Patrick Heron, Yellow Painting : October 1958 May/June 1959 1958–9 . Tate . © Estate of Patrick Heron. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2022

Room 13 in Walk Through British Art

St Ives Circa 1959

Roger Hilton, September 1961  1961

Hilton titled many of his paintings simply by the date of their completion so as to emphasise his desire that the work be seen for itself, and not in any representational way. However, by the 1960s he had developed a new kind of figurative language. In his compositions of these years abstract shapes and looping lines often suggest the presence of a figure or landscape, or both. These bold forms are obsessional, recurring constantly in his paintings. Works of this period, such as 'September 1961', are also less densely painted and more atmospheric than earlier works. This could well be the result of his growing sensitivity to his light-filled, airy surroundings.

Gallery label, September 2004

artworks in St Ives Circa 1959

Dame Barbara Hepworth, Spring, 1957 (Project for Sculpture)  1957

artworks in St Ives Circa 1959

Patrick Heron, Horizontal Stripe Painting : November 1957 - January 1958  1957–8

Heron was a critic and painter who championed an approach to painting that assessed quality according to such formal values as the flatness of a composition and colour. Of his stripe paintings he wrote, ‘The reason why the stripes sufficed ... was precisely that they were so very uncomplicated as shapes ... the emptier the general format was, the more exclusive the concentration upon the experiences of colour itself.’ Heron resisted the total abandoning of subject matter and even such works as this have been seen in relation to landscape, the horizontal bands and colours perhaps suggesting the horizon at sunset.

Gallery label, February 2010

artworks in St Ives Circa 1959

Alan Davie, Black Mirror  1952

Black had a special meaning for the artist following a brief illness in 1946 during which he was temporarily blind. He described this traumatic visual experience as 'whiteness'. In contrast black came to signify life and 'the depth of life'. Davie's usual practice at this time was to produce each painting swiftly and violently through a 'flash of inspiration'. If he was subsequently unhappy with the result he would begin again, obliterating the image with a completely new painting. Davie resisted the notion of pure abstraction and his title emphasises this. According to Davie 'here is a picture which you would call abstract but is a mirror in itself'.

Gallery label, September 2004

artworks in St Ives Circa 1959

Peter Lanyon, Lost Mine  1959

The broad, gestural style of Lost Mine reflects the impact of American Abstract Expressionist painters such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, whose work Lanyon first encountered in the early 1950s. Typically for Lanyon, however, its seeming abstraction is combined with a precise external source: a tin mine in his native Cornwall that had been flooded by the sea and abandoned. The colours are both representational and symbolic. The black stands for the mine shaft and seems to signify death, the blues are the sea and sky, the red signals life and danger.

Gallery label, June 2011

artworks in St Ives Circa 1959

Peter Lanyon, Construction for ‘Lost Mine’  1959

This object relates to the painting Lost Mine, displayed nearby. Lanyon often used materials found in his studio to make three-dimensional constructions that helped him develop the space of his pictures. Pieces of glass stuck together with black paint and glue were especially effective, as their transparency suited the ambiguous spatial organisation of the paintings. Here, the vertical axis of the construction, coated with black, refers to the flooded mine shaft. The red pigment, also seen in the final painting, may signal danger and the loss of life.

Gallery label, May 2007

artworks in St Ives Circa 1959

William Scott, Black Painting  1958

William Scott used the traditional subject of a table-top still-life as the starting point for his paintings. The subject becomes deliberately ambiguous, however, as the composition could be seen to suggest a landscape or a figure just as much as a still life. His primary concern appears to be with the material of the paint itself. Scott saw himself as close to painting in France where, in the 1950s, there was emphasis on the materiality of the paint and the importance of the individual brushmarks. One movement of painting was called Tachisme, from tache meaning a stain or splash.

Gallery label, February 2010

artworks in St Ives Circa 1959

Paul Feiler, Morvah  1958

In the 1950s St Ives, a tourist and fishing town, was a centre for abstract painting. Like many St Ives artists, Feiler developed a form of painting which struck a balance between abstract form, the material of the paint itself and suggestions of landscape or nature. Close to Morvah, a village west of St Ives, are dramatic sea-cliffs and the movement of vertical elements in his paintings may refer to them. Feiler said he sought to express in paint ‘what I felt the world around me looked like’ and referred to ‘the sea and the rocks seen from a great height’.

Gallery label, February 2010

artworks in St Ives Circa 1959

Patrick Heron, Yellow Painting : October 1958 May/June 1959  1958–9

Heron was very concerned with the formal qualities of a painting. He judged a work’s success by such qualities as the flatness of its composition and the relationship between its forms and the edges of the canvas. Here different blocks of colour appear to float. By setting those blocks within a surrounding field of yellow, he set himself the challenge of using colour, the soft edges of the blocks and their relationship to the frame to resist the illusion of space that might result.

Gallery label, February 2010

artworks in St Ives Circa 1959

Patrick Heron, Azalea Garden : May 1956  1956

Heron first made his name as a critic but by 1956 was well established as a painter. Inspired by his Cornish garden, Heron painted this picture during a period when he saw himself moving from representational art to abstraction. He recalled: ‘I referred to the series as garden paintings, since they certainly related in my mind to the extraordinary effervescence of flowering azaleas and camellias which was erupting all over the garden’. Though he regarded the formal qualities of a painting as paramount, he also believed in the importance of subject matter.

Gallery label, September 2016

artworks in St Ives Circa 1959

William Scott, White, Sand and Ochre  1960–1

Shortly after he completed this painting, the artist said he hesitated to comment on it, beyond relating it to his other paintings from the same time. He did say, however, that a source of inspiration may have been his strong liking for Egyptian painted art. Although Scott had not visited Egypt at the time, he described a number of his paintings as having Egyptian references and titled some of them accordingly. While this work is obviously related to the earlier 'Ochre Still Life', also on view in this gallery, its shapes are even more flattened out and abstract and the surface texture resembles a plastered wall.

Gallery label, September 2004

artworks in St Ives Circa 1959

Peter Lanyon, Zennor Storm  1958

Peter Lanyon is often seen as the leading British abstract expressionist. Unlike many of his colleagues, however, he always sought to stress the fact that his paintings derived from landscapes. He painted places or, as here, the experience of being in a particular place in certain conditions. So, he used his paint to evoke the experience of being in a storm near the Cornish village of Zennor, which sits between the high moorland and the sea-cliffs.

Gallery label, February 2010

artworks in St Ives Circa 1959

Sir Terry Frost, Khaki and Lemon  1956

In the 1950s Frost developed an abstract art based on personal experiences in front of nature. He moved from St Ives to Yorkshire where the majestic landscape of the Dales led him to make works that expressed his sense of the enormity of the place. Many such works have a central polygon, as here, but about this work Frost wrote that the ‘theme grew out of my experience of being in the North, the subject cannot be fixed to any one moment’.

Gallery label, September 2016

artworks in St Ives Circa 1959

Sandra Blow, Space and Matter  1959

Blow’s concern with the material of her paintings is demonstrated here by her use of liquid cement to which she added, among other things, chaff and charcoal. Her improvisatory approach links her work to what the French critic Michel Tapié called Art Informel. It is an approach she had encountered through the Italian Alberto Burri. The fact that Blow had spent several years in Cornwall close to the painter Peter Lanyon, as well as the inclusion of organic material, has led such works to be associated with landscape.

Gallery label, February 2010

artworks in St Ives Circa 1959

Art in this room

T00503: September 1961
Roger Hilton September 1961 1961
T13827: Spring, 1957 (Project for Sculpture)
Dame Barbara Hepworth Spring, 1957 (Project for Sculpture) 1957
T01541: Horizontal Stripe Painting : November 1957 - January 1958
Patrick Heron Horizontal Stripe Painting : November 1957 - January 1958 1957–8
T01749: Black Mirror
Alan Davie Black Mirror 1952
T06467: Lost Mine
Peter Lanyon Lost Mine 1959
T06739: Construction for ‘Lost Mine’
Peter Lanyon Construction for ‘Lost Mine’ 1959

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