Ray Turner at Diane Nelson Fine Art

2001|Roberta Carasso

In his solo exhibition at the Diane Nelson Fine Art Gallery, Ray Turner presents an original interpretation of traditional and figurative oil painting.

While the work depicts landscapes and cityscapes, people, action, and atmosphere, Turner does not recreate any of these as we know them to be.

Rather, Turner invents a poetic reality, which could only exist on canvas and never in the world we live in. The viewer, drawn to its compelling magic ofiushly swirling paint and haunting moods, embraces the artist’s world and eagerly steps into it.

Turner is known to develop thematic series. He creates a body of art of highly intimate, emotional, and animated narratives where even non-human subjects take on a persona. Now Turner reflects on what seems to be the past —two artifacts of Americana, turn-of-the Century baseball and cities. As all good artists, Turner uses his subjects as springboards to excavate the spirit that subject matter generates now rather than replicate how the sport or the urban scene may have looked then. In this way, Turner’s art is timeless.

When questioned about the Millennium and why he paints the past at a time when most are looking towards the future, Turner’s reply was decisive. He said that while his art depicts the beginning of the 20th Century, he is really exploring the vitality a new century generates rather than events. Thus, Turner’s art addresses the 21st Century, or any century for that matter.

The artist’s palette is earth tones, ranging from extremely brilliant yellows and oranges to dark grays, blues, and blacks. His brush strokes are sure and quick as if Turner knows what he wants to achieve and does. The paint is applied richly, in thick and sensuous impasto. Turner today, like the master artist of the 18th Century, J.M.W. Turner, is expert at “chiaroscuro,” a technique that pushes color from dark to light, to achieve a sense of voluminous form and filtered light.

Another strength is Turner’s placement of subject. He manipulates the horizon line — the space that separates the land, in some paintings, the sea, from the sky — or what is visually down from what is up, adding a subtle but stimulating dimensionality to the composition.

“Gathering” encapsulates many of these artistic elements and more: The scene is rendered clearly, yet, is enigmatic. Its essence is a city skyline composed of towering buildings. At the base of the buildings is a strip of land, a beach, and, at the bottom of the picture plane, the sea. Turner’s placement of forms, the horizontal against the vertical, makes a compelling arrangement, which allows the artist to add a dramatic twist to the quiet scene. The skyscrapers that dwarf the land suddenly take on a primordial look, as if steel structures dissolve and return to a natural state, becoming more like mountainous slopes than modern edifice.

Or is it that nature is becoming gentrified? This duality — a contradiction of time and form — is the basis of Turner’s originality and the poetic nature of his art. It keeps the viewer sufficiently off balance and mesmerized. Reminiscent of the movie “Field of Dreams,” the Kevin Costner baseball film where the past mystically becomes the present, and where reality and “surreality” merge, is “Visitor.” In this largely horizontal painting, a playing field in a city park sweeps across the canvas. A hush surrounds the game. There are no spectators and a circle of trees buffers the players from the hubbub of the city. Tall buildings, again, a mix of skyscraper and primordial landscapes, are bathed in a silent light.

Turner transports the viewer to an era long past — through baseball and elegant cities — but simultaneously he encourages the essence of the moment that reflects every age.