Hello. I’m John Squire here at Tate stores to talk about this piece by Patrick Heron. This is January 9th 1983. It’s dominated by this violent area that bleeds and feathers into the wet background. I’m drawn to this initially because it’s an abstract work. It’s allowing me to engage and interpret for myself, and there is something about the flatness and the all-over-ness that engages me far more than a representational work ever could.
When I hear about a watercolour show, I tend to think immediately of landscapes, of Turner studies, et cetera. It’s a shame really because this work is so potent that the medium itself is pitching in there with the direction of the work. I know that he did quite a long spell of watercolour at work after a canoeing accident which I presume kept him out of his studio; and whilst he was recuperating he switched to watercolours, and that had an effect on his later oil work. It’s not the reason I chose this piece, but it seems strange that I had a similar accident, and consoled myself with watercolours in a similar way.
This isn’t watercolour yet, but I found that I can work faster if I do the printing stage of this work with an oil-based product. The hat’s not an affectation, by the way – used more as a hairnet.
One of my favourite Heron quotes is that concepts and symbols are the enemies of painting; but you could argue that for Heron to say he is anti-concept is a concept in itself.
I discovered that in some cultures the five-pointed star is linked to immortality. Now, this is a three-pointed star, but it got me thinking, the immortals in our society are, or our gods, are celebrities. And I don’t know who this is, but it might be Lindsay Lohan or Rudolph Hess – you never know. I’m now going to part wet the paper so that the watercolours will flow and bleed.
You’re at the mercy of the media in a lot of respects. It’s almost like the paint wants a say in the final composition. It’s a balancing act to see how much control you can and want to exert. I’m going to spot in some darker colour and then start to work in a little tighter to some of these shapes. I’m just using this stick across the work so I can steady my hand and paint more accurately. I’m going to paint and print on this sheet of muslin, so there is an interrelationship between the two layers, and part of the pattern will come through. I suppose it adds a layer of mystery.
In the dry areas you get a nice scratchy, rough edge, and then on the wet ones you let the paint take over and do what it wants. You need to work fast and if it goes wrong, start again. You can’t cover your mistakes very successfully, whereas with oils you can just scrape them off and start again. That almost disposable nature encourages you to experiment, and that’s a good thing in a way. Instead of the blue being veiled by the fabric, it will be dominant on the surface, whereas the first layers on the paper will also show through in areas like this, round this edge here. The heavier colours on the background paper when viewed through the muslin sheet tend to recede almost like they are being viewed through a mist.
Right, I’m going to leave the two layers to dry now. The weave of the fabric will come through and the paint will cling to that weave in some areas and create some interesting effects. The whole thing will just get stronger.
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