Getting to know an artist can help you to understand their work. When you arrive at the cottage, 30 miles or so from London, where Michael Turner lives and works, you find yourself really entering his world, albeit not immediately, it has to be said. In fact, first of all, he and his wife give you a warm welcome in their elegant living room whose windows overlook a large garden in full bloom.
Everything about it is perfect and quintessentially English, but as yet there is certainly no hint of this being an artistic setting. After a fine tea, we are told it is time to visit the studio. Should we take the car? No, all we need to do is go out through the back door and make our way over to a wooden pavilion, also very British-looking, situated beyond a white wooden fence. The style of the garden remains the same on the other side of the little gate that Turner opens with the ease of habit.
Thus far, we have been accompanied by his wife. But when we invite her to precede us through, Michael interjects firmly but kindly: “No, she can’t come in here, she doesn’t come to my studio!” And, in fact, at this point his wife, smiling, takes her leave and returns to the house. It is both fantastic and incredible. Turner’s world of cars and planes — he is as attached to these as he is to cars — is his, and his alone, open only to the few lucky customers who get to come and visit. We were there to order a couple of his paintings.
At a very young age, Turner started creating paintings by drawing inspiration not from photographs but by attending races in person. He would take up a trackside position, just like photographers do, except that he would be sketching rather than snapping away. Thanks to this particular way of viewing racing, his works have a dynamism and realism that no photo could ever convey.
And this, of course, is the very essence of art: the ability to produce images that also convey the artist’s own sensations and perspective.
Looking at Michael Turner’s paintings, you even have the impression that you can hear the sound of the cars — all the noise that surrounded him as he sketched, in the sunshine or sheltering from the rain, his hands often freezing cold thanks to the inclement weather that is so common in England.
He has passed on this ability to “live” races to his son Graham, who is following in his footsteps, although we wouldn’t mind betting that even he is banned from the studio!