For Times weekend review
Below are extracts with my explanations:
"December 2000 should have been the month that everything changed for 80 year old "Manchester expressionist" Will Turner. It was the month that the painter, who had four lodgers just to pay the mortgage, met dealer Dave Gunning.
Turner, who had hardly sold a canvas in the last ten years, then sold over 1500 in the next three, most for several thousand pounds.
Yet things haven't really changed that much. Sitting in his suburban house in Congleton, Turner tells me that although financially "extremely comfortable", he lives pretty much the same life. He still has a lodger, as a favour, and his extravagances still run to having a second portion of chips. That and having his wine delivered."
.........I then tell how he was rediscovered when enquiring about some paintings on a clients wall.
"Three and a half years ago, when enquiring about a couple of "breathtaking oils" of the Stockport viaduct on the wall of a customer's house, Gunning was told, "those are William Turners, but I doubt you'll find any more. Besides he is dead"
Which he wasn't........"At Turner's house he found canvasses covering every inch of wall space, inches deep in drawers, and stuffed in the cupboard under the stairs. He left with twenty, and sold them within days.
Returning with a cheque he asked for twenty more. Soon Gunning was sending cheques almost daily and Turner had devised a system of red stickers to show which paintings were not for sale, without words being exchanged"
Two red stickers were placed on the frame of his portrait of artist and former friend L S Lowry (about whom the song "Matchstick Men" was written). It is the only portrait for which Lowry ever sat and the condition was that it would not be sold.
...I then explain about the book that is coming out on him, before finishing with my meeting:
"In Gunning's eccentrically jumbled gallery in sleepy Todmorden, he puts on a slideshow of several hundred Turners, in preparation for my meeting with the artist later that afternoon.
For the most part their style reflects Turner's fondness for German expressionism, and their subject matter comprises post war industrial northern landscapes, infused with humanity, optimism and humour.
Gunning tells me that people have often described Turner as a nostalgic northern painter, but that really there is much more to him, breaking off periodically, to wildly gesticulate at pictures that exemplify the diversity of his work. As Paul Morgan writes in the preface to "Compelling Visions", the periods of Turners life when he was living off teaching money, enabled him to experiment unhampered by commercial demands. During these times he experimented with watercolours (“cheaper than oils”), painted homages to favourite “old masters”, and more importantly forged his own distinctive northern expressionist style. With greater commercial success earlier on, Morgan believes that there would have been strong pressure on him to become " a sub-Lowry" painter.
As I leave the gallery I notice one Turner that looks different from any of the others I have seen. It looks abstract, mainly black
Gunning corrects me – it is a figurative painting of the eclipse.
Later talking to the wiry, bearded artist, neatly tapping out his pipe, I bring up the subject of abstract art.
"Really I think all art is abstract," he tells me, "It's not the real thing, even a photograph is not the real thing. There are just different levels of abstraction."
I ask him what makes the difference between a good and bad piece of art.
His response is immediate, "Imagination." It is a yardstick that enables him to appreciate all forms of art, including, somewhat to my surprise Tracey Emin's bed, and Damian Hirst's sheep. Although Turner favourite subjects are scenes of post war Lancashire, he enjoys all art that fires his imagination, ruing the fact that his age means he can no longer visit galleries like before.
All the same he can still cycle 30 miles or so, three times a week.
"I like cycling, jazz and chess but I don't really like painting," he says, " It's just that I get these visions in my head"
And it these visions that Morgan believes, compel him every day to go into his converted garage studio, for hours on end, absorbed in a personal act of expurgation."
Compelling Visions : The paintings of William Ralph Turner
Introduced and compiled by Dr Paul Morgan