Coasting along in Turner’s footsteps
Dan Carrier talks to artist Andy Parker about tracing Turner’s artistic odyssey... on a motorbike
21 March, 2019 — By Dan Carrier
Andy Parker at work with his pochade box
ANDY Parker loaded up his paints, settled on the saddle, kickstarted the engine of his 1,000cc motorbike and set off on a 3,000-mile journey to explore the world of artist JMW Turner.
Now the results of one man’s trip along the coast of England, following in the footsteps of the great landscape painter, is the subject of an exhibition at Burgh House.
Artist Andy had always admired Turner – and has created a project tracing the celebrated artist’s coastal paintings and produced a body of work inspired by them.
Andy, who lives in Islington, is originally from St Martin’s Lane, Covent Garden. His family ran saddlers George Parker and Sons – a firm that had been in Covent Garden for more than 150 years.
In the Georgian and Victorian periods St Martin’s Lane had something known as a horse depository – a sort of four-legged version of a car hire firm – and it meant there were a number of related trades nearby, from the saddlers to tack companies and blacksmiths.
View from Minster, by Andy Parker
“The National Gallery was at the end of my street,” he recalls, and visited many times as a child. “Turner made a particular impression on me. My family lived in the same area as the Turner’s. I remember thinking ‘wow, he is a local boy’. And when Turner had set out to travel around the country, he would have needed bridles, tack – and of course, much of it could have come from my family.”
Andy, who is also a sound engineer and musician, had read about how Turner had set out in around 1795 to create a body of work that could be used as a series of engravings.
“I decided to leave the city and to use Turner’s ‘Ports and Harbour Scenes of England’ as a basis for a study,” he says.
“He was young at the time, making his way. He travelled from Whitby in Yorkshire to Falmouth in Cornwall and drew pictures that would then become engravings.”
Turner used some artistic licence on his journey, Andy was to discover. “He was not a great painter outdoors. He would make some drawings and then go back to his hotel and paint – and he also had a great imagination, which he put to good use. While the brief for my trip was Turner’s coastal route, I soon decided I could not be strict in order to copy the views. It became obvious that the place he had been was not always available to me.
“I looked around for where he painted each piece but he was a great maker-upper of things. He would move things around. Instead, I used where he had been as a jumping-off point. This was about seeing what had inspired him, and how it could inspire me.”
Andy created 120 pieces, of which around 40 are set to be hung at Burgh House.
“The planning was the hardest part,” he admits. “I had to work out how much I could carry safely on a motorbike. I wondered if I’d be like Scott of the Antarctic and have to collect supplies en route. I worked out I could safely carry a maximum of three weeks’ supplies on the bike – so I would break the journey and return to London to replenish and restock.”
He used a pochade box – a wooden container, with the picture inside, that can be shut snugly once the work is done. It is easy to carry and the work can be packed up while the painting is still wet – a key advantage when you are travelling to windswept ports in the British winter on a bike.
Blue St Mawes
“I knew I had to approach this as a job,” he says. “And it could be tough – I spent weeks on the road with the only conversation being ‘Can I pay with a card? That’s me on Pump nine and no, I don’t want any chips…’”
A mixture of guest houses, bed and breakfasts, caravan parks, Airbnb, friends’ homes, a stranger’s spare room, and a study at the University of Hull provided a spot to lay his head and the result is a fascinating study of our coastal heritage, offering a new way of considering the achievement of Turner’s art.
• Following in the Footsteps of Turner: Paintings by Andy Parker. Runs from April 3-14 at Burgh House, New End Square, Hampstead, NW3 1LT. Details on 020 7431 0144, or visit https://burghhouse.museumssites.com