Jim Turner

For upwards of four decades, Jim Turner has worked across media, and genre, voraciously. An upcoming retrospective, at Bathurst's Velvet Buzzsaw gallery, teems over with work that is both the archive of a vibrant creative life and a freestanding, variegated world of its own.

Many of Turner’s works can be understood as documents weaving the artist’s personal history into  broader socio-cultural narratives from twentieth-century Australia. The print of Turner’s painting The Battle of the Bismarck Sea, for example, bears the traces of a number of periods in the artist’s and the country’s lives. On one hand, it is a fascinating – almost Romantic – exercise in history painting, flushed as it is with colour and movement, and inflected by Turner’s own experience as a pilot and service in the Australian Navy as a signal operator. On another, it is itself a well-traveled, and storied, document: Turner took the print around the country in 1995 to have it signed by ten of the twelve surviving Australian officers involved in the battle.

So, too, do landscape paintings in this retrospective knit Turner firmly into the landscape of regional New South Wales. While these landscapes, like the history paintings, engage traditional structures of their genre – the clear single perspective, the unobstructed view to the middle-distance – they also position us to consider the placement of the artist within the land. They ask us, that is, to see the the land where Penrith-born Turner has spent much of his life through the lenses – visual, yes, but also biographical – of the painting subject. Cliff at Nellies Katoomba, 1979, for instance, has generous swathes of gestural purples and blues building the shadows which hang from the rock face, peering back into, as if a reflection of, the eye below it.

Turner’s work stretches, too, across scientific illustration – he’s also a widely-published science and natural history illustrator – and sculpture. Some 180 watercolours, many observing native flora and fauna, are there for the rifling-through in Velvet Buzzsaw’s exhibition. Here, in these illustration, we can see perhaps most clearly Turner’s elision between the technique – perhaps, even, the technology – of realism as a means of transposing the observed, sensorial world into legible works of art. This is documentary artmaking in luscious exuberance: details amass continuously, one and then another and another, as descriptive function meets the aesthetic pleasure of the work. In Turner’s sculptures, like his Abstract Expressionist paintings, we see the artist embedded in international (art) histories; that is, Turner here positions himself withing global, and not just national or local, narratives.

A World War Two historian, musician and composer, scientific researcher, and formerly a teacher, radio operator, and manager of a hamburger joint, Turner has always been an artist. This retrospective, leaping across media, genres, and modes, shows his rhizomatic connections to a rich array of histories, working both as an archive of a life well-lived and well-studied, and as an imaginative, meticulously crafted world of its own.

Jim Turner Retrospective
30 April – 11 June , 2021
Velvet Buzzsaw Gallery, Bathurst

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