Big, bold and bright

// William Turner’s landscape abstractions light up Mavi gallery

Tacoma painter William Turner is not to be confused with “Bootstrap” Bill Turner (a character in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies). Nor is he to be confused with J.M. William Turner, the famous 19th-century British painter. With the latter, however, Tacoma’s Turner shares an approach to painting in which the depiction of landscape verges into abstraction.

Working out of his Nalley Valley art studio, Tacoma’s Turner has produced a new series of big, bold canvases that are currently showing at Mavi Contemporary Art. Called “Spirit of the Land,” the show runs through June 12.

Turner’s paintings combine the spontaneity of gestural painting with balance and harmony. They are visual jazz pieces in which improvisation plays out in a way that delights the eye rather than offending it.

Turner lays one color over its compliment and lets that background color bleed through and glow on the edges. Some areas are velvety, some are chalky and yet others are blended into a mellow murk. Half-awakened shapes lay against wiggles and zig-zags. Masterful strokes cut through zones where color has been meditatively mixed upon the surface. Busy bursts collide against big blocks of raw color.

Each painting begins with gestural brush strokes of color in a way that can be quite chaotic.

“My job is to create order out of chaos,” Turner asserts. “It’s these sort of dichotomies that I like to play with like chaos and order. My work is at once spontaneous and very deliberate. All these dichotomies, if you can harness them, get you where the magic happens.”

Originally influenced by the abstract expressionists of the New York School, Turner explored more figurative work in the 1980s. When his style turned back toward abstraction, however, he found reference to interior space or to landscape to be a useful organizing principle for his work.

“I want to hang the painting on something that allows the viewer to get an entry – something they can get hold of,” Turner said. Standing before these brilliant-hued surfaces, the eye begins to distinguish between a sky area above and a landmass below. Tree-like masses appear here and there and streams of color meander through.

While not referential to any specific region, Turner’s paintings nevertheless connect with the long tradition of landscape painting. Of the show title, “Spirit of the Land,” Turner notes that he is trying to capture the spiritual essence of the land rather than conjuring a visual representation of a specific place.

“That’s what I try to imbue the paintings with – a sense of presence and spirit,” Turner said.

Raised in Lakewood, Turner went away to Seattle in the 1970s where he earned his master of fine art degree from University of Washington. He learned from instructors like Alden Mason and Michael Spafford. He also took a course from Jacob Lawrence, from whom he learned to use blocks of color.

Turner returned to Tacoma in 2003 when he married Josie Emmons, who is currently Tacoma’s poet laureate.

“Spirit of the Land” runs through June 12 at Mavi Contemporary Art gallery, located at 502 6th Ave. (next door to the Grand Cinema). For further information visit or call (253) 759-6233.


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