studio at Porthmeor and began to introduce the shapes that were to characterise his paintings of the 1960s and 1970s; many of the sharp-edged shapes are reminiscent of the aged Cornish coastline, while the rounded shapes recall the granite boulders in his garden. During the 1980s, Heron returned to a looser compositional format with scumbled surfaces but retained his interest in vibrant colour.
Heron won the Grand Prize at the John Moores Liverpool Exhibition in 1959 and a silver medal at the Sao Paolo Bienal in 1965. He had retrospective exhibitions at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1972 and at the Barbican Art Gallery in 1985; the same year he was included in the St Ives Exhibition at the Tate Gallery. Heron was created a CBE in 1977 and became a Trustee of the Tate Gallery in 1980. He died peacefully at his home in Zennor, Cornwall, in March 1999 at the age of 79.