Behind the noisy publicity that today chases new art lies a long history of antic self-promotion which has accompanied the appearance of many avant-garde movements since the mid-nineteenth century. In 1909 Filippo Marinetti famously announced Futurism to the world, not on its home ground, but in Paris, then the cultural mecca of Europe, in the pages of Le Figaro. Wyndham Lewis gave birth to Vorticism in 1914 with the magazine Blast, the huge black letters of its title – and nothing else – plastered diagonally across the puce cover. But in 1954 in England, the latest embodiment of the avant-garde opted for a modest presentation. Nine Abstract Artists is a small, neat affair, much the same size as a Beatrix Potter story, as published by F Warne & Co. Alec Tiranti, the publisher, gave this new book an austerely stylish printed cover – no dust jacket was provided – and the young, emerging critic Lawrence Alloway provided an introductory essay. Each of the nine artists contributed a brief statement, justifying the abstraction found in the few black-and-white reproductions that completed this discreet, sober, serious publication. It appeared just two years before the Tate Gallery’s ‘Modern Art in the United States’ exhibition, when the far-reaching impact of American art, and more particularly Abstract Expressionism, began to be felt in Britain. This immediately made much English art look genteel, overly restrained, dilettante and small in scale. With hindsight, Nine Abstract Artists represents a very interesting moment in the history of English art, even if its size makes it desperately hard to find on crowded bookshelves.
Adrian Heath, who lived from 1920 to 1992, was a crucial figure behind this book. It was he who invited Alloway to write the introductory essay. In the early 1950s, Heath’s house at 22 Fitzroy Street became a meeting place for artists sympathetic to the abstract cause. In his studio,