Sandra Blow, Four Notes, 2005, £35,100 + ARR at Zuleika Gallery.

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A Celebration of Abstraction in British Art: Bell, Blow, Frost, Heron, Hitchens and their Contemporaries runs from July 7 to August 31 at the firm’s gallery in Woodstock, Oxfordshire.

Most of the featured artists were key members of the St Ives group: Trevor Bell (1930-2017), Sandra Blow RA (1925-2006), Terry Frost (1915-2003), Patrick Heron (1920-99) and Breon O’Casey (1928-2011).

These artists were influenced by larger international artistic movements, particularly early 20th century European developments.

In 1956 the Tate’s seminal exhibition Modern Art in the United States: A Selection from the Collections of the Museum of Modern Art New York included works by the leading Abstract Expressionists, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. It triggered a further burst of enthusiasm for non-figurative work.

The results of this period of creativity can be found especially in the 1960s-70s, and it is these decades, when British abstraction was at its height, that Zuleika explores.

Some artists viewed the push towards abstraction as a purification.

“Colour is both the subject and the means; the form and the content; the image and the meaning, in my painting today,” Patrick Heron said in 1962. The sentiment is reflected in one of the highlights of the show, his 1976 The Shapes of Colour, Second Vertical Screenprint.

Like the other leading figures in the exhibition, he looked to the Cornish light and landscape where he had grown up to inform his work. For most of the artists here the coastal town of St Ives was an adopted home, but one that would inspire their work for the rest of their lives.

Vibrant feel

Many of the other highlights in the show display a similar taste for vibrant colour, such as Hitchens’ Deeps Wood Version II, 1971.

An exception is Four Notes (2005) by Blow, which reflects her interest in natural as well as primary colours. Four Notes is one of several later examples of the enduring influence of 20th century abstraction. Frost’s Blue, Black and Green Collage is another. Though it dates from 2001, it mirrors Heron’s 1973 lecture The Shape of Colour where he asserted that “painting is nothing more than the organisation of colour”.

Elsewhere in the show, the work of Ivon Hitchens (1893-1979) also features. He was part of the London Group rather than one of the Cornwall set and is known for his panoramic colour block landscapes.

Summer theme

The exhibition is a fitting theme for the British summer.

Lizzie Collins, director of the gallery, says: “Radiating vibrant colour, the artworks in our summer exhibition are a celebration of form and colour and an open invitation to pure escapism.”

Other galleries across the UK are following suit, including at least one non-commercial show. Abstract Art runs until August 19 at Reading Museum featuring pictures by Frost, Steven Buckley, Prunella Clough and Barbara Rae as well as ceramics and weaving.

Hodgkin focus


From Willoughby Gerrish, Howard Hodgkin’s Snow, 1995, £8500 at Zuleika Gallery.

Later in the summer, Willoughby Gerrish stages a show on Howard Hodgkin (1932-2017), whose work was deeply inspired by 17th century Indian art and Indian miniatures.

Running from July 19 to September 9 at Gallery One of Thirsk Hall Sculpture Garden in North Yorkshire, the show comprises a selection of prints on offer for £2000-25,000 and will include some major paintings on loan. It takes place alongside an exhibition of small and miniature sculptures by Contemporary artist Richard Hudson in the venue’s Orangery.