Thursday, 30 January 2014

Making Painting: Helen Frankenthaler and JMW Turner at The Turner Contemporary Margate fragments towards a review and some thoughts on JMW Turner’s rainbows.

I am not very keen on Helen Frankenthaler, to my mind a bit of a poor man’s, sorry I mean person’s, Jackson Pollock, well you can do a Google image search and make your own mind up. She applied paint to huge canvasses laid on the floor and to me her work just looks like a mess.

However they are brightly coloured so all that said they do create a jolly feel and something that could be called an aesthetic contrast to the Turners.

The Turners are a particularly good batch this time, quite a few of them not sourced from The Tate and some I had never seen before, there are even three fairly local ones of Deal, including one of Walmer Castle which is definitely identifiable.

Anyway as an exhibition there is something that works with this contrast whether like me you are not very keen on Helen Frankenthaler but like to look at Joe Turner’s work of you are particularly keen on Helen Frankenthaler and want to see the first exhibition of her works since the 1960s.

On to Turner’s rainbows, over the last nearly three years that The Turner Contemporary Art Gallery has been open there have been a lot of Turner’s paintings displayed there. as the gallery isn’t usually particularly busy and entrance is free I have visited it a lot and as you can get close to the paintings I have had a close look at lots of the originals of Turner’s works.

Now if turner pained any oil paintings with rainbows in them I don’t know of them but I think about seven or eight of his watercolours with rainbows in them have been exhibited at the TC since it opened and there is one on show there at the moment.

All of them the rainbows that is basically consist of a white curved stripe on the sky.

I think what Turner did was to paint the sky first, I do this by painting the sky white first and then I put some blue and some diluted black on while the white is still wet, something like this.

I have put a deformed goose on my picture, Turner painted very realistic birds, so there can be no confusion.

If you try to put a rainbow on this is what happens, not very convincing is it. 
What I think Turner then did was leave the thing for a couple of days and then paint a stripe of zinc white gouache on like this. Watercolour is usually a transparent paint the opaque version of watercolour is called gouache.

Then when the gouache had dried he painted the rainbow on top of it like this then I think over the years the zinc white either absorbed or chemically reacted with the other colours leaving a white rainbow.

Incidentally when visiting the gallery in winter a very good option for a light lunch is Café G almost opposite but the TC my wife and I had a panini each I had bacon and brie and I think she had cheese and tom, she had a hot chocolate and I had a pot of tea this all came to £12.50.   

So let’s assume that Turner was painting a sky like the one this afternoon

Slop on the white

Bung on some diluted ivory black (ground up burnt bone) for the grey bits add a bit of dingy blue.

I can’t wait until tomorrow so have dried it over the gas heater and sprayed it with fixative.

Bung on a stripe of white paint some rainbow colours on top, you get the idea, I think that something may have happened over the years and perhaps we are not seeing what we should be would have been seeing.

I am wondering if what time fading and chemical reactions has done to Turner’s watercolours is justifying some of the stuff written to justify a comparison here.

This is what it says on The gallery’s website:

'It is the excitements of this conjunction between a Romantic nineteenth-century Briton and an abstract expressionist twentieth-century American that the exhibition seeks to evoke, revealing the fellowship that the two artists share in paint across their temporal divide, and the vibrant correspondences which uncover something of the timeless cerebral foundations of landscape art. These two artists could only have met and talked in our imaginations: so bringing their work together takes imagination just one small step further towards reality and allows us to examine values common to both.'
James Hamilton    


  1. Good to see you there Michael,, and I loved the colourful Frankenthaler's I could live with one of those on my wall and in my life.. but you are right the Turner's are fabulous

  2. BBC 'The One Show' has just done an excellent piece on Dreamland. There is a sweet smell of success in the air.

    1. That smell has been in the air since June 2005, when I did the first ever official Naked in Thanet photoshoot.


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