Long-time Salmon Beach resident exhibits work at Fulcrum Gallery

Detail from one of R. A. Turner’s drawings of a scene from Salmon Beach, of the type used for his rowboat race posters. Photo courtesy of artist

Tacoma artist R. A. Turner has been a denizen of Salmon Beach since the days that the little-known, secret community tucked away beneath Point Defiance was in transition from a bunch of shacks occupied by gristly old fishermen to beach cabins occupied by hippies and decorated with glass ornaments and dream catchers.

“I have had one shack or another at Salmon Beach for 56 years and the ever-changing land, sea and sky compositions are part of me,” he said. “This motif can be seen in both the realistic work and the White Series. It’s all about light – some inner, some outer.”

Turner is referring to a new series of paintings, now on display at the Fulcrum Gallery, in which the Salmon Beach experience of living down on the water informs the content of the work.

The show consists of two parts. The main gallery space is devoted to “The White Series.” Here, big surfaces are done in textured effects, made with cardboard and other material. A final layer of tissue paper, treated with a varnish or resin, covers everything and binds it all together. Washes of white paint of various values are accented here and there with blues and grays. The works are very subtle, textural, meditative and quieting. This muted stillness is the effect that Turner is after.

“For some time,” he states, “I have been acutely aware of urban noise. I even went to the Arizona desert searching for quiet. Much of the White Series is my attempt at quiet.”

These semi-abstract paintings are inspired by the natural environment experienced while living at water level along the Tacoma Narrows. The water, the islands, land masses, the clouds and the sky blend together via the medium of misty, atmospheric moisture so common to our region. These are subtle impressions or meditations in the mist. They communicate quiet fog. They speak softly of being socked-in on Salmon Beach and feeling far removed from the busy urban world buzzing about on the land mass above.

Some of the paintings are hung side by side, while others hang in clusters, forming interesting configurations. Only with work so subtle could such a feat be carried off. With more outspoken works, such an arrangement would result in a jarring visual cacophony.

Second part of the show, hung on one wall in Fulcrum’s middle space, is a display of Turner’s more literalistic, representational paintings. These are more traditional landscape paintings of some of the beach houses of the artist’s unique community. “The Salmon Beach paintings are a result of working up images for our annual rowboat race posters,” Turner says.

The rowboat races that he refers to is an annual Fourth of July event held among the members of the Salmon Beach community. In his book, “Tacoma’s Salmon Beach,” author Roger Cushman Edwards credits Turner with being the originator of the annual rowboat race: “Richard Turner started another community tradition in 1970 with an annual rowboat race, on the Fourth of July, the full length of the beach. Commodore Richard, the artist, produced original posters that are now collectibles, and handed out ersatz trophies at the end of the race.” Some of the art and the posters are exhibited in the Fulcrum show.

On Feb. 15, the exhibit’s opening night, the Fulcrum Gallery was the place to be as Third Thursday Art Walk wound down. In the back of the gallery, a disk jockey was spinning vinyl and folks were dancing. A silver-haired gentleman in a tuxedo poured glasses of chilled white wine and there were three types of tea, courtesy of the Mad Hat Tea Company. Turner had a good turnout for the opening of his show, supported by a combination of the Tacoma arts community and the Salmon Beach community.

Turner’s “White Series and Salmon Beach Retrospective” will be at the Fulcrum Gallery through March 15. Fulcrum Gallery is located on Tacoma’s Hilltop, at 1308 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Way. The gallery has dodgy hours, so to view the show, contact owner Oliver Doriss at fulcrum@oliverdoriss.com or call (253) 250-0520 to arrange a time. For information, visit www.fulcrumtacoma.com.

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