Adrian Heath 1920-1992
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Adrian Heath Paintings and Drawings
Oval Theme I, 1956
Oil, polyfilla and hessian on hardboard
80 x 61 cm.
From the Artist directly to:
Redfern Gallery, London
Private Collection, UK (purchased from the above, 2001)
Osborne Samuel Gallery
Adrian Heath, at the centre of a small group of British avant-garde artists in the 1950s, was responsible for compiling Nine Abstract Artists (1954): a book including statements by the artists concerned – himself, Robert Adams, Terry Frost, Roger Hilton, Kenneth and Mary Martin, Victor Pasmore and William Scott – while contextualising their work in the development of abstract art since the 1930s. The publication was preceded by three exhibitions mounted in Heath’s studio at Fitzroy Street, London, where paintings and sculpture were displayed in a stylish, quasi-domestic environment.
Photographs of the first exhibition, in March 1952, show two oval paintings by Kenneth Martin and Victor Pasmore, a format that Heath would adopt for a series made between 1956 and 1959. For Heath, the origin lay in D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson’s book, On Growth and Form (1917), which demonstrated the ubiquity of spiral structures in nature. Oval Theme (1) builds outwards from a central red wedge, unfurling through larger slabs of colour towards the edge of the composition. The materiality of the work – incorporating hessian and Polyfilla – endows it with a tough physicality.
In Nine Abstract Artists, Heath identified the importance of the size and format of the area to be painted, as well as his intention that colours and forms should bear evidence of their transitions, becoming richer through the process. As he wrote,
The thing of interest is the actual life of the work: its growth from a particular white canvas or board.
With Oval Theme (1), the relatively large scale and unusual format directed the evolution of the composition.
 Adrian Heath, ‘Statement’ in Lawrence Alloway: Nine Abstract Artists: their work and theory (London: Alec Tiranti, 1954).
 Adrian Heath, letter (1 February 1971), in The Tate Gallery Report 1970–1972 (London: Tate Gallery, 1972).