The Redfern Gallery, London;
Private Collection, United Kingdom
Born in Burma, Heath grew up in Cornwall and attended Bryanston School, Dorset. In 1938, he studied art under Stanhope Forbes at Newlyn. In 1939 and 1945-47, he attended the Slade School of art in London. He served in WWII as an RAF tail gunner in Lancaster bombers, but spent most of his service as a prisoner of war, during which period he met would be fellow modernist Terry Frost, and taught him to paint. It was in prison in Bavaria that he began to explore abstract painting. When asked by the prison newspaper Camp what spiritual lesson captivity had taught him, Heath answered, “to observe at first-hand how people of any background, education, temperament, intelligence and ability can respond to art and benefit from doing it and talking about it.”
In 1949 Heath visited St Ives, Cornwall, where he met Ben Nicholson, by whom he was greatly inspired, and returned in 1951. He associated with other artists of the early modern period, such as Victor Pasmore and Anthony Hill. He is therefore seen as the link between the ‘St Ives School’ and British Constructivism. Heath was a great conceptualist, and in 1953 published the volume, ‘Abstract Painting: Its Origins and Meaning,’ which served as a perceptive appraisal of the developments in abstraction by the Early Modern artists he knew.
He exhibited his work at the Musée Carcassonne in 1948, and the Redfern Gallery, London, from 1953. His work features in the collections of prestigious institutions such as the Tate and the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC. Heath taught art at Bath Academy of Art from 1955-76, the University of Reading 1980-85 and lived in Fitzrovia with his wife, for much of his life. He travelled often between London and Paris, and was inspired by the art scenes in both cities. He also continued to visit Cornwall, where he always felt at home. He was known as a warm friend and a kind and highly intelligent teacher to his students. He was also active in organising various exhibitions and served on the Art Council’s advisory art panel from 1964 to 1967.
Some of Heath’s paintings and drawings from his studio are figurative – of women’s bodies and landscapes. However, he would never let something of that nature go into an art gallery, and only sold his abstract work. Although he was inspired by nature and the female shape, he was more concerned with exploring geometric form and evoking texture in paint. This work is a fine example of the artist’s preoccupation with these concepts, and most certainly sits in the group of works that can be said to have changed the way we see art.