Adrian Heath

Composition blue and black and white

Oil on canvas: 35.7(h) x 39.5(w) in /

90.8(h) x 100.3(w) cm

Signed and dated lower right: Heath 58

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BX 183

 

ADRIAN HEATH

Maymo, Burma 1920 – 1992 Montmiral, France

 

Composition blue and black and white

 

Signed and dated lower right: Heath 58; inscribed 9 on the reverse and on the stretcher

Oil on canvas: 35 ¾ x 39 ½ in / 90.8 x 100.3 cm

Frame size: 37 ¼ x 41 in / 94.6 x 104.1 cm

 

Provenance:

Private collection, acquired from the Artist’s Estate, 29th November 2009

 

Exhibited:

London, Hanover Gallery, Adrian Heath: paintings and gouaches, 6th December 1960-6th January 1961, no.9

London, Jonathan Clark, Adrian Heath in the 1950s, 2005, cat.no.32, illus. in colour as Composition – black and ochre with blue

 

 

After completing his time at the Slade School of Fine Art in 1947, Adrian Heath ventured to southern France and spent a year painting in the medieval cité of Carcassonne. In this short yet important period, Heath exhibited his first one-man show and made a discovery crucial to his later practice. In Carcassonne he found a small book of reproductions by the Cubist artist and printmaker Jacques Villon, that helped him break with naturalism. Villon, a Section d’Or Cubist, fragmented his forms and reorganised their parts into harmoniously assembled, well-proportioned works of abstraction that advanced the evolution of Cubism. In Composition blue and black and white, Heath demonstrates the maturity of his distinctive abstraction which had developed over the course of the decade, culminating in a series of Oval Themes (1956-9). In this series, geometric planes were arranged into rounded, oval-like compositional motifs, ‘where before he had started with harmonic divisions of the whole rectangular format of his chosen canvas, now he began from the centre and worked out to the edges.’[1]

 

In paintings from Heath’s Oval Theme series, the composition spirals outwards from a central nucleus, intricately unfurling to occupy the larger expanse of the canvas. Heath described why he shifted to creating these oval-shaped compositions: ‘The square or rectangular canvas was no longer the unique source of the geometric forms that I used. I would now start independently from some central position and the composition would spread outwards from this axis to occupy a circle or oval.’[2] Heath’s creation of softer, more organic forms is executed here to mesmeric effect. A tightly clustered, compact body of shapes occupy the heart of the composition, solid black and deep, cerulean blue strokes settle around the work’s core and jar against shades of bone white and a lighter, yellow-tinged vanilla. As opposed to the artist’s earlier abstraction that focused on the orthogonal division of his overall rectangular format, the forms in Heath’s oval-themed paintings are more loosely held together, though structured as carefully.

 

Heath recalled that in the late 1950s (1956-7) he returned to examining D’Arcy Thompson’s great work on morphology, On Growth and Form (1917), a celebrated biological study of how physical forces and mathematical laws affect natural selection; represented, for example, in anatomical or structural patterning in nature, such as a honeycomb’s hexagonal wax cells, the wheel of a snail’s shell or the alternating black and orange stripes of a tiger’s coat: ‘All alike consist of stuff secreted or deposited by living cells; all grow, as an edifice grows, by accretion of accumulated material; and in all alike the parts once formed remain in being, and are thenceforward incapable of change.’[3] In Composition blue and black and white, the composition unwinds in a geometrical sequence that is reminiscent of the aforementioned snail shell. Beyond the painting’s densely packed epicentre, planes of slate grey, ashen white and light, powder blue jut and intersperse to create a strong and intriguing visual game on the canvas, that fits together to produce an almost jigsaw-like structure. 

 

 

Adrian Heath, Grey and Black, 1958

Oil on canvas: 54.5 x 42 cm

The Hepworth Wakefield

 

ADRIAN HEATH

Maymo, Burma 1920 – 1992 Montmiral, France

 

The artist, theorist, curator and teacher, Adrian Lewis Ross Heath was born in Maymo, Burma on 23 June 1920, returning to England at the age of five to live with his maternal grandmother in Hampshire. He attended Bryanston School in Dorset from 1933-37 before becoming a private pupil at the Newlyn School of Art under Stanhope Forbes in 1939. His subsequent education at the Slade School of Art from 1939-40 (evacuated to Oxford) was interrupted by the Second World War, during which Heath served in the RAF. He was shot down in November 1941 and was taken prisoner in Germany from 1942-5. Heath met and encouraged Terry Frost to paint in a POW camp, Stalag 383, Bavaria. At the end of the War, Heath finished his training at the Slade between 1945-7, before spending a year painting in France. 

 

He returned to the UK in 1948 and became friends with Victor Pasmore, Kenneth and Mary Martin and Anthony Hill. Pasmore encouraged Heath to exhibit his first abstract composition at the London Group in December 1949, following which he became a leading figure in the British Constructivist Movement in the 1950s. He wrote and published Abstract Painting: Its Origin and Meaning at the same time as his first one-man exhibition at the Redfern Gallery in 1953.

 

Heath commissioned and was included in Lawrence Alloway’s seminal, Nine Abstract Artists and took part in the renowned This is Tomorrow exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1956.  He taught at the Bath Academy of Art, Corsham from 1955-76, his colleagues including Peter Lanyon and William Scott. He was artist in Residence at Sussex University in 1969. Heath became chairman of the AIA (Artists’ International Association) from 1954-64 and helped organise the first Post-War exhibition of abstract art at the AIA in 1951. He served on the Arts Council’s advisory panel from 1964-67.

 

The work of Adrian Heath is represented in the collections of the National Galleries of Scotland, Tate London and the Hirshorn Museum, Washington DC, amongst others.

 

 

 

[1] Alastair Grieve, Constructed Abstract Art in England, London: Yale University Press, 2005, p.178.

[2] The artist cited in, Jane Rye, Adrian Heath, Farnham: Lund Humphries, 2012, p.116.

[3] The biologist and scholar D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson cited in, Jane Rye, Adrian Heath, Farnham: Lund Humphries, 2012, p.115.

Post War BritishAdrian Heath