abstract art, a systems view

Patrick Heron at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

with 8 comments

At the moment the modern collection at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is in gallery 21. The Patrick Heron painting seems to dominate the room, as if it has a different aesthetic to all the other works on view. His use of colour in his “wobbly hard edge” paintings (his term) makes everything else in here look dull.

Having said that, the little Winifred Nicholson painting of flowers at a window is lovely and there is at least one good Ben Nicholson painting on show.

The two abstract paintings seem to present two quite different versions of modernist abstraction don’t they?

P.S. Sam Cornish on Twitter pointed out that these two are in fact quite similar, and he’s right isn’t he? both are stacked rectangles holding circles. My response was that as an identical twin I see differences where others see similarity. A bad excuse if ever I heard one. I guess what I really have in mind is to do with the colour. When I walked into this space the Patrick Heron painting dominated in a way that the Nicholson collage didn’t. The strong flat colours in the Heron made it the only one in the room that was absolutely other than a window on the world. Actually, it seemed totally out of place. I love the Nicholsons, but they didn’t seem different to all the others in quite the same way as the Heron. Both abstract, both circles and rectangles, maybe we could say the drawing is similar, yet they seem to be different versions of abstraction in that the Nicholson seems to be about line whereas the Heron seems to be about colour.


8 Responses

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  1. Hello, I have come over from Little Bits of Sheffield, whose vision is always interesting. I was grabbed by your idea of a period of working small making it easier to work larger. There is something in that. But now I have seen this post about the Heron and feel compelled to comment. Colour says so much so quickly. The others take more time (and sometimes they are too intellectual for me). Just like hanging your work in a mixed show – I hope not to be hanging next to you! you would steal the limelight! I would have to pay the curator to put me under the brightest light in front of the door. Love your colours by the way, your latest one has the feeling of an overlay of silky fabrics.


    May 24, 2012 at 11:25 pm

    • Thanks for your comment. I was thinking that they were about space and you remind me that they are also about time. I agree about the speed of the high colour communication (and also the problem with group shows – whenever I put work in a group show I think this is an issue, I wouldn’t want to put work next to mine either! it’s not a comment on the quality of my work just that it tends to dominate. Even the 6″ x 12″ pieces need quite a lot of wall). However, the Heron does reward prolongued viewing, it’s not all about speed.
      Interesting that you should mention silk fabric in relation to my new paintings. Did you know the connection between Patrick Heron and Cresta Silks (his father’s firm, Patrick producing designs there in the 1930s I believe)?

      Andy Parkinson

      May 25, 2012 at 7:39 am

      • I think I just replied but it disappeared – timed out. didn’t know about PHeron’s background. I enjoyed your learning activity page as it gave me an insight into your own process. this is a very potted version of my other reply in case you did get that!


        May 25, 2012 at 8:19 am

  2. […] To Lorena at getloworld who posted the pingback on my post. And to Andy Parkinson whose blog on a gallery experience with Patrick Heron got me […]

  3. Never really been a fan of Patrick Heron, I always felt he was a minor league player. I always felt he was about “prettiness” and not about content….looking around the Tate in St Ives reinforces my feelings about British abstract art of that period – mediocre.


    May 27, 2012 at 9:26 am

    • Thanks for commenting Peter, I think you are right about it not being about content, unless the content is colour. I think I understand where you are coming from and I may have shared your view once. However, I find that I am becoming increasingly appreciative of some British artists that I once found a bit ‘old hat’. It used to be that Henry Moore and Ben Nicholson (for example) were everywhere, and now I don’t see them so much I really like them when I do see them. (Thinking of Nicholson, Alan Gouk recently wrote an excellent article with a very positive evaluation of his work in relation to Mondrian’s at Back to Heron: I think he was a brilliant colourist, and whilst I might use the word “decorative” to partially describe what I find in his paintings, I struggle to think of them as pretty. For me, there is a lot more going on than that.

      Andy Parkinson

      May 28, 2012 at 7:04 pm

      • The Rothko exhibition at the Tate a few years ago blew my socks off (I have been a fan since the early 1970s). Somehow Heron et al never provoke that ‘smothering’ and awe inspiring feeling that comes rising up from your belly.

        Yes I agree that Henry Moore and Ben Nicholson have gone out of fashion (even though they are being constantly quoted in GCSE and A level coursework) – maybe we have moved on and have simply left them behind? Perhaps we have found more relevant and interesting cul de sacs to walk down?


        May 30, 2012 at 8:38 am

  4. Hi Peter, I wonder if you saw Terry Greene’s post the other day over at “Just Another Painter” ( at, about British Art of the period we are discussing. His post links to a LRB article by T.J. Clarke that I think you might find interesting.

    Andy Parkinson

    June 1, 2012 at 3:02 pm

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