Peter Milton “Tsunami”

Notes on: Tsunami

TSUNAMI was suggested to me by Mike Leigh's cinematic account of Turner having himself tied to a ship's mast in order to feel what a storm at sea actually feels like in order to really paint it. It is also a reminder of my own summer of 1950 working on an oil tanker off the Pacific coast and a treasured evocation of a few of my own pitching and yawing storms.

A tsunami is rolling in from a mysterious seismic event. Riding out the great wave is a grand three masted schooner. On the deck an intent painter is at work. The name on the boat tells us it is JMW Turner, and his paintings confirm it. Foundering in the tumultuous white water of a storm surge is a small disintegrating sailboat with six boaters caught on a nautical spree. One man is clearly facing a losing battle.

In the sails of the small boat is a beckoning, flag waving man. If the painter is Turner, then this must be his most devoted admirer, the critic, John Ruskin, cheering him on as only this man of letters could do, By now it is clear that the boaters must be some Turner colleagues from The Royal Academy in London. Manning the boat's tiller is a young man who was later Turner's most notable competition, John Constable. At his feet is inscribed the name, Effie Gray, a reference to the pre-Raphaelite, once RA president, John Everett Millais. In turn, this boat's name brings us back to Ruskin whose beautiful Effie was later absconded from Ruskin by Millais. But that's another story.

Here Turner is the fierce hero with his flying dutchman of an imagined schooner riding out the savagery of nature and the vicissitudes of Art. Today, it now appears that it was Turner himself who had become the tsunami.

The edition of 70 prints is divided between a small version (19 x 30 inches) numbered 1-35/70 and a larger version (23 x 37 inches) numbered 36-70/70.

 

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