Works of art – many of which have never been seen before – by some of the biggest names in modern British abstract art, including John Hoyland, Patrick Heron, Gillian Ayres and Albert Irvin, will be on display at the Mercer Art Gallery of Harrogate.
- April 2 – September 4, 2022
The middle years of the 20th century saw a sea change in the British art scene, sparked by the first British exhibitions of theatrical and visceral abstract art by American artists like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko.
Celebration is a superb collection of 60 paintings – many of them on a heroic scale – by 12 leading British abstract artists, including Patrick Heron and John Hoyland from Yorkshire, as well as acclaimed contemporary abstract painters Mali Morris and Fred Pollock.
Mercer Art Gallery curator Karen Southworth said:
Painting is a visual language.
You don’t need to understand it, you just need to be open to these loud and colorful webs and allow yourself to engage.
We plan to accompany the paintings with short quotes from the artists, so that their own words replace the usual biographies and curator-led interpretations. There will also be several armchairs placed in the gallery inviting people to sit down, watch and reflect on how a particular painting makes them feel. Our goal is to encourage people to linger and discover art slowly. Don’t judge it – enjoy!
The exhibition is mainly drawn from an exceptional private collection, with supporting works on loan from the artists themselves or their estates. Highlights include several paintings by Sheffield, born John Hoyland (RA), one of the most inventive and dynamic abstract painters of the post-war period. His work
was celebrated in a retrospective exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1999 and he was the first artist to be featured in Damien Hirst’s Gagosian Gallery. There is also an untitled piece by the elusive collagist Francis Davison, previously shown at his retrospective exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in 1984. Damian Hirst has spoken openly of his admiration for Davison, whose wife, Margaret Mellis (a of the St Ives band) was Hirst’s mentor. Very Soft Yellows and Formal Reds (1968) by Patrick Heron, a piece in the Harrogate Fine Art Collection, was critiqued by author AS Byatt in an article titled In Praise of Patrick Heron for The Guardian in 2015. Celebration also features the work of: Patrick Jones, Gary Wragg, John Edwards, Gillian Ayres (RA), Fred Pollock, Douglas Abercrombie, Mali Morris (RA), Albert Irvin (RA) and John McLean.
Writer and curator Sam Cornish said:
These paintings are positive and affirmative statements about light, space and color, as well as the materiality of paint and canvas.
Far from being “pictures of nothing”, each offers a world to explore. Inevitably, viewers will find some of these worlds more accommodating than others. Some images will assert their presence across a room, others will work their magic up close. Everything will open up as we spend time with them.
Celebration was financially supported by Friends of the Mercer Art Gallery.
- The Mercer Art Gallery opened in 1991 in the 200-year-old Harrogate Promenade Rooms, one of the first purpose-built spa buildings in Harrogate.
- In Georgian times, many visitors flocked to Harrogate to follow the ‘Harrogate Cure’, drinking and bathing in the town’s mineral waters. Inaugurated on June 16, 1806, the Promenade
- The rooms provided an indoor space where well-to-do visitors could socialize and be seen.
- In 1839 they were renamed the Victoria Reading Rooms and Library and used for public meetings and lectures. From 1875 to 1900, the Rooms became a theater, hosting Victorian celebrities such as Lily Langtry, Sarah Bernhardt and Oscar Wilde.
- The gallery’s current name comes from watercolourist Sidney Agnew Mercer who lived most of his life in Yorkshire and whose sons donated £50,000 for the new art gallery. Further funds continue to come from the hard work of Friends of the Mercer Art Gallery, English Heritage and Harrogate Borough Council.
- Works from the Harrogate Fine Art Collection are available online at artuk.org, the digital home for art from all UK public collections.