The artist at work A visit to the studio of William Turner

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Tacoma painter William Turner stands with some of his recently completed compositions. The works will be shipped to an art show in Idaho. Photo by Dave R. Davison

Tacoma artist William Turner recently invited me to his studio to shoot the breeze and to have a look at a set of paintings that he recently completed. The Turner studio is housed in an old brick building along Center Street, in Tacoma’s Nalley Valley. As far as artists’ work spaces go, Turner has a relatively luxurious space in which to practice his magic. There is ample storage for his treasure trove of large paintings. The entry area functions as an impromptu gallery or show area that comes complete with an ornate old piano that is used to display some of his art. Great art – mostly Turner’s own work – decorates the walls.

There is a nice work room with windows that overlook the tracks where the Sounder commuter trains pass (Turner noted that he can use the passage of the trains to tell time.) Here, the artist can go hog wild with his paints. It was also here that I encountered the new works that the painter had invited me to come and see.

Turner has been on a tear, having completed the set of more than a dozen canvases since February this year. They are destined for a gallery in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, which commissioned Turner to supply art for a new show. The gallery informed Turner that they did not want large canvases (most of his existing work is on a large scale) and so he had to kick his productivity into overdrive and create a body of new work to meet the gallery’s requirements.

The current paintings are semi-abstract landscapes viewed from above. They consist of a patchwork of fields, sky, streams and hills. Turner has a remarkable ability to strike a balance between abstract and representational art. Using swatches of bright color, Turner coats the canvases with a blend of geometric and organic zones. A little evergreen tree, made of smudges of murky green paint, makes a recurrent appearance like a character that keeps showing up in the chapters of some enigmatic story.

During the course of our conversation, Turner discussed his love of Velazquez’s great painting “Las Meninas.” He had a mystical experience while viewing the piece in Madrid, Spain.

 Turner showed a variation on “Las Meninas” that he painted a while back. He also showed me a work of abstract expressionism done in the 1970s not long after Turner graduated from University of Washington. It was there, at UW, that Turner was a student of Jacob Lawrence and Michael Spafford. Turner noted that the abstract painting is bequeathed to the Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner, Wash.

Turner presides over a long career that has passed through a number of phases, from the abstract expressionism of the 1970s to figurative work in the 1980s to the jazzy blending and blurring of the line between the two that he practices now. 

It is always an inspiration to visit the creative lair where an artist practices his or her power of conjuring visions for everyone to see. Turner has pulled off the impressive feat of having cultivated a long-term, fruitful relationship with his muse.

You can learn more about turner and view his work at williamturnerart.com.

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