Magazine article Tate Etc.

Reality Is Ephemeral

Magazine article Tate Etc.

Reality Is Ephemeral

Article excerpt

The Danish-lcelandic artist Olafur Eliasson is well known for his large-scale installations and sculptures using ethereal materials such as light, air and water, his most celebrated work being the giant artificial sun (The weather project) in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern. An important influence on him throughout his career has been JMW Turner, whose own approach to ephemeral atmospheric effects and interest in colour theories has inspired Eliasson's new series of abstract paintings called Colour experiments, on display at Tate Britain

My father was a landscape painter in Iceland, so I grew up surrounded by a lot of general art history books. I would endlessly study the images in them, and it was here that I first encountered a JMW Turner painting. I remember being puzzled as to why an abstract work was located before the other, less abstract, less dynamic paintings in the book.

My second and most formative encounter with Turner's work was at art school, when I was studying British landscape painters from 1750 to 1900.1 found their approach mesmerising, particularly their way of using light to create ephemeral atmospheric effects. I was gripped by how Constable painted cloud formations with great conviction and how Gainsborough created a sense of freedom in his compositions. But it was Turner who appeared to have a distinct emotional ability to shape and frame light.

I have focused on the ephemeral since my earliest work. Turner's paintings offer great potential for exploring the notions of transformation, movement and atmosphere; for reflecting on one's sense of self as being not necessarily solid and stable, but evolving through our many exchanges with other people, with the world. I recently read an interview with biologist and thinker Francisco Varela, who talked about our feeling of self as being our interface with the world. I am 'me' when interacting, when caught up in relations and contexts, but the 'me' is an aggregate of ephemera in a way. We can't localise it. This is a fascinating thought.

For Turner, colour was never an autonomous phenomenon or an aesthetic end in itself; he used it to establish ephemeral effects, which allowed him to leave traditional depiction behind. This was highly radical. He was convinced that his paintings were of great relevance to the world, and I have for many years been inspired by the sense of confidence communicated through his work and the idea that the ephemeral could carry meaning into society.

I find it interesting that Turner seemed to seek whatever truth there is in visual representation in careful observation of external phenomena and the way we perceive light and colour. …

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