Late Turner, Gerhard Richter, Steve McQueen’s Ashes

ARTS, Visual Arts
img_sunrisewithseamonstersJ.M.W Turner’s late masterpieces at the Tate Britain; Marian Goodman exhibits new and recent works by Gerhard Richter; plus, Steve McQueen’s new video installation courtesy of Thomas Dane Gallery.

Late Turner: Painting See Free
September 10-January 25, Tate Britain

In Mike Leigh’s much acclaimed biopic this year, Mr. Turner, a young and regal Queen Victoria makes a visit to the Royal Academy. Amidst her hushed comments, she comes across a painting which she remarks—with a particular hiss of virility and disdain—as a “vile” and “dirty yellow mess.” The painting is J.M.W Turner’s Sunrise with Sea Monsters, and it’s one of the many paintings featured in Tate Britain’s new exhibition focusing on the latter years of one of Britain’s greatest painters.

Controversial is not usually a term associated with a man renowned for his stunning landscapes. He was a darling of British painting in his day, and boasted a bursting clientele of aristocrats and art lovers. By 1835 at the age of 60, Turner was already one of the most famous painters in England, having exhibited at the Royal Academy for over forty years. His creative output and insatiable urge to paint endured through old age, slowing only in his last five years of weakening health.

Modern audiences now hail his late canvases as a precursor to Impressionism, and posthumous reverence for his boundary pushing techniques parallel the trajectories of other great masters, such as the influential Dutch painter Rembrandt (whose late works have also been curated for exhibit at the National Gallery). But his changing style of watery and indistinct oils were, at the time, derided as a symptom of senility and incurable eyesight. Even John Ruskin, who continued his devotion to Turner after critics wrote him off, described his work by 1846 as “indicative of mental disease.” By this stage, Turner was 71.

In both his coarse oils and flowering watercolours, Turner worked with incredible speed and ease. His brushstrokes evoke vigour and energy, tessellating to-and-fro to weave expansive landscapes and ethereal lands. His Venice paintings, which were his best sellers in his later years, favoured essence and spirit over accuracy, depicting a poetic vision of a once ascendant mercantile city. In paintings like Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth he envisions a stormy sublime as twisting swathes of monochrome fall and tumble, interrupted only by the ship’s single stream of steam. These billowing smudges of industrial smoke preoccupy many of his paintings. Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway is the Turner’s vigorous depiction of an England in the midst of industrialisation: fast, exhilarating, and excitingly uncertain.

The years progress, and in Rough Sea, Turner’s splinters of paint are eerily Pollock-esque. But unlike the Abstract Expressionists whom comparisons have been made to in the narrative of art history, his commitment to form and subject never wavered. He did, however, start to eschew linear narratives for dynamics and elements. In Light and Colour (Goethe’s Theory) which shows two different depictions of the biblical flood, curvatures echo and converge into a vortex, drawing one/s eye closer and deeper beneath the surface of the painting. His final works in the 1840s, such as Sunrise with a Boat between Headlands or Sunset from the Top of Rigi are like a breathing sighs: celestially ambient, an edging dissipation of form.

As the title suggests, Late Turner: Painting Set Free celebrates “liberation from conventional aesthetic constraints.” Though Turner was already making whirling smudgy masterpieces before the age of 60, the exhibition showcases Turner at his zenith; an accumulation of years of honing a mastery of light and colour unparalleled in his time.

img_gerhardrichterGerhard Richter
October 14-December 20, Marian Goodman Gallery

The German artist, now 82 years of age, inaugurates Marian Goodman’s new gallery space in London. Showcasing a number of creatively thoughtful abstractions, the focus is on Richter’s massive ‘strip’ pieces; a crazed motley of colours rigidly compressed into hundreds of tiny horizontal lines. The optical concoction makes it impossible to view up-close, your eyes refusing to adjust to what is—quite literally—an eyesore. Also notable are his swirling pits of metallic and neon (entitled Flow), as well as a series of innocuous photographs purposefully smeared with smudges of impasto paint.

img_ashesAshes, 2014
October 14-November 14, Thomas Dane Gallery

His award-winning film 12 Years a Slave may be over two hours long, but Steve McQueen’s new offering is short, simple, and still confidently powerful. Ashes is a young black man from the Carribean—tall, slim, healthy, and so completely at one with the lapping waves and summer sun that surround him. But the narration, told by two local men, tells a tragic story of his violent murder upon a chance discovery of a stash of drugs on a beach. Originally intended for one of his previous videos, McQueen rediscovered the unused footage shot in Grenada and was taken aback when he learnt of Ashes’s terrible death. His new video installation is a meditation on life gone too soon.

Joseph Mallord William Turner
Sunrise with Sea Monsters, c.1845

Gerhard Richter
Installation View
Marian Goodman Gallery, London

Steve McQueen
Ashes, 2014