Heath's position as a crucial figure in the growth of abstraction in Britain in the 1950s has only lately attracted the wider awareness that it deserves, something that has been much aided by recent publications and exhibitions on the period.
His move towards abstraction was much influenced by his friendship with Victor Pasmore who was making his own shift away from figuration from about 1948, and his first exhibited abstract painting was Rotating Rectangles (Private Collection), shown at the London Group in 1949. Heath also met Kenneth Martin in that same year, and through the next couple of years further bonds with other artists whose interests lay away from representation were formed.
Heath was also a vital figure in his role as organiser of a number of key exhibitions that provided a forum for the showing of new abstract art, and the surviving photographs of exhibitions such as Abstract Paintings, Sculpture, Mobiles at the A.I.A.Gallery in 1951 demonstrate the breadth of artists included. In addition to Heath, Pasmore, the Martins, Hill and Adams, pieces from the St. Ives and Corsham circles by Nicholson, Hepworth, Frost, Scott and Hilton also feature prominently, although the exhibitions Heath staged in his own studio at 22, Fitzroy Street the following year and in 1953 tended to keep to a more constructivist brief. The parallel development of the different strands of abstraction was made clear in the important 1954 publication Nine Abstract Artists, commissioned by Heath and written by Lawrence Alloway, and the attendant Redfern Gallery exhibition in January 1955. The nine artists were Adams, Frost, Hill, Hilton, Kenneth Martin, Mary Martin, Pasmore, Scott and Heath himself, and in addition to the essay by Alloway, each artist provided a statement about their art and intentions. Heath's own statement stressed the almost organic development of the ideas within each piece, and of the recognised core of the 'constructivist' group, was the only artist to retain the painted surface as his prime medium throughout the decade.
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