Turner’s House is a study of the house designed and built by JMW Turner in 1813. The work explores light and dark and the images reference strategies of depiction similar to those used in paint by Turner.
Goethe’s observations of light as described in his book Colour Theory were known to Turner and influenced his paintings The Evening Before the Deluge (1843) and Light and Colour (Goethe’s Theory), The Morning after the Deluge, Moses Writing the Book of Genesis (1843). Goethe’s observations of light in a dark space provided a starting point for the creation of this work.
“Let the room be made as dark as possible, let there be a circular opening in the window shutters about three inches in diameter, which may be closed or not at pleasure. The sun being suffered to shine through this on to a white surface, let the spectator from some little distance fix his eye on this bright circle thus admitted.”
Turner used his knowledge of these after-effects to convey the sensory experience of seeing. His painting Light and Colour (1843) refers to both the sun and the eye, an image of building luminescence that can never be seen directly and that resembles the optic image left after looking at the sun. The circular shape of the painting mimics that of both the sun and the pupil of the eye on which the image is observed. The fact that the image is now created by the impression of light in the eye makes it part of the body, so the picture itself becomes a sort of self-portrait.
Goethe’s experiments with light in a dark space provide the basis for the strategy used in the creation of this work. The house is used as if it were a camera, the light being controlled by the window shutters. Both the absence of light and diffused bright light are used to create images that link to Turner’s observations of light in his paintings. The images in darkened rooms are also inspired by the Claude glass, a nineteenth century viewing device made of black glass that renders a scene in tones of black, to show what is not directly seen, but giving a mysterious impression of what is there.
The project creates a series of quasi-abstract interpretations of the space, in which the viewer senses the way the eye acclimatises to light or dark obliging him to look carefully. The images at the edge of the visible, either totally dark or totally light become almost totally abstract, encouraging a felt impression of the place.