J.M.W Turner was an English Romantic painter, printmaker and watercolourist who, unbeknownst to him, brought about some of the first abstract expressionism paintings. He studied at the Royal Academy of Arts from 1789 and exhibited there from 1790, beginning with watercolour studies before moving onto oil in 1796. What particularly interests me are his turbulent marine and landscape scenes that capture the true ferocity of the natural world, the weather. How Turner applied paint and manipulated light is an element I would especially like to experiment with, creating both dark and brooding seascapes and skies as well as light and pastel. The way he pushes oil paint around the canvas hinting elements in the foreground and background was incredibly original, this inspired many after him to adopt this approach to applying paint and revolutionised the way landscapes were portrayed. Using light in this way allowed Turner to produce enticing portal-like paintings to other worlds, sometimes using light in the background (such as ‘Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth’ 1842 (1) to create the illusion of being sucked into the stormy seas and its threatening waves. More often than not, he would focus solely on a dark and moody colour palette in the foreground and subtlety use bright white lead, and a very toxic yellow, orpiment (arsenic sulphide) to break through the oppressive clouds, insinuating an element of hope in the horizon.
‘In the most basic sense, Turner was intensely motivated by the desire to perfect his craft, gripped always by a relentless hunger to secure his place in the pantheon of history’s greatest painters.’ (2) The inspiration that drove Turner to create these iconic paintings was simply that he wanted to become the greatest painter of his day. How I connect with Turners work is the way he experiences nature – “Every look upon nature is a refinement of art,”. This method of creating is exactly how I view the natural world, including weather, so when I encounter his pieces, it strikes a chord within me as to our similar methods approaching our inspiration.
A way that Turners work will help develop my practice, is focusing on his use of light and colour to create atmospheric and engaging weather-based paintings. I especially want to highlight Turners abstract expressionism in creating tempestuous weather events that capture the motive behind my work, feminism. Appreciating this is an unlikely pairing, through researching I want to use the power of feminism (particularly ecofeminism) and express the uprising through surges of explosive weather, incorporating specific colours too.
Another aspect that will be prominent within my paintings is my interest in poetry. When I read poetry, I instantly visualise could be portrayed as a piece of art and similarly Turner did the same. For example in ‘Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps’ (1812) (3), we see his first used selections from his unfinished poem “Fallacies of Hope” when he exhibited this piece. ‘Turner’s forays into poetry complemented and enhanced the narratives of his landscape paintings. In 1798, he began including quotes from poets—for instance, Milton and Lord Byron—as accompaniments to his paintings in RA catalogue entries.’ (4)
Critics of Turners work included “Turner’s pictures always look as if painted by a man who was born without hands,” railed one incensed critic, “[who,] having contrived to tie a brush to the hook at the end of his wooden stump, [has] managed by smudging, bungling, scrawling, twisting, and splashing to convey to others a notion of his conceptions.” (5). My opinion of Turners work is the complete opposite, although there are elements I dislike too. I personally prefer the intense, powerful and dark landscape scenes over the pretty pastel paintings, for me the ferocity and magnitude with artworks such as ‘Fishermen at Sea’ 1796 (6) and ‘Rockets and Blue Lights (Close at Hand) to Warn Steamboats of Shoal Water’ 1840 (7) captivate my experience as a viewer.
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