It was a special trip to Exeter to see this free and wonderful exhibition. The contemporary Cornish artist Kurt Jackson had visited 12 locations in Devon and Cornwall as depicted by JMW Turner. His intention was not to ‘re-do’ Turner but to simply reflect the changes from the early 19th Century to today, in his own style.
Wandering through the exhibition one was presented with Jackson’s works alongside the drawings and etchings of Turner, from Boscastle Harbour to Land’s End, through Falmouth, Exeter and the source of the Tamar.
Apart from the obvious features reflecting modern industrialisation, tourism and quote ‘sweetie papers’ and ‘loud radio sounds’, by looking into styles and techniques a greater meaningful depth is presented to the viewer.
JMW Turner dialectically reacted to the Enlightenment movement to depict the human and environmental stories from a ‘Romanticist’ perspective. We therefore see the drama and emotion of the sea, the countryside and in particular, people set against the landscape they had to work and live with and survive. For instance ‘Devonport, Plymouth’
and in particular the stormy ‘Entrance to Fowey Harbour’.
Turner empathises with the wonder of the landscapes, the fear of the sea, the hard labour required to simply stay alive. A dichotomy against today’s use of the sea and land as recreation and enjoyment as depicted by Jackson. Jackson encapsulates Turner’s psychological drama with his inimitable style and techniques. We don’t have chocolate box photo-realism, we have an interpretation, and we have the story told through the vibrant colours, the rapid use of the media, seemingly slap-dash but purposefully applied.
Jackson’s works are emotionally alive, we can feel him working, we can imagine him working in his locations, and he takes us into his paintings as a part of the picture. We are there with him, as with Turner, empathising with the drama unfolding.
A key component of the exhibition is a video of Jackson working on many of his paintings. Here we can see exactly how he works and I was reminded of films of the Abstract Expressionist painter, Jackson Pollock. The canvas spread on the ground, the almost random dripping and splashing of the media. Both creating from their particular view-points and minds, through their arms and hands to the surface. Purposeful, not accidental, Pollock in the abstract, Jackson in the figurative, the live emotional response of the moment.
Kurt Jackson brings home our own vital roles: an essential part of the scene displayed, and as the viewer like Pollock and Turner, inviting us to become embraced within the painting, to work at it, to decide on our own interpretation, to become involved, to empathise.