Saturday, 28 January 2012

Turner's Elephants

There is a new art gallery in Margate called the Turner Contemporary (I think. I might be wrong, and really, as a resident of Kent I ought to know these things for certain, but I don't and I blame my muffled knowledge on all the concrete that has been Prescotted upon our Garden of England). Anyway, there is definitely an art gallery in Margate, it is new and it is something to do with Turner.

'Will you get on with it,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'You are sounding like a wittering idiot.'
'I'm sorry,' I say, 'but I had a very traumatic experience taking the whole of Year 11 on a trip yesterday, and I have a little teeny tiny sniffy cold, so my cognitive ability is feeling very compromised at the moment and...'
'HURRY UP!' shrieks Mrs S. 'I want to interrupt your story!
'Tell you what,' I say, 'you interrupt away. I'm going to lie down for a while. Wake me when it's all over.'
'Okay,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'You go and rest your fuzzy pea-brain mind and I'll tell the story of Turner and his elephants.'
'It's elements,' I say. 'Not elephants.'
'We'll see,' says Mrs Slocombe, and she shoves me off the chair and commandeers the keyboard before I can say 'bring me a Lemsip and something that will uncross my eyes.'

'Once upon a time,' begins Mrs Slocombe, 'there was a young man by the name of J M W Turner.'
'And what did the J, the M and the W stand for?' says Mrs Pumphrey who has arrived with paper and paint samples to test against the walls in my new arty-crafty creating room.
'Jemima Morris Wendy,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'He was confused from a very early age.'
'I had an aunt called Jemima,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'She reckons she was a chicken, but she looked a bit ducky to me.'
'Anyway,' says Mrs Slocombe, 'young Turner, as we shall call him because it's difficult maintaining control of the Caps Lock key where you're typing and holding a mug of cocoa at the same time, young Turner discovered he had a talent for painting.'
'Me, too,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'What do you think of this colour for the walls?'
'I think it looks like phlegm,' says Mrs Slocombe.
'Perfect,' says Mrs P.
'So young Turner decided to paint for a living. He especially like painting seascapes. And many people liked his seascapes also. They declared them to be atmospheric, because they captured the weather so well, and elemental because of the elephants.'
'Surely it was because of the elements?' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'Aaah,' says Mrs S, 'that's where you, and everyony else in the art world has got it wrong.'
'Prove it,' says Mrs P.
'I shall,' says Mrs S. 'Name me some elements.'
'Titanium, carbon, barium, moron...I mean, boron,' says Mrs Pumphrey, pleased that her degree in chemistry was finally coming in handy.
'Right,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'Now tell me where you have seen ANY of those in ANY of Turner's paintings.'

After some thought, Mrs Pumphrey has to admit she hasn't, and she likes a good Turner, does Mrs Pumphrey.

'But,' she says, 'I can't say I've seen any elephants in his work either.'
'Aaah!' says Mrs Slocombe. 'Wrong again. In a couple of words, how would you describe Turner's presentation? You know, his a-dolloping of the paint on the canvas?'
'I'd say sloshy and blurry but in an impressionistic way, not a dropped-accidentally-on-the-floor-whilst-wet kind of way,' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'Sloshy and blurry indeed,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'Because you know those hulking great features in the middle of his seascapes?'
'Boats and ships?' says Mrs P.
'Blurry boats and ships,' corrects Mrs Slocombe, 'and blurry because they were originally elephants and Turner, when he stepped back to do that viewing-my-work-from -afar thing that proper artists do he thought, 'There is something not quite right about an elephant floating off the coast of Margate,' and he changed them into ships.'

'Why didn't he just paint new paintings on fresh canvases?' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'Too poor,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'Couldn't afford them. No-one would buy his work up until then...'
'Because of the elephants?' says Mrs P.
'Possibly,' says Mrs S. 'Although I'd rather spend money on a pachyderm in a pedalo than, oh I don't know, a Tracey Emin concoction, if we are using Kent artists as examples.'
'Well, if you want to look at an unmade bed you might as well stay at home and look at the free sample you stagger out of every morning,' says Mrs Pumphrey, mostly because she can't help herself. (Mrs Slocombe isn't known for her housekeeping abilities.)

'I shall ignore that last remark,' says Mrs Slocombe, 'because I am being high-fallutin' and talking about art.'
'So you are saying that Jemima Morris Wendy Turner developed his style of painting by rubbing elephants out of his work and replacing them with ships?' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'Exactamundo!' says Mrs Slocombe. 'And that his why his exhibition at the gallery in Margate should be called 'Turner's Elephants' and not 'Turner's Elements.' '

'Denise's Auntie Pollie has an elephant in her immersion tank,' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'I'm not surprised,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'After all, they had to be put to some use when Turner no longer wanted them to pose for his paintings.'

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