Ray Turner at Tommey Tourell

September 2002|Sandy Thompson

Ray Turner’s work at Toomey Tourell Fine Arts was two aspects of one genre painted as if by two artists. There were romantic cityscapes, noble and imposing, modern yet suggesting a sense of grand antiquity. Turner’s cities wore mundane personalities however, never indicating a particularity of place. And though apparently quite salable, this group of paintings suffered from convention, both in subject and surface structure.

In these urban landscapes, the historical antecedents were obvious and perhaps not accidental to the late work of J.M.W. Turner and to Claude Monet, as well as to the turn of the American century Ashcan School. There was the golden opalescent atmosphere, the interior light source, the presumably heroic city. Ray Turner’s city was not an organic, inhabited place, but a collection of forms shaped like buildings, then configured — plunked down — as something metropolitan. These artful forms said less about the significant weight of the singular or collective presence of buildings. They related more as architectural assemblages. Turner’s city was an association of objective scenes varnished by seductive and deceptive light and shadow. Where the Ashcan painters — Robert Henri, John Sloan, and the others —presented an unclouded view of contemporary urban life, Turner maintained a detached perspective.

But there were also Turner’s landscapes – portentous, severe and foreboding — filled with the predictions of atmospheric turmoil. This body of work was filled with a sense of character, vitality, and risk, especially when compared to the cityscape work. They vibrated between abstraction and the representative. They were, in fact, a confluence of many subtle abstractions forming the overall context of an identifiable landscape.

As images, this work possessed a visceral intensity, both cognitive and felt. These landscapes were not subject to the possibilities of being imaginary compilations, as might be assigned to his cityscapes. They read as real places, suffering real weather, and more than likely actually experienced and internally absorbed. (Though maybe not.) The view was broad yet certain, invitational yet mysterious. The viewer felt drawn into the place, into the physicality of circumstances, not left floating dispassionately beyond some diaphanous city view.

There was, however, one common trait Turner expressed in these seemingly disparate approaches: his confident handling of paint. In the cityscapes, it was the horizontal brush strokes played against the vertical nature of the subject that created an insinuation of surface tension. In the landscapes, it was the reinforcing feeling of maelstrom one gained from his viscous application of paint. However, if I were Ray Turner, I’d discard the idea of painting the urban, move to extreme rural environs, and endure, exalt and visually report on its unpredictable climatic and panoramic dispositions.