London folk are incredibly lucky to have free art on their doorstep. Institutions and galleries filled with a wealth of history and culture with their permanent collections surround us but complacency means we barely even look up from our phones on our daily commutes to notice. Even with the number of headline-making exhibitions, we’ll maybe think about getting a Tate Membership or one of those Art Passes, but never do, knowing in our gut that we won’t make the fee worthwhile and we’ll probably spend the same amount again on cake in the overpriced cafe.
In the late Nineties I did an Art Foundation. It was pre-internet (hello Grandma) and much of our research involved visiting these galleries – as I’m certain it still does – but this wonderful free resource now competes with the distraction of the online world, which has much to answer for when it comes to the quiet appreciation of our surroundings at a younger age. I didn’t think about Instagramming an iconic painting and tagging myself there, I was just there. In that year I was struggling terribly; out of my comfort zone, travelling miles each day with the added common pressure at that age of feeling I needed to be able to say “I know where I’m going” when I bloody well did not. But every time I stood in the quiet presence of Turner’s light, none of that mattered.
Holly Golightly had Tiffany’s, I have The Clore Gallery in Tate Britain. Home to the bequeathed J.M.W Turner collection, it’s where I still find myself heading when stress and anxiety get the better of me. An oasis of calm, I can almost feel the warmth of his sun on me, like a comforting hug. Nothing bad could happen to you there. Even when there’s a snow storm brewing…
When you study the work of an artist, whatever kind, part of that person will be revealed, but always through the filter of your own imagination. For me that’s so much of the excitement. Every person who experiences it feels that the artist and their work is in some way theirs. It makes visiting this collection feel like I’m visiting an old friend but one who still has a hefty helping of enigma to keep me coming back. The paint feels alive even in its now cracked state. How? I stare and study, determined each time to find the answer, the source of the light, but it’s simply more than the sum of its parts. His later work is astounding, fresh and abstract. Can we even imagine how vibrant and modern it looked more than a hundred years ahead of its time? Did he realise? I am lost in another world before I step back out into my twenty-first century daylight.
I needn’t have worried about the future, oddly enough I’ve ended up working around the corner from Tate Britain, quite fortuitous as I find it comes in handy more often than I’d like. It never ceases to amaze me that I can just walk in (and out again, restored). I mean really, that’s incredible. The hyped and promoted touring exhibitions roll though town like a circus, wowing the crowds and bringing in the money, but your trusty permanent collection is there all year round for you. For us.
Thanks Turner, mate, it really is the gift that keeps on giving.
Image: Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps (1812) – J.M.W Turner