Magazine article Tate Etc.

Not Just a Stroll in the Garden

Magazine article Tate Etc.

Not Just a Stroll in the Garden

Article excerpt

An appreciation of the little-known "supreme gifts" of the painter Patrick Heron by his younger brother

It is the prerogative of younger brothers of public figures to prick the bubbles of reputation. So I have chosen to commemorate Pat's supreme gifts of indecision and procrastination. You must excuse me calling him Pat, whom most of you probably think of as Patrick. To our family, both parents and siblings, he was always Pat or Paddy, or even Pandy. "Patrick" was reserved for formal occasions and the next generation.

It was comparatively early in Pat's career, early enough for it to be a great honour, that he was invited to speak in New York. After several weeks, when he still hadn't answered, the American Embassy repeated the invitation, giving a deadline for reply. Pat was in agonies of indecision. He consulted Delia, but she knew better than to urge her own opinion. At last he decided, if that is the right word, that he would write a letter of acceptance, which he did. But he delayed posting it until it was too late. So he had to go down to Grosvenor Square to deliver it in person. It seems that the sight of all the Cadillacs and other out-size opulent cars surrounding the embassy triggered an incipient Yankee phobia. Instead of handing in his letter of acceptance, he found a phone box round the corner and rang to give his formal refusal.

In 1963 Pat had agreed to select the Welsh Arts Council's annual exhibition of paintings and sculpture. He set off from Eagle's Nest in Cornwall to drive all the way to Cardiffwith a sore throat. Just past Redruth he turned back, for half a mile, then thought better of it and resumed his journey. On Bodmin Moor he repeated his vacillation, again turning homeward for half a mile, before, as he said, pulling himself together. At Taunton, 150 miles from home, he went to buy some throat lozenges. He got such a look from the chemist he just turned round and drove all the way home.

It was inevitable that someone who found it so difficult to make a decision and stick to it should torture both himself and his beloved when he came to the brink of getting engaged. Falling in love didn't involve any decision. Getting engaged did. Delia waited on Pat. Pat just waited. At one critical moment, when he was teetering on the brink, I remember our anxious mother ushering them out of our front door to go for a walk in the woods and saying to me; "When it's your turn lad, for heaven's sake be quick about it." Perhaps I owed it to Pat that years later Mary and I got engaged in less than a month after first meeting each other.

Anecdotes of Pat's indecision and procrastination could go on all day, for each of you will have your own fond examples, and doubtless we should be greatly entertained. But this is no trivial matter. No merely trivial trait could have persisted throughout his life, exerting such influence over even the most vital aspects of it. One might say that there was method in his madness, only that would suggest a degree of conscious deliberation that was often not the case. Insofar as he was conscious of the processes at work-and I think very often he was - he was recognising what was happening rather than determining it.

But here I abandon knowledge and embark on conjecture. In some people indecision may result from limited awareness and understanding. Not so for Pat, with his extreme sensitivity and intellectual grasp of the full complexities behind every option. In his case one is more tempted to blame cussedness or lack of self-discipline. I would also add as contributory causes a kind of incorruptible honesty and a refusal to take the easy road out. …

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