Featured Tapestries

22 July 1989

The late British artist Patrick Heron (1920-1999) was a prominent figure in 20th-century British art associated with the St Ives School based in Cornwall, led by Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth. Heron was the recipient of the Grand Prize at the John Moores Prize Exhibition in Liverpool in 1959, and a Silver Medal at the 8th Biennale of Sao Paolo in 1966. In 1977 Heron was made a CBE Order of the British Empire, and retrospectives of his work have been held at the Barbican and Whitechapel Gallery in London.

Heron came to Australia in 1990 to undertake an artist residency at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and was enthusiastic about the translation of his work into tapestry. In total five tapestries were woven for the Tapestry Workshop, all based on small gouaches Heron painted specifically for tapestry interpretation. Heron died just before the tapestry 22 July 1989 was completed in 1999.

High-key colour in Heron's work shows influence by Fauvists such as Henri Matisse and Andre Derain as well as Robert Delaunay. The works on paper have a fluidity of surface derived from the material qualities of the water-based paint. The gouaches are often lightly executed, with loose, orbicular forms accenting the watery effects. In 22 July 1989 arabesques of vivid colours - orange, violet and viridian - suggest flowering shrubs like pimpernels and bell heather native to the landscapes of Cornwall.

Heron relished the collaborative process of tapestry making and the ongoing discussions revolving around colour, surface and scale. He delighted in the final outcome, making effusive statements as in a letter to the weavers of his first tapestry: 'I had never imagined you would be able to do something that was so subtle! It really is incredibly related to the gouache. In certain lights it is almost as if the water of the original was still moving about across its surface! I should love to do a number of other tapestries with you, now that I have seen what you are able to do.' [1]

Collection of the Gordon Darling Foundation, Melbourne

[1] Patrick Heron, letter to Anne Kemp and Barbara Mauro at the Victorian Tapestry Workshop, 18 December 1991, quoted in Artists' Tapestries From Australia 1976-2005, The Beagle Press, 2007, p.264.