Patrick Heron

Small Olive Painting with Blue Disk : January 1962

Oil on canvas: 10(h) x 14(w) in /

25.4(h) x 35.6(w) cm

Signed, dated and inscribed on the reverse: PATRICK HERON / SMALL OLIVE PAINTING WITH BLUE DISC : JANUARY 1962

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BS 240



Headingley 1920 – 1999 Zennor


Small Olive Painting with Blue Disk : January 1962


Signed, dated and inscribed on the reverse:

Oil on canvas: 10 x 14 in / 25.4 x 35.6 cm

Frame size: 15 x 19 in / 38.1 x 48.3 cm



The Stone Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1962

Private collection, 2000

Richard Green Gallery, 2005

Private collection, UK



Zurich, Galerie Charles Lienhard, Patrick Heron, January 1963, no. 1140



In the catalogue for his exhibition at the Galerie Charles Lienhard, Zurich, held in January 1963, in which the present work was exhibited, Heron wrote a piece entitled A Note on My Painting: 1962. It was Heron’s first written statement on his work, with the exception of a brief note on a painting installed at Lund Humphries in 1958. In it Heron asserted that:

‘Painting has another continent left to explore, in the direction of colour (and in no other direction). Painting, like science, cannot discover the same things twice over: it is therefore compelled in those directions which the still undiscovered and the unexplored dictate. It seems obvious to me that we are still only at the beginning of our discovery and enjoyment of the superbly exciting facts of the world of colour. One reels at the colour possibilities now: the varied and contrasting intensities, opacities, transparencies; the seeming density and weight, warmth, coolness, vibrancy; or the superbly inert “dull” colours – such as the marvellously uneventful expanses of the surface of an old green door in the sunlight. Or the terrific zing of a vibrant vibration … a violent violet flower, with five petals, suspended against the receptive furry green of leaves in a greenhouse! Violent violet cobalt! Certainly I can get a tremendous thrill from suddenly seeing two colours juxtaposed – anywhere, indoors or out (but I am no landscape painter in disguise, incidentally) … I do not find myself “designing” a canvas: I do not “draw” the lozenge-shaped areas or the soft squares. And these forms are not really “forms” at all, anyway but simply areas (of soft vermillion? violet? ceruleum? brown ochre?) materialising 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.’


By 1962, Heron was beginning to eliminate the dark hollow rings that had featured heavily within his compositions in the late 1950’s. Heron used these rings, with their dark tones to outline and define his shapes and they soon became a stylistic trait in his oeuvre. By choosing to acquire a new deliberateness in his compositional structuring, the artist discovered a more distinctive ordering of shape through which he was able to utilise bold colour. Mel Gooding addresses how his new works created in 1962 and 1963 gave colour a more deliberate role in his compositions, as opposed to using it primarily as a way in which to define shape and form: ‘From a procedure in which he had felt that colour itself determined the actual shapes, or areas, which balanced one another in his painting, he changed suddenly to one in which the composition of the final work was predetermined by a deliberate act of design, and its areas of colour met at boundaries drawn before colour entered the arena.’[1] Small Olive Painting with Blue Disk is demonstrative of Heron’s habitual tendency to group together asymmetrical shapes in his designs, usually placing them to the right of the canvas – as shown here – and having them break the direction in which the composition should be structured. In Small Olive Painting with Blue Disk ‘the great horizontal field is wittily punctured by three patches of colour which tumble, like cloudlets in a potentially infinite sky, down to the lower right. As with all the paintings of this period, it is an image of the perpetually kinetic equilibrium-in-mobile of nature.’[2] Heron uses bright primary colours, such as the blue and red, against quieter and more subdued tones of green in order to draw attention to the surface and to play with the spatial reading of the work.




Patrick Heron, Blue Painting with Discs : September 1962

Oil on canvas: 96.5 x 122 cm

Britsh Council Collection




 Headingley, Leeds 1920 – 1999 Zennor


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 Pottery, 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 his 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, he 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 Biennial 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. He 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.


[1] Mel Gooding, Patrick Heron, London, Phaidon Press Ltd., 1994, p. 174

[2] Ibid, p. 162

Post War BritishPatrick Heron