Wednesday, September 9, 2009

"Atmosphere is my style." J.M.W. Turner

Reading lately about the criticism that dogged and discouraged Turner throughout his career for the "rough handling of his paints" as he pushed his images more and more toward abstraction.

When he painted this, Turner was 67 and prone to some confusion with names and locations, often mistaking one locale for another. Here's th
e rather wordy title: Snow Storm - Steam Boat off a Harbour's Mouth Making Signals in Shallow Water, and Going by the Lead. The title actually continues on: The Author was in this Storm on the Night the Ariel Left Harwich.

It's seems that this info has kept historians busy trying to determine exactly which boats were at sea during which storm, and so forth. Does it m
atter? I'm more struck by how determined Turner was to experience the storm firsthand. His friend and defender Ruskin claims Turner told a gallery visitor of his own Odysseus experience. Turner sounds like he's a little tired of trying to please the critics:

I did not paint it to be understood, but I wished to show what such a scene was like; I got the sailors to lash me to the mast to observe it; I was lashed for four hours, and I did not expect to escape, but I felt bound to record it if I did. But no one had any business to like the picture.
(from J.M.W. Turner, edited by Ian Warrell)

Today this would be called a performance piece, I suppose, and set the artist up for all sorts of grants and awards. How important is it for you to be really close to your subjects? Do you usually work indoors from photos or try to get outside, at least to begin the painting? Do you think it matters what approach you use?

A painter whose work I like is William Wray; he reminds me of Turner in his ability to use a limited palette, strong shapes, and a few lines to create a mood. Here's Near Burbank Airport.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. I love the works fo Turner, so atmospheric, and I agree, I feel connected. I am a student of visual art, and Turner is one of my fav. painters very inspriing.