Celebration of modern British abstract painting at the Mercer Art Gallery

Artworks – many never seen before – by some of the biggest names in Modern British Abstract art, including John Hoyland, Patrick Heron, Gillian Ayres and Albert Irvin are to be shown at Harrogate’s Mercer Art Gallery.

  • 2 April – 4 September 2022

The middle years of the 20th Century saw a sea change in the British art scene, triggered by the first UK exhibitions of the theatrical, visceral abstract art by American artists like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko.

Celebration is stunning collection of 60 paintings – several on a heroic scale – from 12 leading British Abstract artists, including Yorkshire’s Patrick Heron and John Hoyland, along with acclaimed contemporary Abstract painters, Mali Morris and Fred Pollock.

Curator of the Mercer Art Gallery, Karen Southworth, said:

Painting is a visual language.

You don’t need to understand it, you just need be open to these loud, colourful canvases and allow yourself to engage.

We’re planning to accompany the paintings with the short quotes from the artists, so that their own words will replace the usual biographies and curator-led interpretations. There will also be several armchairs placed throughout the gallery inviting people to sit, look and think about how a particular painting makes them feel. Our aim is to encourage people to linger and experience the art slowly. Don’t judge it – enjoy it!

The exhibition is mainly drawn from one outstanding private collection, with supporting works loaned 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 shown at Damien Hirst’s Gagosian Gallery. There also features one untitled pieces 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 (one of the St Ives group) was mentor to Hirst. Patrick Heron’s Very Soft Yellows and Formal Reds (1968), a piece from the Harrogate Fine Art Collection, was critiqued by the author AS Byatt in a feature entitled 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, affirmative statements in light, space and colour, and the materiality of paint and canvas.

Far from being ‘pictures of nothing’, each offers a world for us to explore. Inevitably individual 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 in close quarters. All will open up as time is spent with them.

Celebration has been 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 Harrogate’s first purpose built spa buildings.
  • In the Georgian period, many visitors flocked to Harrogate to take the ‘Harrogate cure’, drinking and bathing in the town’s mineral waters. Opening on the 16 June 1806, the Promenade
  • Rooms provided an indoor space where affluent visitors could socialise and be seen.
  • In 1839 they were renamed the Victoria Reading Rooms and Library and used for public meetings and lectures. From 1875 – 1900 the Rooms became a theatre, hosting Victorian celebrities such as Lily Langtry, Sarah Bernhardt and Oscar Wilde.
  • The Gallery’s current name comes from the water-colourist Sidney Agnew Mercer who lived most of his life in Yorkshire and whose sons gave £50,000 towards the new art gallery. Other funds continue to come from the hard work of the Friends of the Mercer Art Gallery, English Heritage and Harrogate Borough Council.
  • Works from the Harrogate Fine Art Collection are available to view online at artuk.org, the digital home for art from every public collection in the United Kingdom.

Harrogate Informer