Friday, May 25, 2012

‘It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over!’ & Even Then It’s Never Really Done

collection of last 15 which were finished by May 24th
Here I am, at three in the morning on my spousal support unit’s birthday, on the eighty-seventh monthiversary of our first meeting, on the cusp of our fifth wedding anniversary, and although I probably won’t post this until Friday or Saturday, I can say forthrightly and honestly that I’ve completed what I set out to do.  All ninety paintings are complete, or so close to readiness that everything from here on is in the nature of tweaking, of preserving, of preparing for centuries of happy viewing.

This final stage of the process has combined some of the greatest challenges of the entire project with elements of the most sublime enjoyment of the whole span.  Here’s what that means.  I’ve had all four-score-and-ten of the compositions underway for nearly ten days now.  Earlier panels often were one-a-day, two-a-day, or even a three-a-day propositions.  At most, I might have taken a couple of days to reinterpret Turner’s genius on the beautiful wood that has proved such a sturdy and lovely foundation for this effort.

Here recently, though, for fifteen days or so, I’ve had to focus more and more exclusively on the twenty layered paintings, which means that concluding in a single sitting has been impossible.  I was really leery about how to get through this final lap; thank heavens for spousal-support-units who have logistical minds.  Jimbo pointed out to me that, so long as I had everything underway with ten days or so to spare, I could labor along on three or more ‘washes’ each day.
And that’s what I’ve done.  Always in these last couple of weeks, I’ve queued up three or more panels and have had sort of a primitive assembly-line in operation. Later today, after I’ve finished scribbling, read a little more of the Victorian literary narratives that have happenstantially been a part of our lives over the past few months, and gotten some sleep, I’ll put a few finishing flourishes on the five or six pieces that remain in need of one more coat. 

In other words, I will have done what I promised.  What it all means, or whether it has any more than personal significance remains for us to discover.

Certainly, for both my dear spousal support unit and me, the sense of a monumental learning experience has powerfully marked the whole shebang, as they say.  Who would have thought that I could learn the practicalities of indirect painting in such a thorough way?  Who would have thought that I’d garner so much insight about color and light and perspective while slaving away?  Who would have believed that J.M.W. Turner would end up seeming such a fascinating fellow?  A radical and maybe a revolutionary; a non-conformist and ‘wild March hare;’ a shrewd businessman who wanted to give his fortune away; a man who eschewed conventional relationships but lived blissfully in sin with his mistresses while creating a body of erotica that may have been even more substantial than the hundreds of salacious sketches and other works of sin that have survived?

I take this opportunity to acknowledge all those who have helped to make this possible.  All of my KickStarter supporters, family and friends, random strangers awestruck at the daunting prospect of accomplishing this feat, contributed their own piece-of-the-puzzle, so to speak.  Thanks are always inadequate, but thanks are always in order.

I will keep writing here for at least a while longer.  I have ideas for a survey of my readers and anyone else who has participated in some way. 

I also want to ask for advice.  Can anyone offer pearls of wisdom—I vow to try to insure that no one ‘casts them before swine!’—about what to do now? 

We’re definitely going to stain and fix all of the individual wooden ‘canvases.’  We’d like to sell the entire lot, for enough money to support a similar venture of some kind for a year.  We’ve thought about starting to tour the entire set, on learning that campuses sometimes make provisions for wandering minstrels, artists, and like creators, making stipends and other inducements available that might make such a process feasible.

Anyhow, I feel myself fading.  Dawn is not far off.  Jane Austen is whispering to me; after Framley Parsonage, I’ve taken a step away from sophistication into the realm of psychology and romance that serves as a bedrock of much literature of a certain sort in the modern era.  Art ever beckons to the aristocrats and adventurers in these tales. 

Maybe I shall find a pathway that permits me, on a sustainable basis, to engage the world in that fashion.  I’m hoping that such will prove to be the case in any event.  I wake each day with the notion resonating inside me: “You were meant to do this.”  Whatever the case may be, again, thanks to all who supported me.  Bend comforting thoughts my way in the days ahead that, inevitably, will feel a little empty in the aftermath of such a rigorous passage.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Turner, ‘Italian Seasoning,’ & Social Components of Art

            This Sisyphean work nears its end.  As is so often the case with life and art, conversation and literature, consciousness and culture, what remains unsaid, that which still begs for development, and that which tantalizes with its only half-visible outlines appears at least as compelling as that which has taken solid, tangible form.  In a sense, finishing, for all its vaunted supremacy, is overrated.
Nowhere might such a conclusion resonate more powerfully than it does in regard to JMW Turner.  Just as some of his most poignant and awe-inspiring works come to us as only partial expressions of a final product, so too the facets of his life seem to expand into unfathomable depths, which no amount of investigation or study will ever fully recount.  One might make a strong case for this view or that perspective, but the actual man—replete at once with limitless subtlety and perversely stubborn routines—may slip each harness that the annalist tries to attach.  Gordon Parks biographical novel is just one fine example of that.

Contradictions and Non Conformism
In a sense, the challenge of Turner’s oeuvre looks the same from his perspective as it does from that of the present-day observer.  Making sense of contradictions as puzzling as Heisenberg’s or Fermat’s mathematics, one can only take a stand and persist in its defense, much as Turner had to do again and again with critics who lambasted him for his style, his cheek, his recalcitrant insistence, in confrontive and dismissive fashion, on non-conformity and breaking altogether new ground.

This blog, as I and my spousal support unit both intuited from the start, has also plowed into polarized possibilities that seem impossible to rectify.  Thus, dear J.M.W. renders masterfully yet becomes inured of immersing himself in abstraction; he avoids family entanglement and yet sets himself up as Admiral Booth or Mr. Danby—attaching himself to a mistress’ name as well as her flesh—as the fancy strikes him; he seems to avoid people in close up and yet both the common folk and  legendary exemplars repeatedly walk in miniature through his canvases; he presents women as dolls or children and yet has an entire trove of steamy erotica, collected at first hand as he observed not only his own paramours, but also sailors and their lovers and concubines and prostitutes, all recklessly abandoned to the throes of passion.

And today, we see that this utter master of the British isles, of the imperial firmament and the English soils that have gone down to the sea in ships, had a lifelong predilection to travel, to engage the mythic past, to search for universal meaning abroad.  Nowhere drew Turner’s attention, at least arguably so, more powerfully than did the light and luster of Italy.

Idyls in Italy

Italian Landscape - EPP Version
Likely countless potential explanations for this attraction are plausible, and for the vast productivity that resulted from it in Turner’s efforts.  On his first extensive trek beyond the Alps, he produced hundreds and hundreds of sketches, including of a coach accident that might have killed him, which he rendered as he sat on a snow bank, while his fellow travelers discoursed about their narrow escape. Had he been around today one might imagine him sitting atop a building in the 8th ward of New Orleans sketching and documenting Katrina's devastation in 2005.

However, probably variations on two themes have become most popular.  In one of these, characterized most aptly by Simon Schama, Turner’s choices and actions flow from his desire to perfect his craft, from his complicated and never-completely-formulated ideas about life and death and England and the cosmos, and from a certain proclivity to play the gadfly regardless of the consequences with his critics

Of course, these estimates do not rule out radical inclinations.  As Schama notes,

 “hard times, radical times… .(led to) Turner’s refusal to beat the patriotic drum or wave the flag, (which) cost him patrons,” but he celebrated the common people instead.  He “rubbed shoulders with the desperate and the destitute.”  Moreover, he resisted “an empire of solid prosaic commercial facts…wanted more, insisting on …poetic imagination.”   

But not any practical dedication to resistance or reform, but a “tragic sense powers and frames his works,” so that not anti-imperialism but “cosmic reckoning” guides the world: of Alps’ snows that led to Hannibal’s demise in one of Turner’s first ‘Italian canvases;’ of fate’s whim that caused, in an earlier painting of a later battle, a “carpet of corpses at Waterloo…an apparition of pure hell.”

The Charms of Venice

In this view, Turner was merely Romantic, filled with vague longings and a wish to find technical mastery that demonstrated classical beauty.  Venice permitted this, says Schama.  “For 20 years off and on, Turner made the city his soul mate.”  He depicted “the gauzy radiance of the place… . conjured from a daub here, a wisp there.”

Gerald Finley’s Angel in the Sun: Turner’s Vision of History also holds such a viewpoint.  “In (his) later Venetian views, as in his 1819 watercolors, Turner portrays Venice as a city bathed in light, colour, and insight.  Its transmutation of either colour into form or form into colour is an implicit denial of the traditional distinction between disegno and colore.”

Finley admits Turner’s attachment to Byron, snippets of whose verses decorated many of his panoramas of Venice.  But the scholar only sees that the poet and the painter “refer(red) to the appearance of Venice and the significance of that appearance.”  Empire, resistance to oppression, and radical uprising factor only more marginally into the equation.

Sam Smiles is another academic who manifests these idealistic notions in his writings.  At the same time, Smiles makes clear that a significantly different view, perhaps even opposite, that in fact Turner’s art readily and regularly expressed a deeply radical and conscious resistance to what Schama called ‘the patriotic drumbeat,’ is also fairly common among investigators.

In this second perspective, Turner’s four visits to Central Italy merit at least as much attention as his three sojourns to Venice.  Furthermore, observers need to examine all of this traipsing about the continent in the wider context of Turner’s entire body of work, and with an understanding of the historical and social background from which his labors emerged.

A reviewer of the January show at the National Gallery of Scotland stated this point explicitly.  “’When people think about Turner and Italy, they tend to think about Venice, and quite rightly, because his Venetian works were wonderful,’ says Christopher Baker, deputy director of the National Gallery of Scotland and show organiser.  ‘But it's only part of the story.  It's really Rome that dominated his oil paintings from 1819 to the 1830s.  Also, you need to look at the whole process, from when he's dreaming about Italy in the 1790s up to his final visits when he's a grand old man in the 1840s.’

Looking at the Future Through the Lens of the Past

And what does such an approach yield?  According to Baker, one can infer that Turner’s purpose is nothing less than an interconnection of mythic and historical themes into critiques of contemporary Victorian life.  In addition, Turner intends to turn classicist art upside down, so that even his vaunted use of color and light serves a rebellious, albeit an aesthetic, objective.

An art critic’s journalistic take on the show considers the four decades of Turner’s weaving of Italy into his travels and his craft.  His ‘purely formal’ mastery at the new century’s beginning contrasts markedly with an agenda later noteworthy for its ambitions: to integrate past and present through the ‘palette’ of Italy’s magical resplendence in English consciousness, using classic images and mythological themes to highlight his fellow countrymen’s present-day problems and prospects.

James Hamilton’s in many ways definitive biography, Turner, accedes as much.  Not only does Turner generally align with the radically democratic Walter Fawkes, creating the ‘Fairfaxiana watercolors’ to champion deepening England’s populist potential, but he also extends such conceptions to his grappling in his art with Italy and travel generally.  

A recent course at Arcadia University, one of England’s bastions for peering into British history with a global lens, also makes such a point plainly.   Combining Dickensian literature with Victorian culture generally, including Turner, the class “approach(es) London from a number of different perspectives: disease, crime, poverty, intoxication, empire, race, sexual deviancy, capitalist greed and radical politics.”

Leo Costello’s masterful J.M.W. Turner and the Subject of History extends this general point about Turner’s radical views and his choice of subject and execution to Venice itself.  In his chapter, “’In Venice Now:’ History, Nature, and the Body of the Subject, “Costello mandates that his readers dig below a surface celebration or a facile critique. 

He uses Turner output such as “The Bridge of Sighs,” the artist’s first oil from his visits to Venice.  That conveyance had a well-known, or at least widely presumed to be accurate, past, which was to move political prisoners to the cells where their lives would end. Costello imputes a insurgent, even a revolutionary, goal to Turner’s choices of subject, depiction, and execution in such instances.

For Turner, as the example above suggests, Venice became a site for exploring linked questions of artistic and historical subjectivity.  In particular, I will show that he was interested in the physical, sensual relationship of the artist to the external world.  That relationship produced a very different kind of pictorial subject than the model of history painting that Turner had inherited, one that is essentially private, specific, and embodied, where the traditional subject of history painting had been public, ideal, and physically absent.

The annalist from Rice University creates a highly sophisticated and deeply layered rubric for considering these questions of society and its individual agents, the former expressing cultural reality that both stems from and profoundly influences individual agents and networks of agents.  While such nuanced presentations deserve the closest study and the most rigorous explication, for our humble requisites, we might only put forward a quotation from Jeremy Bentham that Costello employs. 

The teacher from Texas deploys the thinker to imply interconnections between the one and the many, and conflicts between the masses and the few, that called out to Turner on a daily basis and that call out to us across nearly two hundred years.  Bentham, and Turner, in sharp contrast to Thackeray and his clever ilk, demands that we notice “’the sacrifice made…of the interest and comfort of the subject-many, to the overgrown felicity of the ruling few…’

Towards a Dialectical History Painting

Professor Costello expands this contention still further in an essay in a monograph, Changing Perspectives on Post-Revolutionary Art.  Costello entitles his narrative suggestively: “History in Decline?  JMW Turner and His Conception of ‘a swamp’d world.’”

He writes: “ This paper… consider(s) the methodological stakes of an investigation of representations of decline, disintegration, and destruction. …This paper considers these urgent questions by examining J.M.W. Turner as a highly suggestive case study of the ways in which a socially-informed history of art can be sensitive to complexities and contradictions in the production of historical narratives, both then and now.  In 1802 Turner criticised Nicolas Poussin’s Deluge… . “The lines are defective as to the conception of a swamp’d world and the fountains of the deep being broken up,” he wrote.  This paper considers Turner’s abiding interest in giving form to the process of disintegration, placing it within the linked discourses of aesthetic theory, imperial decline, and nation building in post-revolutionary Britain. Yet another instance of this occurs in the compendium, Discourses of Slavery & Abolition, in which Costello’s essay, “Turner’s ‘The Slave Ship:’ Towards a Dialectical History Painting,” appears.  Costello dissects the canvas with a meticulous attention to detail, a methodology as necessary as it is arduous if the desired outcome is something other than fatuous self-congratulation or surface worship of the pretty.

Calling into question the linear progression of time and civilization, Turner’s painting prompts a reading which considers the interplay of past and present and places the burden of interpretation on the viewer, whose own time is implicated.  Painting in 1840, Turner refused to locate British involvement in slavery and the slave trade purely in the past, showing instead how it persisted even in the wake of the 1807 Abolition of the Slave Trade Act.  Furthermore, this non-linear temporal model resists presenting an optimistic vision of the future.  As a result, I will refer to The Slave Ship as a dialectical history painting, as its conception of historical change is based in this constant negotiation of past and present.

Sun of Venice Going to Sea - EPP Version
One may readily apply such thinking to suggestive but not fully articulated notes from the Tate about Turner’s relationship with Venice.  “The Sun of Venice Going to Sea” is much more than a ‘pretty picture.’  The poetry that Turner attached proves this.  

Fair Shines the morn, and soft the zephyrs blow,
Venezia's fisher spreads his painted sail so gay,
Nor heeds the demon that in grim repose
Expects his evening prey.

While the yeomen of the Tate do not mention any attack on imperialism, one might, a la Costello, ‘put two and two together’ as it were.

Beyond Mere Pretty Pictures

            Such careful interpretation does more than make art more meaningful.  It surpasses the addition of imaginative value to the process.  It is also loads more fun.  Relevance, creativity, and enjoyment are enough rationale to slog along this pathway some more.  Perhaps a follow-up, looking at Turner’s utilization of and presence in fiction poetry, will attempt such additional discussion.  A finishing touch on today’s discourse turns to a youthful interpreter of beauty and society.

A young undergraduate takes the insistently ‘progressive’ contemplation of Turner to a totally Marxist conclusion.  He points out, that Turner finds the “cost of empire (is)too great to bear.”  Further, he notes that the artist has clear political beliefs congruent with the view that “repressive ideologies prevent us from understanding the material and historical conditions in which we live because they refuse to acknowledge that ideology matters,” if for no other reason than that without ideology ‘rallying one’s allies’ is impossible.  Turner, he says, has a commitment to such a rallying round.

His extensive thinking on these matters goes still further.  Turner, he argues, wanted the British to look at themselves, to ‘examine their own consciences,’ in the Catholic idiom.  Most important, he wanted to influence action that might contribute to human survival.  His paintings would “point out the brink of the frightful precipice…(that attended)imperial might.”  In his choice of verse and view and theme, he “warn(ed) against the trappings of imperialism” as a fatal path for England to follow.

A student of such issues as these might spend many lifetimes sifting and parsing the evidence and what others have made of this trove of data from the past, itself a tiny and insignificant fraction of all the facts and eventualities that actually transpired.  Why do such considerations matter?

Should we care that Thackeray, who extolled empire in Vanity Fair and elsewhere, sardonic pen notwithstanding, detested Turner’s “Slave Ship?”  What can we make of Ruskin’s declaring it—for all of his prudishness, he was a thoroughgoing Dickensian radical—iconic?

While I’ve been too ready to follow the side track and risk derailing my artistic endeavors, I nonetheless contend that such questions are important.  And, whatever the multitude of options for responding to these queries, this much is clear for me: a truly radical, dissenting, and even social democratic reading of Turner’s life and enterprises is, if not utterly dispositive, well beyond highly plausible. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Gordon Parks & JMW Turner

So this will probably show up in some wish list or christmas list or any such thing - a novelization of Turner's life by Gordon Parks.

I ran across a video documenting an interview where he talks about the book, and about his life. Around minute 30 he begins discussing the book itself, but just hearing about Gordon Parks is worthwhile watching the whole thing.

It's funny how your subject can choose you, in a way. Gordon Parks was a multidimensional, infinitely talented and determined person who once wrote a piano sonata (with no musical training) because he wished it. Many aspects of his life seem to mirror or complement those found in Turner himself.

From youtube site (about Gordon Parks):

"Gordon Roger Alexander Buchannan Parks (November 30, 1912 -- March 7, 2006) was a groundbreaking African-American photographer, musician, poet, novelist, journalist, activist and film director. He is best remembered for his photo essays for Life magazine and as the director of the 1971 film Shaft. .......Parks is remembered for his activism, filmmaking, photography, and writings. He was the first African American to work at Life magazine, and the first to write, direct, and score a Hollywood film.
Parks was a co-founder of Essence magazine and one of the early contributors to the blaxploitation genre. In 1984 Parks received an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from Thiel College, a private, liberal arts college in Greenville, Pennsylvania. In 1989, the United States Library of Congress deemed The Learning Tree "culturally significant" due to its being the first major studio feature film directed by an African-American. Thus, the film was preserved in the United States National Film Registry. In 1995, Parks announced that he will donate his papers and entire artistic collection to the Library of Congress. One year later, "The Gordon Parks Collection" was currated. In 1997, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. mounted a career retrospective on Parks, Half Past Autumn: The Art of Gordon Parks. In 2000, the Library of Congress deemed Shaft to be "culturally significant", selecting it for NFR preservation as well.Parks himself said that freedom was the theme of all of his work, Not allowing anyone to set boundaries, cutting loose the imagination and then making the new horizons.[1]"

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Change of Approach and Photo Updates and Blog News (SS)

Okay, we only have 11 days left - 12 if you count today - and we are changing the approach here at EPP.

Since I have finished all the paintings I can reasonably expect to finish in one day, I will eschew finishing one per day between now and 5/24 and instead will work on many simultaneously, as can be seen above.

Reasons include exacting complexity of design (IE leaving some of the hardest for last) and also the fact that most of these have to be layered/indirect paintings, requiring a day or so to dry between layers.

I hope I have left myself enough time to finish all needed layers on all works between now and May 24!

Aside from that, I have been posting all photos pertaining to this project on my Facebook page, at the following URL:

Lastly, at some point in the past I asked Jim to ghostwrite some of the blog articles for me. He has done such a fine job that, aside from a quick update here and there, I officially bequeath blog writing duties to him. He helps with the research as well. For more on Jim's writing one can go here.

Linking this to Sunday Sketches even though it's pretty late in the day and probably won't have a chance to do the rounds till later this week.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Turner, Women, and general sense of things in this era

From Pride & Prejudice to Vanity Fair:
Turner’s Attitudes Toward Women Over Time

Turner’s take on the feminine is by no means obvious. However, as a long-standing believer in equality of opportunity and regard—yes, I’m that scary bugaboo to defenders of machismo, a Chilean feminist—I can’t help but wonder.

While only a few of Turner’s ninety-two depictions in the Turner-at-the-Tate program center on women or the female form, these few are fairly striking: the reclining nude in “” is particularly telling. Moreover, many of the landscapes include women and men, often in juxtapositions that are suggestive about the artist’s sensibilities concerning women.

I can’t help but see a strong split in Turner’s life. On the one hand, he seems to celebrate the nymph. On the other hand, his women appear less than real, if not often surreal, all necks and ruffles, or all rounded shoulders and casually bared breasts.

My questions about how Turner considered women have also intensified as I’ve learned more about him. His never having married; his waffling in relation to children who were likely the fruit of his loins/his own issue/his kids; his frolicking with freethinkers, libertines, and assorted mistresses; all have made me ‘curiouser and curiouser.’

This relevance, a piqued attention on my part if nothing else, also applies to the times in which he lived, when so much of the present was ‘coming to term,’ so to speak. As another blogger put the case, “In so many ways, (the Romantic period of which Turner formed an important component) was the birth of the modern world, and for me, its challenges, its characters and its conflicts have such relevance to our own times.”

A fair amount of material, on point and more or less provocative, does show up that deals explicitly with Turner’s consciousness concerning women. One psychiatrist with a Freudian bent even wants to make such matters central to the artist’s psyche.

A final point concerning Turner's mental make-up is that although he is known to have had children he never married but formed a number of impermanent liaisons, all with older women. It is possible that a sense of insecurity in his relationships with the opposite sex and a disinclination to enter into more permanent relationships sprang from his traumatic early home life with his mother and her mental illness. This may well have played a part in the genesis of some of the depression and pessimism which occupied part of his mental life.

Multiple chroniclers of the life Turnerian make similar points, about how his sister’s death drove his mother berserk, necessitating a boy’s removal to his rural uncle’s radical environs and setting him on a course to draw and ponder and long for idyllic circumstances, a brief Tate life-story makes clear that, like other Brits—and some would argue, especially women—who could not conform, Turner’s mom ended up in Bedlam itself. This was the famous asylum where at one time ‘Spot the Loonie’ was a spectator sport, where she died in 1804, all of which transpired when the artist was becoming a well-established artist in his mid-to-late twenties.

Such dementing of the feminine, in the seemingly weird context of making female ‘normality’ holy and pure, was quite prevalent at the time, and some would argue that not that much has altered in the days of ‘Housewives’ reality television. This all may connect, as well, with what Thackeray describes as a ‘fashion to be discreet,’ covering up the earlier license of Tom Jones with the elliptical hints of Vanity Fair.

No matter what, the ‘Romantic imagination’ and the period of Turner’s life did in some fashion turn on these points of repressing the feminine, glorifying and mystifying the feminine, and otherwise ‘putting women on pedestals’ and then locking them up if they wouldn’t stay there. Countless studies make similar points as these about the proclivities of Victorian England.

Among them, Mary Shelley: Romance & Reality shows the way that exposure to art played a part in ‘liberated women’s’ lives. Nicola Bown’s Fairies in Nineteenth Century Art & Literature, meanwhile, demonstrates how mythic portrayals of feminine deities and other symbols often had social and political importance.

That all of this paradoxical reality actually relates to JMW Turner’s work is more than mere surmise. One need only consider the opening lines of James Frazer’s The Golden Bough.

“WHO does not know Turner’s picture of the Golden Bough? The scene, suffused with the golden glow of imagination in which the divine mind of Turner steeped and transfigured even the fairest natural landscape, is a dream-like vision of the little woodland lake of Nemi— “Diana’s Mirror,” as it was called by the ancients. No one who has seen that calm water, lapped in a green hollow of the Alban hills, can ever forget it. The two characteristic Italian villages which slumber on its banks, and the equally Italian palace whose terraced gardens descend steeply to the lake, hardly break the stillness and even the solitariness of the scene. Diana herself might still linger by this lonely shore, still haunt these woodlands wild.”

Furthermore, Turner’s circle included many radicals with feminist bona fides. Henry Scott, a firebrand early liberal and son of the aristocratic feminist Sarah Trimmer, was one of Turner’s close friends. If for no other reason, Turner’s notoriety as a ‘freethinker’ stands him in good stead as a promoter of Pan and wild women clans.

But as I’ve said, a more complicated and tangled view is also necessary. The artist may have frolicked and thought freely, but the man was at least a little leery. He never delved a matrimonial connection. And, whatever else the case may be, Turner’s “obsessive secrecy” about his relationships with women is an established fact.

As has often been the case when I’ve been wrestling with these kinds of quandaries, something that my husband—whose assistance continues to support me through this maelstrom of activity—focused on has led me to another ‘they-can’t-make-this-sh**-up’ rabbit hole.

My spousal unit kept pointing out, “there’s some kind of aversion to the real, animal female,” he contended. The lack of pubic hair was evidence of this, he contended. I wasn’t convinced, though the possibility seemed reasonable.

Jimbo sent me overall search results that suggested that this is not just his inimitable wild-man ways speaking. The string, "pubic hair" + "classical art" OR "victorian art" OR "romantic art" OR "renaissance art", led to 132,000 citations. Ones such as this were well attended chats on the topic.

Effie Gray
Then, just for grins, he searched for links to "pubic hair" + "jmw turner". The 11,200 hits turned out, in hundreds of cases, to concern Turner’s good friend and biographer, John Ruskin, who failed to consummate his marriage because he objected to his wife’s anatomy. A Canadian film “The Passion of John Ruskin,” even develops this idea), including the eventual abandonment of a six-year, celibate marriage by Effie Gray to elope with the artist who was painting John’s portrait. The beautiful Ms.Gray, fuzz and all, went on to have eight children.

While some authorities contend that we may make too much of such matters, the facts, which became a matter of public record as well as private correspondence, make indisputable that Ruskin’s disgust with female fur was, at the very least, a big part of the situation. A recent biography of Gray inclines to the idea that menstruation turned Ruskin off, but the point remains, in all its contradictory flowering of the bizarre: a great ‘social reformer’ and critic of olden ways was at once a towering leader of ‘progressive’ thought and perversely prudish about women.

Bill Bryson has also emphasized this point and adds that Ruskin, years after Turner’s death, discovered a massive cache of erotic drawings among Turner’s works and put most or all of them to the torch. To say that this was ‘news to me’ is an understatement of substantial proportions.

Rather than flesh this point out now, I may do another blog on the subject. But this much is clear. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of sketches and drawings by Turner were what the present British press  calls ‘naughty.’ Turner owned a pub, “Turner’s Old Star,” in which he installed his mistress Mrs. Booth—he often referred to himself as “Admiral Booth”—where, Ruskin contends, “Turner would come here to draw ‘sailors' women in every posture of abandonment. ’”

Nevertheless, whatever Ruskin’s horror and attendant pyromaniacal tendencies in regard to the prurient and licentious animality that Turner apparently celebrated, the squeamish philosopher missed a substantial number of the artist’s works. A contemporary cultural luminary on the British scene, Tracey Emin, in fact is planning a largeshow at the Turner Contemporary Museum that showcases her own works, pieces by Rodin, and some of Turner’s most salacious fare. “SheLay Down Deep Beneath the Sea” opens on May 26th, just as my ninetieth painting rolls off the assembly line, and then runs past the end of the Olympics in London.

Who would have thought that an Epic Painting Project could be such fun?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Mahogany Panels

Though I finished these particular ones a while ago, I wished to specifically write about this. Turns out I was anticipating Turner himself on this project! At one point he set out to paint on mahogany tablets himself.

He either used a fairly dark, wood-coloured ground, or abstained from ground altogether. The latter choice is a bit dangerous, since one always runs the risk that the paints themselves will change due to interacting with the wood, or dry out and flake away. It is known, however, that at times Turner was not punctillious about his process.
A source called Studies in Conservation, issue 39, page 145 states:
 Some of Turner's painting are on canvases prepared by the artist and his father, and the primings have an unusual, proteinaceous medium. So, too, do sketches on wooden or muslin supports. Turner is regarded as an artists unconcerned about hsi materials and the ultimate fate of his works: a study of the types of support which he employed for sketches, experimental works and exhibited paintings throws light on this aspect of his personality, and perhaps on the status of doubtful works.

When I first set out to do these, I unfortunately did not realize that he'd painted these on a wood coloured ground as opposed to white, so I sought to amend this by giving all a dark undercoat of burnt umber. I did note, as did page -- of "Turner at the Tate", that the paintings themselves were affected, hue-wise, by the darker underlying backing, but I did not connect this with a darker/nonexistent ground till I got around to making them - the last one in the image at left shows my mistake - the others show them with darker ground - as does the one above.

From top to bottom:
The Thames Near Walton Bridges - c. 1807

Windsor Castle from Salt Hill - c. 1807

Godalming from the South - c. 1807

Treetops & Sky - c. 1807

These, along with others I've finished and posted about here, represent an era of
tells us this about these pieces:

"...largely through pencil sketches but occasionally through watercolours and even oils, Turner studied from nature, making long tours in connection with the topographical engravings that provided him with financial security even when his paintings outstripped contemporary taste. The group of small sketches on mahogany veneer, painted on the Thames perhaps in 1807, are outstanding examples, almost rivalling Constable in their freshness and directness. A series of larger sketches on canvas of similar subjects together with scenes on the Thames estuary are more directly studies for the finished paintings of English subjects of about 1807 to 1813, which culminated in 'Frosty Morning' (seen here).

As previously noted, one of the rewarding aspects of this projects is the fact that styles and techniques vary so very much. Some (especially his earlier work) are a study in detailed execution. Others are color studies - others explore glazing techniques. Subject matter vary so much as well - portraits, landscapes, historical, biblical scenes as well as the naval ones that first drew me to the project. This variation is the main thing that allows the successful continuation of this project - and what makes it so rewarding.