I hadn’t been to the Kent seaside town of Margate since I was a little kid and got chased into a phone box by Alsatian dogs! But the lure of the Turner Contemporary’s exhibitions of Hamish Fulton and Turner drew me down there this week with a group of my university students. It was a freezing and windswept day and the gallery building greeted us like a massive modern shed. Warm inside we admired the fantastic space that this building provides – well lit and spacious with windows framing the grey sea like living Rothko paintings.
I was interested in both of the exhibitions because they tie in so well with some of the GDP projects and we have used these artists as references within them. In particular Walk and Weather. I am a big fan of Walking Artists like Hamish Fulton and Richard Long. The Walking Artists, as their name suggests, make art through taking walks. Some of these can be adventures lasting for weeks and they often involve travel to far distant places as well as recognising local places. These artists are eco-friendly, making a point of respecting the land they walk in. The pieces of art themselves, whether large scale wall pieces, books, postcards, altered maps, sculptures or drawings, are seen as records of the walk or planning for them, rather than art in their own right.
Some of the type work of Fulton is massive and filled a whole wall. Subtle and calm colours gave the show a relaxing feeeling and Fulton’s apparent obsession with the moon also added to the calm, evening-like atmosphere. I particuarly liked the little sketchy painting of the full moon over a mountain and argued with my colleague about whether the emphatic printed typography stamped on top added to or detracted from the overall effect. I personally like the juxtaposition of formal type and informal imagery.
But I think the overall effect of Fulton’s work is quite emphatic and even borders on the OCD measurement of space and time (like Richard Long’s work also does). Viewing these works you never doubt that the artist actually did take so many paces or spend so many hours plodding north at the specifically labelled date and time.
There is a kind of truth in Fulton’s works that is echoed by the observational truths in Turner’s work too. It was a clever mixing of two exhibitions. Turner and the Elements explored the artist’s attempts to visualise light, storms, fire and cloud. As rigid as Fulton’s “designy” art is, Turner’s was loose, experimental, atmospheric and almost abstract. He investigated some of the same topics as Fulton, observing the terrain and feeling it, but producing such opposite results. Billows of colour could be anything in Turner’s sea and weather work but are anchored by spots of reflection or a couple of figures that bring perspective to the eye.
After an exhibition pairing like this I just wanted to get out there in the world and make records in image and type. Instead I went for an all-day breakfast in the lovely town of Margate (no dogs this time). What lovely architecture; squares and villas around every turn, but all marred by the many empty shops and run-down appearance. If Margate could be a bit more looked after it could return to its former glory and be like a new St Ives or Rockport.
Looking forward to the Alex Katz show at Turner Contemporaryin October; and if you are lucky enough to be in Boston, MA, right now you can see his prints at the Museum of Fine Art.
Images all courtesy of Turner Contemporary Press Office.
Top three: Hamish Fulton Walk Installation, Turner Contemporary
Four: J.M.W. Turner, Snow Storm at Sea – Steamboat off a Harbour’s Mouth, exhibited 1842, Tate
Five: J.M.W. Turner, A Stormy Sea, c1829, Tate