TheOrator.Press TV Review: Turner At The Tate (1987) ~ March 2022

A South Bank Show Original

Sky Arts 12.30 pm ~ Monday March 7 2022,

This Edition of A Classic Show Felt Dated, Dull, & Disappointin’. And Also Dishonest By Omission

Rockets & Blue Lights Circa 1840 – Originally Called Rockets & Blue Lights (Close At Hand) To Warn Ships of Shoal Waters

Turner At The Tate Was Broadcast On Sky Arts On Monday March 7 2022, 12.30 pm. It Was An Episode of The South Bank Show Which Presenter Melvyn Bragg & His Team Selected To Be Part of “The Originals Collection” of Shows From This Classic 1980s Cultural Interview & Review Series. This Particular Episode Was originally Broadcast In 1987.

Incidentally, For Those Who Wish To Indulge In Some Nostalgic Viewin’ Episodes of The South Bank Show Are Regularly Repeated On The Sky Arts Channel, Which Was Offered Up To The Nation Free of Charge In September 2020 During Lockdown. (Now TV Is Its VOD (Video On Demand) or Catch Up Service).

This 1987 Episode of The South Bank Show Now Looks And Sounds Very Dated. But As Turner Is One of Britain’s Most Famous Artists, His Work Remains of Great Interest, He Has Inspired An Annual Arts Prize In His Name, And He Came To This Magazine’s Attention On Reviewin’ Winsome Pinnock’s Play “Rockets & Blue Lights” At The National Theatre Late Last Summer (August-October 2021), There Was A Huge Hope That It Would Offer Up Some More Interestin’ Conversation About How His Two Famous Slave Ship Paintings Further Helped Highlight The Horrific Plight of Enslaved Africans On European Slave Carriers. Alas There Was No Such Cultural Clarity To Be Had Here. Indeed It Was Dated, Dull, And Disappointin’, And It Also Felt Dishonest By Omission.

It Is Nonetheless Worth Watchin’ This Dated Documentary To See How Inadequate The Discussion Around Turner’s ‘Rockets & Blue Lights’ And ‘Slave Ship’ Paintin’ Was, Compared To The Bravery of The Likes of Award-winnin’ Black British Writer Winsome Pinnock Today. And Also To Help Understand Why Firstly It Is Important To Tell Black British History. And Secondly To Tell It Includin’ A Black British Narrative & Analysis.

Turner Began Travellin’ From An Early Age And This Facilitated His Visionary Perspective. He Was An Experimentor, An Oil Painter, A Watercolourist, A Creative, And Instinctively Innovative. He Was Naturally Interested In Paintin’ The Elements Such As Light And Dark, Atmosphere, Weather, Climate. Environment, Landscapes, Seascapes And Italian Terrain And Other Places In Europe And Abroad. As Middle Class Gentleman He Would Have Undertaken ‘The Grand Tour’ Whereby Young Men Travelled Round Europe Before Settin’ Down. Rather Like A Gap Year For The Cultured Classes Back In The Day.

This Combined With His Love of Scenery Is No Doubt How He Mustered The Wherewithall To Paint His Famous Slave Ship Paintin’ (Below) Which Helped Bring The Slave Ship Suffering of Enslaved Africans To World Attention.

Rockets And Blue Lights (Above) Depicts The Onslaught of A Ragin’ Storm As A Ship Nears A Harbour With Dangerously Shallow Waters. Notwithstandin’ The ‘The Slave Ship” Is The More Violent of The Two Pictures, Pinnnock Named Her Play After The Less Gruesome Painting. But If One Looks Beyond The Obvious Vessel At The Forefront of The It Would Appear That There Is At Least One Other Vessel In The Distance of This Seascape.

The Slave Ship Circa 1840 Originally Called ‘Slavers Throwing Overboard The Dead & The Dying’ – Typhoon Coming On

Pinnock’s Play Inspired By Turner’s Painting Pulls No Punches

Acknowledgin’ Turner’s Painting ‘Rockets & Blue Lights’ Winsome Pinnock’s Play, of The Same Name, Staged At London’s National Theatre, August – October 2021, Was Directed By Miranda Cromwell & Starred Cathy Tyson (Who Most Famously Starred In the Film 1987 ‘Mona Lisa‘ With The Late Great Bob Hoskins And The Groudbreakin’ 1980s TV Sex Worker Drama Band of Gold). It Also Starred Karl Collins (From The Police Drama Series The Bill) And Paul Bradley (From Eastenders & Holby) Amongst Others.

The Company Programme & Script Are Still Available To Buy. Both Are Brilliant & Worth The Investment. They Are Very Educational And There’s An Extra Intensity To Be Found In Readin’ The Actual Script After Seein’ The Play In Person. Or Indeed Before Seein’ It.

Pinnock’s Play Fills The Gaps Left By A Lack of Available Open & Transparent Explanation By Turner or His Supporters At The Time or Subsequent Historians About The True Tale of The Painting. This Is Coupled With Inadequate Action And Discussion To Remedy That. Pinnock’s Play Doesn’t Pull Any Punches And The Details of European Cruelty And Barbarism Perpetrated Upon Enslaved Africans Are Horrific, Hauntin’ And Harrowin’ Accounts of Behaviour Most Inhuman And Inhumane. (See Review TheOrator.Press September 2021 Issue.)

They Say A Picture Paints A Thousand Words But Arguably Pinnock’s Play Version of ArguablRockets & Blue Lights Is Much More Graphic Than Turner’s Paintings. Could This Be Because She Is Rightin’ About Her Forebears And Those of The Black Community of Which She Is A Member? And Also Because As The Play Makes Clear As It Finishes By Highlightin’ Those Members of The Black Community Who Have Since Been Brutalised By The System And Are Still Been Being Brutalised Today, The Victims of The New Cross Fire And Their Families, The Victim of A Racist Murder Stephen Lawerence And His Family, And The Victims of Grenfell And Their Families, These Acts Are Hauntin’, Impactin’ And Disturbin’.

Rockets & Blue Lights By Winsome Pinnock Was Not Written When This Episode of The South Bank Show Aired First Aired In 1987. Pinnock Was 26 At The Time. But Turner’s Paintings’ ‘Rockets & Blue Lights’ And ‘The Slave Ship’ Had Long Since Been Painted. And Yet There Was Little To No Discussion About Them Durin’ This Programme About ‘Turner At The Tate’. Considerin’ These Are Two of Turner’s Most Famous & Important Paintings, It Appears It Did What Was Often Done Back Then, Before Then And Still Now. In Some Quarters. It White Washed It Out. Erased It. Underplayed It.

Turner Was Edgy, Interested In The People And Yet Something of A Lone Rebel

Turner Was Diminutive In Stature & Was Sensitive About That. He Disliked His Own Likeness Bein’ Taken Because He Felt People Would Judge Him Prejudicially With The Notion That One So Small Could Not Paint About Matters So Big. But He Did Have Big Ideas. Perhaps That’s Why In 1799 Aged Just Twenty Four He Painted His Self-Portrait To Have Done With The Issue ( See Gallery Above).

As An Artist He Famously Had One Foot In The Establishment & One Foot On The Edge. He Tried To Follow & Build Upon The Established Style of Classic Artists At The Time And Yet He Simultaneously Had His Own Way of Doin’ Things Which Could Shock And Surprise At The Time. Most Revolutionary Was His Innovative Impressionist Style of Paintin’.

The Royal Academy of Arts Was Founded In 1768. Turner Was Born 7 Years Later In 1775. He Joined The Highly Esteemed Artistic Institution For The Artocracy In 1789 Aged Just 14.

He Lived 1775-1851. He Was A Year Older Yet Lived 14 Years Longer Than Fellow Painter And Contemporary Artistic Rival John Constable. Constable Was Born 1776 And Died 1837 Aged Just 61. Whilst That Was Old Age Back In Those Times. Turner Died Fifteen Years Olders Aged 76 In 1851.

He Was Associated With The Royal Academy of Arts Throughout His Teenage And Adult Life And His Work Was Curated, Promoted And Lauded By The Great & The Good In The Art World At The Time. This Includeded His Mentor, The Art Critic & Commentator, John Ruskin. Yet He Also Ran His Own Gallery off Harley Street To Present Art To The Public For Free. And Apparently, Havin’ Been Born In London’s Covent Garden (Maiden Lane) To A Lower Middle Class Family (When Class Differentation Was The Main Distinguishin’ Factor In British Society) He Took Pride In Considerin’ Himself A Cockney Rather Than A Member of High Society.

He Exhibited His Two Paintings At The Royal Academy’s 72nd Annual Exhibition (1840), The Abolition Society Was Holding A Convention There And Prince Albert Was Scheduled To Give A Speech. It Appears The Year Before, In 1839, A Second Edition of Thomas Clarkson’s 1808 Book ‘The History of The British Abolition Movement’ Was Published Which Included Details of The Zong Massacre Insurance Case of 1781 (Virtually 60 Years Earlier) Which Moved Him To Retrospectively Reflect The Unimaginable Horrors of It On Canvass. As He Imagined Them According To The Details Given. Notwithstandin’ The Passage of Time, Since The Abolition of The Slave Trade In 1807 Horrors Were Still Bein’ Committed By Slavers And Suffered By Slaves.

Turner Was Sixty Five When He Painted ‘The Slave Ship’ & ‘Rockets And Blue Lights’. He Was Just Five When The Zong Massacre Horrors Were Committed. Seeking An Insurance Payout For Loss of Property At Sea, Slavers Threw Enslaved Africans Overboard To Their Shark Fest Death And Drowin’. The Insurance Case Brought The Inhumanity of Slave Ships To The Attention of The British Public. In Doin’ So It Helped Garner Support For The Abolition Campaign. Whilst The UK Slave Trade Was Abolished In 1807. Slavery Was Not Abolished Until 1833. In America It Was 1865.

In The Sky Arts Show One Commentator, From A Group All White, All Male And All Varin’ Degrees of Posh And Pompous, Featured In The Documentary Said “He Was Famous, He Was Rich, But He Was Misunderstood.”

Another Remarked, “Unlike A Number of Fellow Artists of His Time He Never Got Royal Commissions & He Was Never Knighted Because Queen Victoria Was Certain He Was Mad.”

A More Kind Commentator Reflected That An Unkind Critic Claimed Turner’s Painting’s “Are Full of Nothing” – “But You Can See 40 Years of Experience” And of One Particular Paintin’ – Words To The Effect That – “It Would Be In Place Now If Painted By A Modern Day Artist”.

Also Kind Was A Further Observer Who Reflected That He Was Still Paintin’ Into His Ninties – (Which Is Interestin’ As He Died Aged 76) – And But The Paintings Were Absolutely Free Because They Were Not Trapped In Any Particular Time “And Venice May Look Exactly Like That The Next Time One Goes There.”

The Tate Is Great. Especially Online. And Even Better In Person. Sometimes It’s Best To Go Direct To The Source.

And Better Still To Also Discover Some More Contemporary Art & Visions Elsewhere As Well. Including Different Angles, Perspectives & Opinions
Artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye “Timelessness Is Important. What I’m Talkin’ About Transends Time. It’s Everlasting”

So, What Is Most Remarkable About This Particular Episode Is That There Was Absolutely No Discernable Substantive Reference To Turner’s Two Slave Paintings. Thirty Five Years On And Lookin’ Back At The Art Institution As It Was In This Particular Case 35 Years Ago, One Has To Wonder Why Not? Was This Black British History Something They Were Tryin’ To Hide or Minimize – Like So Much Black British History?

Havin’ Seen Pinnock’s Play At The National Last Summer, Reviewed It And Duly Concluded That It Should Be Shown And Studied In Schools, As Part of Black British History Lessons, Watchin’ The Documentary Was A True Televisual Anti-Climax.

To Redress This Disappointment TheOrator.Press Did Three Things. Firstly We Checked Out The Tate Website To See What It Had To Say For Itself On The Matter of Turner’s Slave Ship Paintings Today. Happily We Found A Piece With Pinnock Herself Commentin’ On The Paintings. Secondly We Were Inspired To Consider More Black Art Tellin’ Black Stories More Transparently, Consistently And Authentically. And Thirdly We Watched Mike Leigh’s Award Winnin’ Film ‘Mr Turner’ Starrin’ Timothy Spall.

Each of These Endeavours, One And All, Was Infinitely More Interestin’ And Nurishin’ Than The Tired Old Turner Documentary From The 1980s (Which Was Stuffy, One Dimensional And Lackin’ In Diversity Which Is A Shame As Diversity Can ofen Make An Experience So Much More Interestin’, Openin’ Up Infinte Potential For Inclusion, Progress And Development).

Melvyn Bragg Is A Broadcast Legend, Very Likeable And Liked And Respected Very Much By The Actor, Poet And Writer Benjamin Zephania. So Is The South Bank Show For Which He Is Most Known. He And His Team Have Produced Some Great Documentaries, Which Have Stood The Test of Time. Includin’ Some Great Prorgrammes Featurin’ Black Writers And Creatives. But This Turn on Turner Was Not The South Bank’s Finest Hour.

There’s Nothing Like Going Direct To The Source, So In This Much More Modern, Digital & Technological World We Live In Thirty Five Years Later Since That Edition of The Show Was Produced,Check Out – It Has 9 Exhibition Rooms Featurin’ Turner Collections, It’s Own Magazine, And A Black Artists Platform. Plus The National Theatre Also Has A Screenin’ Platform For Plays & Productions Called The National Theatre At Home Where Rockets & Blue Lights Is Available To Watch.

Clockwise: Afro Muse ~ A Woman With A Natural Crown Made of Her Natural Hair (Circa 1995-2005) By Turner Prize Winnin’ Artist Chris Ofili (b. 1968). Beautiful Natural Hair Is Highlighted In This Paintin’ Called Razorbill (2020 ) ~ By Turner Prize Winnin’ Artist Lynette Yiadom-Boyake (L.Y.B) (b. 1977). Suited & Booted In Cream ‘For The Sake of the Angels By L.Y.B (2018). A Concentration ~ Black Male Ballet Dancers (2018). A Gentleman’s Toast By L.Y.B (Part of The Fly In League With The Night Exhibition At The Tate 2 December 2020 – 9 May 2021 Which Was Suspended Due To Pandemic).
Artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye; Marketing The Exhibition. Much of L.Y.B’s Work Is Unexplained.

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