My friend James and I recently stopped into Tate Britain to have a look at an installation by Ian Hamilton Finlay, Britain’s “foremost concrete poet.” To be honest, we couldn’t make head nor tail of it, and we really tried. I’m not even really sure what a concrete poet is…
But then we popped into one of the other galleries and I saw this – Pavlova (c1912) by Bruce Turner.
I’ve been fascinated for a while with the challenge of capturing dynamic movements in paint. A painting necessarily freezes time, which is fine for lots of subjects but effectively kills dance. And since the advent of cinema, it’s a challenge which has become largely academic. But when I saw Pavlova in Tate Britain I loved it, because I think Bruce Turner has managed something few others have.
Apparently Anna Pavlova appeared at the Grand in Leeds in 1912, which is probably when Turner, a Leeds-based painter, was inspired to paint her. Turner was part of the Leeds Art Club, an avant garde group of artists who had a keen interest in modern and abstract art. I think sometimes it seems as if abstract painters are painting less than they would if they painted more figuratively. But I really like the way Turner has used a Cubist-influenced style to try to capture more than he otherwise could.
Looking at Pavlova one way, it’s as if he hasn’t just captured one moment, but a series of moments all at once. But when you watch a ballerina as skilled as Anna Pavlova was said to be, it can seem as if they’re in lots of places all at the same time. As you look at this painting in real life, its impossible to see a collection of abstract shapes on the canvas; you can almost see her twirling through the angular patterns in front of you.
What do you think?