Assignment 5- essay on oil painting and looking at the work of JM Turner and Laura Lancaster

I  enjoy standing in front of JM Turner’s ‘The Fighting Temeraire’ at the National Gallery. The heroic fighting ship is on its final journey to be broken up.

The radio broadcast  ‘In our time’ [1] describes how Turner did not use an accurate depiction, but painted a vivid sunset in thick dynamic colour over a quiet Thames.  Had the ship been mastless on a teeming river, it would have lacked the emotion of this one.  Similarly had my ‘work selfies’ [Painting 7] been realistic I would have lost their rawness.

His  experimental use of pigments is seen in his love of the colour yellow [2]. He would try new pigments and experiment with them in both oil and watercolour, not observing boundaries and in Painting 9, I have made my own paint and in Painting 10, used the paint in an unconventional way.

His later works bordered on abstraction [3] and he showed no accommodation to his critics which is appealing to me, especially as my work develops in that direction. I like work where I have to think to understand it. Was the Fighting Tamaraire a comment on his own declining health [4]? In Painting 6 I painted graffiti that made me question the meaning of it. He was not afraid to paint controversial subjects, with his ‘Slavers..’ painting of desperate hands and a fish feeding frenzy a compassionate comment on the issue. During this course, I have tried to tackle some unpleasant contemporary subjects I feel strongly about [Painting 5].

I discovered Laura Lancaster at an OCA study visit [5] and  was intrigued by the emotional response she got from our group. She uses found images and reinterprets them. In the John Moores painting prize catalogue [6] she describes painting as a ‘transformational process’ and ‘the stuff of paint itself is a tangible substance’.

She inspired me to use found images, and I now find myself looking for and storing these images constantly, never knowing when they might come in useful.

Like Turner, Lancaster uses thick and thin paint. She lets the paint mix on the canvas wet in wet creating dynamic marks that I like. Her marks are bold and confident. Her influence on my oil painting can be seen in Painting 3  where I let the paint drip and mix to create accidental marks.

Her paintings are not ‘pretty pictures’.

As in ‘Untitled 2014’ [7] the identity of the found image has been removed and the white brush strokes wrap the peering figure in a bizarre bandaged space suit. I like paintings where I ask questions. Her painting recalls Willem De Kooning, another artist I admire and want to investigate further.

I am inspired by the emotional intensity she puts in her work.

From these artists I take forward the following ideas for my own work

  • To consider subjects that affect me and to consider the composition in a way that affects the emotional effect of the subject, rather than aiming for realism
  • To continue to experiment with new oil colours, wet in wet technique [as I feel this makes my work more dynamic and looser] and experiment with mark making using thick and thin paint
  • To not fear the critics and develop my painting in a less figurative direction


Please note that Painting numbers refer to my UPM assignment 5. 

  1. In our time. The Fighting Tamaraire. BBC Radio
  2. How to paint like Turner. Tate. 2010
  3. Late Turner, Painting set free. Tate. 2014
  4. Turner in his time. Andrew Wilton. Thames and Hudson. 1987
  6. John Moores Painting Prize catalogue. Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. 2012
  7. Vitamin P3. Tom Melick and Rebecca Morrill. Phaidon. 2016

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