The suite of prints from which this etching is taken is one of the last works Patrick Heron made before his death. Over a period of three months between December 1998 and March 1999, Heron worked in his studio with the printer Hugh Stoneman, making drawings for fifteen works in total, from which he selected the eleven plates that make up the portfolio. He finished the drawing for the colophon page on the morning of the day he died. Heron approved the proofs and decided on a sequence for presenting the works shortly before his death. The etchings were printed posthumously, overseen by the artist’s two daughters.
Of the numerous prints Heron produced throughout his career, few were etchings. His earlier prints were most often silkscreen prints produced from gouache drawings, such as Eight Including Ultramarine : 1971 1971 (Tate P04288). Heron delivered his finished gouaches to the print studio which the printer would then reproduce as screenprints. When he was invited to make a print project for the Paragon Press, Heron initially conceived this project too as gouache drawings, but he was convinced by the printer and his daughters to work some etchings directly on the plate. The plates were prepared using a sugarlift etching process. Heron painted directly on resin coated steel plates, using the Chinese brushes which he used to make his gouaches, and a mixture of sugar, Indian ink and water. Colour was of primary importance to Heron – from an early stage, he claimed that colour in itself was the meaning, image and form in his work – and for these works he made notes with gouache to record the colours he wanted used in the printing process.
Stoneman, the printer who worked with the artist on the project, relates that Heron: ‘painted the plates quickly and surely, always standing up. He would work on two or three plates. He had a very good idea of the over-printing of the plates. That wasn’t a problem for him. He would then choose the colour, saying “I see that in cherry red” of one plate, and choosing another colour for another plate and so on.’ (Quoted in Elliott (ed.), 2001, p.325.)
Heron was interested in the purely physical nature of colour and claimed he did not intend any shapes or forms that occurred in his paintings or prints to be interpreted as symbolic or iconic. Certain motifs, nevertheless, recurred throughout his work, and later Heron recognised that elements could be referential. Many of the forms Heron used in earlier works reappear in The Brushworks Series, but rendered with a greater freedom and spontaneity. In engaging with the process of making the plates, Heron was able to experiment further with his markmaking. Most of the etchings were printed from three or four separate plates, and this work shares one plate with another in the series (Tate P78358). While the other etchings feature brightly coloured inks, in this work black blobs of colour combine to engulf a grey ground.
The portfolio is printed in an edition of thirty-eight with fifteen artist’s proofs and one printer’s proof. The prints in Tate’s collection are numbered 9/38 and are stamped with the mark of the estate.
David Sylvester (ed.), Patrick Heron, exhibition catalogue, Tate, 1998.
In Print, Contemporary British Art from the Paragon Press, exhibition catalogue, The British Council, 2001.
Patrick Elliott (ed.), Contemporary Art in Print: the publications of Charles Booth-Clibborn and his imprint the Paragon Press 1995-2000, 2001, reproduced p.226 in colour.