On a mild Spring morning I set off to Margate and the Turner Contemporary for a day inspired by colour and light. Taking the high-speed train from St Pancras, I first encountered a giant 20 metres by 10 metres mosaic work of 44 brightly-coloured Perspex, tetris style, L shapes slotted together on the Grand Terrace underneath the Grade I listed shed roof. ‘Chromolocomotion’ is the work of Scottish artist David Batchelor and the second in a series of Terrace Wires commissions by HS1 Ltd following Lucy and Jorge Orta’s Cloud: Meteoros which was seen last year. It nicely set the scene for the Mondrian and Colour exhibition at Turner Contemporary.
Turner Contemporary is working in partnership with Tate Liverpool who will also be exhibiting the work of the 20th century geometric abstract master Piet Mondrian (1872-1944). Whereas, Tate Liverpool will concentrate on Mondrian’s later years in Paris and New York, the Margate show chronicles the work of his early career and his path from figuration to abstraction with particular reference to his ideas on colour theory. It brings together around 50 paintings by the artist from the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and other collections in Europe and the USA.
Throughout the exhibition, you can visibly see Mondrian’s thought processes and development at work. Although his style is similar to the current art movements at the time, from Impressionism, Symbolism, Fauvism to Analytical Cubism, he always manages to make it his own. He always shows a perfect sense of space, composition, colour and handling of paint. His early landscapes such as Night Landscape II 1908 already have a semi-abstract feel. His sense of harmony is abundant particularly in works like Oostzijdse Mill with Extended Blue, Yellow and Purple Sky 1907-8. However, he was trying to make a new statement about colour. He was moving away from trying to capture a fleeting external reality like the Impressionists to exploring how to express spirituality in painting. He became interested in Goethe’s Theory of Colour and Theosophy and sought to understand the absolute laws that rule the universe, as did Kandinsky who is credited as creating the first abstract painting in 1910. The exhibition follows his gradual move towards full abstraction through a simpler composition with large flat areas of colour and less detail using the primary colours and a strong use of horizontals and verticals. The Red Mill 1911 uses simple block areas of blue and red with a strong feeling for the dramatic. In Dune Landscape 1911 Mondrian paints large flat areas in blues and mauves. Objects are reduced to their essential elements. In his move towards Cubism, the paint is applied as flat planes of colour with pure white and pure black added to the primary colours. Colour is separated from its function of creating shading or volume. Finally he reduces his canvasses to simple line, colour and form which results in the primary coloured geometric abstractions for which he is best known by 1921 with Composition with Large Red Plane, Yellow, Black, Grey and Blue.
Turner Contemporary’s exploration into light and colour continues with a new installation by Edmund de Waal the renowned ceramic artist and author. The artist has created an installation in response to the space, light and architecture of the Sunley Gallery with its double height windows and spectacular view over the North Sea. Atmosphere 2014 comprises 9 large suspended vitrines each containing 20-40 vessels which offers the viewer a variety of horizons as they move through the space on the gallery’s ground floor and from the overlooking balcony.
As if this wasn’t enough, the American artist Spencer Finch has an exhibition of works that reflect the changing coastal light of Margate. This includes a large-scale suspended ‘cloud’ sculpture, made from simple translucent filters that subtly alter its transparency and opacity as the natural light in the space changes throughout the day in order to recreate the effect of a passing cloud. In addition, his 2013 Back to Kansas series replicates colours from scenes in The Wizard of Oz in a grid of painted squares. Adaylight fades, the colours gradually evaporate, reversing the original film’s transition from black and white to Technicolor. Finch has also selected a group of JMW Turner’s watercolours to accompany his exhibition that work perfectly alongside his responses to light and colour and never fail to impress what a Modernist Turner was.
If you haven’t been to Turner Contemporary, it is well worth a visit, about an hour away by high speed train. The museum has just been shortlisted for the National Lottery’s National Treasure award.
Words: Sara Faith Photo © Artlyst 2014
Mondrian and Colour – 24 May-21 September 2014
Spencer Finch – 24 May -21 September 2014
Edmund de Waal: Atmosphere – until 8 February 2015
Turner Contemporary, Margate