Stylish and distinguished


PATRICK Heron's recent paintings were seen in Kilkenny Arts Week last year, so Irish viewers well presumably be reasonably familiar by now with the development of his late style. At that time, the artist himself mentioned that a long visit to Australia was a formative influence on him, and the works appear to have a nature basis. The oils - there are only a few of them shown in Sligo - emphasise a white ground, and spare, widely spaced, rather tendril like shapes and calligraphic lines emerge richly from this.

The bulk of the exhibition, however, is made up of gouaches, a medium in which Heron has always been utterly at ease and which he appears to understand as completely as Cotman and his school understood pure watercolour. They are generally denser and more patterned than the small oils, less "cool" and more obviously colourful in an almost extrovert way. Once again, Heron shows his grounding in French art of the Matisse generation, making skilful use of primary colours and allowing them to expand in harmony, but also in full strength.

These gouaches have almost the look of improvisations, but while they are notably "free" in style, it is a freedom well under control. Their sustained luminosity strikes a positive, almost joyful note, and transparent areas are offset by patches of heavily laid-on paint, as in the oils. This is not a large exhibition, but it is a distinguished and immensely stylish one.