Dating from 1968, Four Reds with White is an example of Heron's distinctive period of 'wobbly hard-edge' painting. In these paintings of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Heron drew shapes with soft charcoal onto the prepared canvas before using small brushes to paint the areas of unmixed colour. The large scale of the present work is typical of these paintings and, combined with the hard-edged juxtaposition of colours, creates a strong visual impact.
Previously, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Heron had painted the colour shapes spontaneously onto the canvas with no preparatory drawing and had let the colours overlap, creating lozenge-type shapes that sometimes seem to float within the surface. In Four Reds with White, however, this softness has been replaced by the hard edges that divide the different colour planes and a different relationship has been created between the colours that Heron has used.
In 1969 he wrote, 'All sensation of colour is relative. I mean by this that it is not until there is more than one colour in the visual field that we can be fully aware of either or any of the colours involved. If I stand only eighteen inches away from a fifteen-foot canvas that is uniformly covered in a single shade of red, say, my vision being entirely monopolised by red I shall cease within a matter of seconds to be fully conscious of that red: the redness of that red will not be restored until a fragment of another colour is allowed to intrude, setting up a reaction. It is in this interaction between differing colours that our full awareness of any of them lies. So the meeting lines between areas of colour are utterly crucial to our apprehension of the actual hue of those areas: the linear character of these frontiers cannot avoid changing our sensation of the colour of those areas. Hence a jagged line separating two reds will make them cooler or hotter, pinker or more orange, than a smoothly looping or rippling line. The line changes the colour of the colours on either side of it. This being so, it follows that it is the linear character that I give to the frontiers between colour-areas that finally determines the apparent colour of my colours' (see 'Colour in my Painting', Studio International, December 1969, pp. 204-5).
The geometric elements of the present painting demonstrate the influence that Ben Nicholson had on Heron, although Heron's shapes have an organic wobbly appearance and the texture and brushstrokes differ greatly from Nicholson's. Typical of Heron's work the shapes in Four Reds with White seem to cluster round the edges of the canvas. Heron commented on the importance of the edges of paintings, saying in an interview with Martin Gayford that, 'The edges - this is a Heronian dictum - are the first formal statements of any painting' (see 'Looking is more interesting than doing anything else, ever' in D. Sylvester (ed.), exhibition catalogue, Patrick Heron, London, Tate Gallery, 1998, p. 38.)