We are very grateful to Susanna Heron for her assistance in preparing the catalogue entry for this lot. The Patrick Heron Estate is preparing the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's work and would like to hear from owners of any work by the artist so that these can be included in this comprehensive catalogue. Please write to Susanna Heron, c/o Christie's, 8 King Street, London. SW1Y 6QT.
Clodgy Point is a rocky headland at the extreme west of Porthmeor Bay. Clodgy: St Ives: 1951 depicts its complex of cliffs, rocks and inlets as seen from above, looking down, as we may say, from the turf promontory into a small, rugged cove. The headland itself, as a feature of the coast-scape of Porthmeor, was much loved by Patrick Heron, having been visible from the house, high above the bay, in which he dwelled as a child, and imprinted on his visual imagination thereafter. Many years later its distinctive silhouette was traced and matched to the edge separating one distinct colour area from another in one of his so-called 'wobbly hard-edge' paintings of the mid- to late-1960s, a line which, invisible (as in all those paintings) other than as a sharp separation of opaque colours, was first mapped (without premeditation or topographical intention) in charcoal or biro by the painter as a guide to a deliberately designed colour frontier.
Those invisible demarcations, the first of which was drawn on to a primed canvas in early 1963, marked a return to (an albeit occluded) linear drawing after many years of freely brushed soft-edged shape making which had began with the tachiste splotches of the 'garden paintings' of 1956, when Heron made his final decisive move to abstraction. Until that crucial point, a decisiveness of charcoal or brush-painted line had been central to his painterly practice. At the time of Clodgy: St Ives: 1951 the principal inspiration and the formal model for his own pictorial structures and spaces were to be found in the sophisticated cubist-derived later work of Georges Braque, the modern painter whom Heron admired above all others, and whose studio he had visited less than two years earlier, in 1949.
The composition of Heron's still lifes, interiors (such as Tate's 1951 Harbour Window with two Figures, St Ives) and landscapes (like Clodgy) were alike held together by a vigorous, quick and sure linearity. 'From Braque came the idea of the transparency of objects' Heron remarked about his painting in the early 1950s. He was referring to Braque's ability to delineate objects in such a way as to give them vital presence and yet bring to life a spatial dynamic within them and between them: it was a dynamic Heron himself was seeking - with great success - in the paintings of 1950 to 1955.
Writing of Braque in 1957, but clearly thinking of his own past practice, he sought to resolve what seemed an apparent contradiction between conflicting statements of the French master: 'L'objet, c'est tout!' and 'Let us forget things, and consider only the relationships between them.' For Braque, as for the Heron of the early 1950s, a concern for real objects must be the basis of their transmutation into objective 'pictorial form', which is itself, necessarily, abstract; but that very 'formality', a matter of colour, shape and line on the canvas surface and nothing else, must have its origins in the complex optical experience of the world external to the canvas. This apprehension of the world is active not passive, the eye is empathetic not objective; its operation is not mechanical like the aperture of a camera: it finds expression in painting.
In the present case, the world depicted is the grass and stone headland of Clodgy, with its diverse greens of cliff-top turf; the variegated blues of the sea below and beyond, as the light plays over it; the looping line of land against sea; the rush of surf and the movements of underwater currents. In painting, nothing comes of nothing: Clodgy: St Ives: 1951 is a report on sensational experience as much as it is the outcome of cunning artifice. The colours are of pure unmixed hue, straight from the tube, applied alla prima, strokes and planes of colour 'slotted' (in Heron's own word) between the rhythmic lines of the dynamic structural grid of paint drawing. This directness of painterly application and the quick instinctive linearity were habitual to Heron at this time (and became so again in the late white 'garden paintings' of his last years); they give the painting its striking freshness, its air of improvised spontaneity, the sense we have of a virtuoso musician at work.
The musical rhythms of the painting are attuned, so to speak, to the rhythms and counter-rhythms of the landscape-seascape itself. The topographical features are clearly delineated: the far point to the upper left; the arabesque complications of the inlet's shoreline from upper left to upper right, the main structural movement of the painting, which creates the principal spatial (and psychological) dynamic of the painting - that of enclosure or embrace; the loop out of that movement that describes the grassy head of a tall stone stack; the loop that establishes the high green headland to the upper right. Below, the two inlets are further enclosed by the black formation of rocks and the thick blue current line that links them to the headland to the right. The surface of the smaller, to the left, is a paint-scribble of grey greens, a sign for the wash and froth created by the forced inrush through a narrow entrance of tidal water; the larger lagoon is calmer, its surface colours, at least four different blues, variegated in the moving light, only its rocky outcrops subject to tidal turbulence. Beyond is the distant cobalt and ultramarine of the wider stretches of St Ives and Carbis Bays, pure colour as recessive space.
And yet we cannot help but see the painting, vividly descriptive as it is, more as a vital evocation of vital experience than a simple prospect of the sea. We are struck by its essential abstraction - from the reality of a moment of light, space, weather, a sense of the smoothness of turf and the starkness of rock, of the contrast of sea turmoil and sea placidity - to an interlock of pure vigorous line and unabashed paint-colour following the insouciant logic of its own spontaneous design. These components of the picture as object declare themselves without disguise, each line and stroke laid parallel to the canvas surface, tracing their way or simply placed within channels of untouched exposed primed canvas. The eye is never still as it traces these surface patterns and rhythms, surprised at every move by variations of texture, colour and shape. Clodgy: St Ives: 1951 is at once a thrilling landscape and a complex radiant object.
We are very grateful to Mel Gooding for preparing this catalogue entry.