William Turnbull, ‘1-1965’, Piano Nobile

William Turnbull was born in Dundee in 1922. He begain his artistic career painting film posters and then as a commercial illustrator, whilst also taking classes in landscape painting at Dundee University. After World War II, during which he served in the RAF, Turnbull briefly studied at the Slade School of Fine Art between 1946 and 1948 before moving to Paris where he met Eduardo Paolozzi. This led to his association with the Independent Group at the ICA in the 1950s which included Paolozzi, Richard Hamilton and the critic David Slyvester amongst others, and his inclusion in the 1952 Young Sculptors exhibition at the ICA and the famous New Aspects of British Sculpture exhibition at the 1952 Venice Biennale, curated by critic Herbert Read. Throughout his career, Turnbull both painted and sculpted, working simultaneously on canvases and in sculpture and influenced in both practices by Abstract Expressionism, Colour-Field Painting and Minimalism. A pre-eminent Post-War British artist, Turnbull had retrospectives in 1973 at the Tate, in 1995 at the Serpentine, in 2005 at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and in June 2013 at Chatsworth House. He died in November 2012.

Turnbull began his career as a sculptor, and it was through exhibiting alongside prominent young British sculptors, associated with the Independent Group, that he rose to prominent. Alongside these seminal sculpture exhibitions, however, Turnbull was increasingly interested in representing similar properties apparent in his sculpture in the form of paintings. During the mid-to-late 1950s, Turnbull produced paintings with abstracted, but recognisable, figural elements: faces, masks, concentric circles. He became more and more focused on the removal of such figuration, indeed on the elimination of shapes and line entirely, and instead on the effects produced by the use of one, all-over colour. A 1957 visit to New York cemented this conceptual and methodological investigation, as he saw the work of Mark Rothko and Clifford Still at first hand.

1-1965 is an example of the further development of Turnbull’s turn to a Colour-Field like style. In the winter of 1962-63, Turnbull went to Singapore, and here he was drawn to the motif of a river winding its way through dense jungle as seen from the sky. Throughout his career, Turnbull was fascinated by aerial views, as well as animals and objects present in the sky after his time serving in the RAF during World War II. In 1-1965 we can clearly see this view from the plane of dense foliage punctuated by a weaving river, but rather than the weaving purple line becoming a fracture, it is instead an internal edge. Turnbull’s vertical elements were not designed to separate a painting but to be an element within, contributing to the stillness, the intrigue of the whole. He was fascinated by the unification of the canvas, particularly as during this phase Turnbull was increasingly using a cleaner, smoother quality of paint, aided by the technique of painting with the canvas laid on the floor. The unity of the painting was also achieved by layering thin applications of paint, and rubbing these with rags, contributing to the softening of edges, the organic feel underscored in 1-1965 by the earthy, autumnal tone of the brown and purple combination.

Signature: inscribed on reverse

Gallerie Hans Jurgen Muller, Stuttgart
Private Collection, Germany

About William Turnbull