'My main interest, in my painting has always been in colour, space and light ... and space and colour is the subject of my painting today to the exclusion of everything else. But the space must never be too deep, or the colour too flat. Each painting has to adjust depth to surface in a new and unique manner' (see Architecture and Building magazine, London, October 1958).
The above quote was made by Patrick Heron in October 1958 - the exact month and year he painted Violet Brown Ochre Lemon & Black.
In 1956, Heron moved with his family to Eagle's Nest, Zennor, which is perched more than 600 feet above sea level on the moors to the West of St Ives in Cornwall. In January 1956, he returned to London and saw the exhibition 'Modern Art in the United States' at the Tate Gallery.
Heron reviewed this exhibition for the Arts magazine of New York and wrote in part,'I was instantly elated by the size, energy, originality, economy and inventive daring of many of the paintings. Their creative emptiness represented a radical discovery, I felt as did their flatness, or rather their spatial shallowness. I was fascinated by their constant denial of illusionistic depth which goes against all my own instincts as a painter ... To me and those English painters with whom I associate, your new school comes as the most vigorous movement we have seen since the war. If we feel that far more is suggested than achieved, that in itself is a remarkable achievement. We shall now watch New York as eagerly as Paris for new developments (not forgetting our own, let me add) - and may it come as a consolidation rather than a further exploration' (see M. Gooding (ed.), Painter as Critic Patrick Heron: Selected Writings, London, 1998, pp. 102, 104).
Heron was indeed impressed with the scale of the new American painting but it was colour, space and the European tradition of texture of paint, brushed and applied on to the canvas that interested him. Heron painted his sequence of 'tachiste garden paintings' in 1956. In 1957, he created his first horizontal and vertical colour-stripe paintings (see lots 1 & 4).
Heron then painted his last stripe painting in the spring and early summer of 1958, but by then he had already made paintings flooded with a large field of colour and with soft edged squares. In Violet Brown Ochre Lemon & Black, Heron scribbled and scrubbed the paint onto the surface of the canvas for textural and tonal effect. He allowed colours to overlap and he squeezed pure pigment from the tube on to the canvas. An individual boldness, simplicity and textural effect was clear.
'At the time one was told that Heron was simply following Rothko. Now if this means that he was exceptionally quick to appreciate Rothko's quality and importance, it is true, and there are indeed a few pictures which show the absorption of this influence. But the striped paintings (see lots 1 & 4) and the open paintings (the present lot) that immediately suceeded them are not really like Rothko at all, and the American paintings they do now recall are later in date. Speaking as someone who has known them from the time that they were painted, they seem to me to have got better year by year, assuming an authority that comes with age. I am inclined to claim now that Heron's paintings of 1957-1958 are a major statement by a major British artist, and they occupy in the context of their time a situation analogous to William Scott's black and white pictures of 1954, or, to go further back into the past, Ben Nicholson's white reliefs of 1936' (Exhibition catalogue, Patrick Heron Recent Paintings and selected earlier canvases, June - July 1972, London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, introduction by Sir Alan Bowness).