At Turner Contemporary, we are keen to establish dialogues between JMW Turner and the work of contemporary artists. Opening a week after Hamish Fulton: Walk is our first major Turner exhibition, Turner and the Elements. Installed in the North, South and Irene Willett Galleries, the exhibition features over 80 watercolours and oil paintings to explore the idea of JMW Turner as a painter of the four elements.
Landscape is central to the work of both Hamish Fulton and JMW Turner: Turner was constantly walking and sketching, recording the changes he observed in the landscape. Hamish Fulton’s work always results from a direct physical experience of and engagement with landscape, both urban and rural. Both artists have taken inspiration from the landscape in Kent, and Turner made over 100 paintings of Margate and the Kent coast, a number of which will be in this exhibition.
One of the ideas at the centre of Turner and the Elements, which has been curated by Ines Richter-Musso and Ortrud Westheider, is that of Turner as an artist who was acutely aware of the traditions of landscape painting, but who renewed and reinvigorated this tradition, in part through the way he absorbed new discoveries in the natural sciences into his art. This is an idea we began to explore in our opening exhibition Revealed.
Here, it is exemplified through Turner’s depictions of the elements, not as divine natural forces, which was the tradition in painting until the 18th century, but for their own sake: he was fascinated by the interactions between the elements, creating unusual, frequently dramatic combinations of air, earth, fire and water. The exhibition is divided into 5 sections, one for each of the 4 elements with the fifth section, titled ‘fusion’, looking at how, in his later oils in particular, Turner often combined all the elemental forces together.
We’re incredibly excited to bring this exhibition to Margate, in the very location where Turner created some of the works on display. It has previously been shown in Hamburg (at Bucerius Kunstforum) and Krakow (at the National Museum), but we are lucky to have a number of extra works in the exhibition in Margate that were not included in the previous venues. The majority of the loans are coming from Tate and it’s a are opportunity to be able to show such a fantastic group of Turner’s later watercolours from the Tate Collection, many of which are rarely exhibited due to their fragility.
For me it is these works in particular, especially his beautiful, almost abstract watercolours known as ‘colour beginnings’, that we really see Turner experimenting with the medium to produce beautiful studies on colour and the changing effects of light.
Turner and the Elements opens on 28 January until 13 May 2012.