Tag Archives: JMW Turner

Cy Twombly: ‘Untitled (Camino Real II), 2011. Acrylic on Canvas, 252 x 187 cm

Britannia Street is in refurbished Victorian warehouse land, near three major London railway stations. The architectural fantasy of the London Midland Hotel in front of St Pancras station and the lesser glories of Kings Cross and Euston; machines made for moving goods from here to there, for making money by relocating materials.

The gallery is a whitewashed box with polished grey concrete floors. Important men in preppy American clothes, slightly too young for them, boss about the inevitable blonde young women sitting on reception. Eight rectangular paintings are symmetrically arranged on the walls, red and yellow gestural marks in looping dripped paint on a vivid light green background. In traditional imagery these are rich colours their combination could suggest the glories of a late summer, the warmth of the sun, wealth of the earth and the fecundity of nature; is that the case here? The yellow is semi-transparent and makes orange where it lays against the red, but against that flat artificial green any depth, pictorial or metaphorical, dies away.

The marks then: in some of the paintings they are similar to handwriting, familiar from much earlier Twombly series, ‘Quattro Stagioni’ from 1993-5 for example.

Cy Twombly: ‘Quattro Stagioni: Estate’, 1993-5. Acrylic and Graphite on Canvas. 314 x 215 cm. Tate, London.

But the long repeated loops look closer to the Bacchus paintings from 2005 onwards, the loopings of practice examples that come before fully competent script.

Cy Twombly: ‘Untitled (Bacchus Series)’, 2006-8. Acrylic on Canvas.

The Camino Real gestures are quick, un-sensual. The flat acrylic paint has a slight industrial sheen, all painted with the same thickness of brush, 4 inches at a guess. There is evidence of re-painting, the green covering earlier red loops in some works. They are sections, the marks are not contained within their rectangles, they appear cut out from a larger surface. Any sense of movement and joy that one could find in those earlier paintings seems to be negated here by the aggressive verticals of the dripped red against the green background.

Cy Twombly: ‘Untitled (Camino Real IV), 2011. Acrylic on Canvas, 252 x 187 cm

We are made insistently aware by the gallery that these where Twombly’s last works, and therefore all the implications that might follow. The paintings avoid melancholy although there is a certain weary aggression about them all. Should we therefore be making comparisons with the notional purple period that signals an artist’s last resolution of painterly form, before he goes to the great Private View in the sky to swap prices and studio talk with the greats? After the Turner/ Monet/ Twombly show the useful comparison would be with the late work of these earlier manipulators of semi abstract paint surfaces. In the Camino Real Series do we see the final self-editing that leads to, for example Monet’s ‘Japanese Footbridge’ series

Claude Monet: ‘The Japanese Footbridge’, 1920-23, Oil on Canvas, 90 x 116 cm, MOMA, New York.

or Turners ‘Sun Setting Over a Lake’? 

JMW Turner: ‘Sun Setting over a Lake’, c1840, Oil on Canvas, 107 X 138 cm Tate, London

Twombly’s ‘Hero and Leandro’ triptych would, I suggest, fit this trope well.

Cy Twombly: ‘Hero and Leandro. Part 1’, 1985, Oil on Canvas, 202 x 254 cm.

These paintings at the Gagosian sadly, are thin, tired and peevish in comparison; the more probable descent into old age for us mere mortals. In this efficient and clinical space, around these eight paintings the modern mechanics who separate cash from materials continue their ceaseless toil.

Can I recommend this excellent review with some really useful information about the Tennessee Williams play ‘Camino Real’ which might, or might not, have some bearing on these paintings



Eric Ravilious: 'Train Landscape', 1939. Watercolour on Paper

The seating now, cramps the viewer/ passenger into a right angle view, it is restricted by upright seats and reflections, the glass is angled and catches the light in ways that make seeing the landscape difficult.  The windows must lean in at about 3 or 4 degrees, double glazed, they could be designed to catch everything inside, the overhead lights, reflections of self; staring blankly. Which means that I can concentrate on making the grey plastic table really squeak and listen carefully to the woman opposite detailing her night out, up to the point where ‘we drunk another go of them drinks’.


J.M.W.Turner: 'Rain, Steam and Speed, The Great Western Railway', 1844

Turner’s: ‘Rain, Steam, and Speed – The Great Western Railway’ might claim a place here, but the impulse is fundamentally different. In Turners world we are in and of the landscape, we are outside the carriage, we are a pure experiencing being. This was one of the first works of art about the artist’s direct experience of landscape. A strand that will come to dominate art about land from Turner onwards, modernity or not. Turner is supposed to have leant out of the carriage window with his sketchbook to draw the storm…

“As for the manner in which “The Speed” is done, of that the less said the better, only it is a positive fact there is a steam coach going at fifty miles an hour. The world has never seen anything like this picture”

From a Lady Simon:

“In the coach seated opposite her, was an elderly gentleman, short and stout, with a red face and a curious prominent nose. The weather was very wild, and by and by a violent storm swept over the country, blotting out the sunshine and the blue sky, and hanging like a pall over the landscape. The old gentleman seemed strangely excited at this, jumping up to open the window, craning his neck out and calling to her to come and observe a curious effect of light”

Notice the hare: speed. Notice the plough: from the old country dance “speed the plough”

It would be impossible to stick my head out of the window I am looking at.  Above is a narrow band of glass that can be tilted inwards for ventilation, thick and heavy square section better suited to a tank. Below is a broad glazed band, I’m intrigued to know why the bottom un-opening part of the window has a stick on shaded element surrounding it. Smaller black dots successively giving way to larger, then a black border. It has no obvious function as device for keeping out sunlight. Squashed into a two seat berth, parallel to the window, knees jammed against the seat in front. Turning the head through 90 degrees to look through the window squarely is uncomfortable. So, one looks at a 45 degree angle just where the upright reflection of the window seat in front bisects the view. I can just catch the reflection of the man opposite, working on his computer, balanced on the little table sticking into the six seat bay. His phone is balanced on the machine and his coffee is between his knees; a worrying placement.

Ravilious constructs his pictorial space so that we appear to be just off a central axis of symmetry, sitting on the near seat on the right. The window on the door shows a slight area of the jamb indicating the position of the viewer. But, the landscape looks, to me anyway as though we are exactly perpendicular to it, It is certainly planimetric, the downs on the horizon and the plough lines in the foreground, running parallel to the horizontal elements of the framing window.

On my morning train, a short man got on to our crowded carriage, wanting to sit in the middle seat of the six bay arrangement. He was carrying his neat black computer bag, a full length suit bag, a newspaper and a cup of coffee. His movements, as the train swayed through points and curves, were elegant, but he missed his intended seat, almost landing in the lap of several of the suited seated men. They neither looked at him, nor moved. It took some time; at last he sat and grinned happily. Throughout this choreography no one spoke or acknowledged his feat.