Turner – Show Me The Dirt

I have just finished watching the BBC’s documentary on artist, Joseph Mallord William Turner, known to us simply as ‘Turner’.

When I refer to Turner I am referring to a piece of art, a painting hanging on a wall, not of the person, not the man who created them. Which is why I love this BBC series, it humanises the artists that we have taken to our bosom and romanticised as a reflection of their famous works rather than of the person themselves.

I love Turner for his windswept ships and golden harbours, the fantasies and dreams he portrayed in Sun Setting on the Lake. That is only a snippet of who he was, what he created and the controversy that surrounded him during his life – including the nude paintings that he refused to release to the public during his life time.

The documentary focuses on the painting Slavers throwing overboard the Dead and Dying – Typhon coming on (“The Slave Ship”), a reflection of the political tide at the time, Britains’s abolishment of slavery. To celebrate this momentous occasion, Turner wanted to paint a work that reflected why this change was warranted – a look back into the dirty history ofΒ slavery and Britain.


When shown at the Royal Academy, the work was ridiculed and criticised. Something us romantics would never have expected.

In humanising Turner, we learn a little of his techniques. He was very involved with the canvas; painting, scrapping, scratching to get the effect he was looking for. Unlike other artists at the time, his hands were covered with paint and constantly dirty. And he wore his dirty hands with professional pride.

To Turner an artist with clean hands, was no artist at all.

This is where I connect with Turner. I love getting involved with the painting, I feel disconnected from the paint by using a brush, disconnect from the medium that is conveying the emotion and telling the story. I am enjoying my art class where I am learning different ways to apply, remove and push paint around a canvas.

A interesting and enjoyable watch.

House of Lords Burning

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