Yesterday, as part of a birthday magical mystery tour, John took me to see Mr. Turner, Mike Leigh’s film about the last quarter of the painter J.M.W. Turner’s life. It’s an extraordinary film, both visually and in terms of its scope, its own artistry. Every frame was beautiful — the skies, the water, the boats in their angularity, the soft fields of Holland and England where Turner wandered, sketch pad in hand. Sometimes the frames were like Vermeers, sometimes (ironically considering their animosity) Constables, and of course endlessly like Turners, suffused with light and something more. God? I’m not a believer but those canvases have a spiritual quality. Queen Victoria dismissed them as blurry and vile but she was wrong. Next month we’ll spend a week in London and Mr. Turner has determined me to spend some time looking at the work of this painter of light. Tim,othy Spall gave an amazing performance as Turner, a man both earthy, plain-spoken, but also attentive to the possibility of the divine, whether it was in the profile of a landlady in a window overlooking Margate harbour or in the tenderness of his father’s hand upon his face as he shaved him. Oh, and “The sun is God?” Supposedly Turner’s last words, before his death in 1851.
So a film, a special dinner out last night, an amble around Granville Island this morning (we’re staying at the Granville Island Hotel), a walk along Kits Beach, and two special treats this evening. All of this was planned without me knowing any of the details and I’m enjoying it so much. To be taken out of my daily life for a few days so that I can return to it gladly and now with a keener sense of purpose. I bought indigo and woad powders today for another of my salmon quilts (Angelica wants to try her hand at shibori and batik so we’ll do some of this when she visits at Easter) and I also have the prospect of working on the edits of my novella Patrin, due out in September with Mother Tongue Publishing.
When we came back from our day out today, I saw the sun reflected off the tall buildings on the north side of False Creek, shimmering on the water like — well, how would Turner have painted it? That chrome yellow, the heart of it all in reds and ochres? Was he ever satisfied with what he’d done? I wonder. But he went to the next canvas with urgency and passion, not a bad working process. He worked to his own vision, refusing to do what the others were doing, even if his paintings were hung in the anteroom at the big Royal Academy of Art shows, while mawkish canvases of religious scenes were front and centre. Something to aspire to? I think so.