Painting is Dead. I’ve been hearing this for years.
Actually it might be alive a bit, let’s hold a mirror under its nose.
For a ‘dead Art’ it’s looking pretty rosy, every time I go to a blockbuster exhibition it’s on painting, of paintings, by painters; with ticket holders queuing around the block to get in. Not bad for a corpse.
Lazarus like, Painting has dragged itself once again from the sepulchre in the form of Turner: Adventures in Colour at the wonderful Tate Contemporary, Margate, from Oct 8 2016.
Wonderful, because it’s in Margate – a town redolent of its glorious and faded past and very relevant to Turner, it’s most famous resident artist. A visit to Margate soon reveals his fascination with the place (beyond the earthy charms of Mrs Booth of course); the light here is breathtaking, almost Venetian, and it’s to Venice where we must go to get under the skin of this show.
By his mid 20’s, Turner was knocking out dark tonal oils for fun. It’s a simple method based on ébauche, and used by all of the greats from Caravaggio to Van De Velde. The thing about ébauche is that it’s a tonal, dark, sturdy, almost protestant way to paint. Great for Dutch Boats in A Gale, Plagues of Egypt and all that, but not any answer to the luminous, ephemeral works of that greatest of Masters, Claude.
Claude did subtle. His pictures are nothing if not confections of colour, light and melting forms. If Turner wanted to be taken seriously he had to get Italianate.
I’ve not seen the show yet (I didn’t see it in France), although I know the work & have written about it for Artists & Illustrators, and I can’t wait to go.
So what do I hope to take from the show? I love Turner’s work and admire the man, but the last thing I want to be is a Turner-a-like, so it is to the ideas behind the work rather than its’ techniques which I’ll turn when the show starts.
For me, Turner’s key idea is ‘orchestration’ that’s to say his pictures are not of discrete things ( a house, a boat, a tree) but continuities joined by light and obfuscated by atmosphere. This, I think, is what he meant when he wrote of ‘Rembrandt’s mystic veil of colour, pierced by form.’
When my painting starts to look disjointed, I recall the unity, the vision, the cohesion of Turner’s work and the clouds of doubt lift.