Luke Turner: Annunciations
by Siobhan Wall

Published in Eyemazing magazine, summer 2011 issue


This exhibition of recent large-scale photographic works is Luke Turner’s first major solo show and his work takes up an impressive two floors in the former studio and home of the renowned Systems artist Michael Kidner. In addition to the large two-dimensional prints, the exhibition also includes fascinating documentation of some of the working processes used to make these compelling images. Luke Turner (born UK, 1982) studied at the Royal College of Art, graduating in 2010. He has exhibited widely, including Systems and Patterns at the Whitechapel Gallery (2008), Let’s Go Home, Hamburg (2009) and more recently has had shows at the Purdy Hicks Gallery and in 2011, at the James Freeman Gallery.

Each photograph in Annunciations is named after a famous Renaissance painting, and it’s apparent that these largely abstract images are a carefully considered distillation of what lies beyond the figurative and literal in the well-known masterpieces. Turner’s Christ Rising from his Tomb, Fra Angelico, for example, consists of a dense black background within which can be discerned an amorphous shape, closer to a flying saucer than an elegant vase, but reminiscent of both the domestic and the alien. His vivid orange The Annunciation, Sandro Botticelli is an apt title for a work that suggests the visitation of something otherworldly from an unknown place. These could be seen as quite “spiritual” works, which aspire to or mimic the grasping for some truth that remains resolutely elusive.

The colour of each photograph is a dominant feature. They lie somewhere in-between soft, grey pastels and the vivid purple and turquoise hues found in hyper-synthetic environments such as the Pachinko parlours in Tokyo. Yet, despite using a colour palette that seems “unnatural”, these apparently simple images exude a sense of calm, far removed from any frenetic gaming activity. Intentionally blurred, the colour saturated shapes tantalisingly compel us to bring the image into focus, despite knowing that they will remain resistant to such a controlling gaze. The blurred forms encourage us to remember how we experienced and understood the world as neonate humans (babies’ eyes are unable to fully focus until around six months). We would have seen everything like this—except for our mother’s face when she held her head close to our own. Consequently, despite being resolutely non-specific, they are quietly nostalgic for a time when our sense of curiosity was still unalloyed, unsullied and totally new. Saudade, a Portuguese word for “longing for someone or something loved and lost" seems a potent description for the seductive pull of these images.

Like strange maternal androids, these images have a sense of incomparable symmetry. Looking at Turner’s images elicits a quiet, meditative stasis. The illusory effects also bring to mind the Enlightenment fascination with optical effects and a sense of excitement at witnessing spectacular visual phenomena, as recognised in accounts such as Richard Holmes’s The Age of Wonder. Such enthusiasm persists today in the recent work of Luke Turner, and the process by which he constructs these alluring images is partially revealed in the exhibition itself. We are transfixed to the spot in front of each work, curious about what is partially indecipherable but also enigmatic and compelling. Turner elicits a haptic desire to hold and even embrace his perfect forms, which, because they are two-dimensional representations, will forever remain intangible and out of reach. Thereby, he subtly frustrates our attempts to own and control the world around us but at the same time he offers something else—a reflective antidote to the proliferation of images we encounter in everyday life. This up-and-coming artist suggests that we can assume both the role of a knowing subject, aware of art history and the extensive benefits of scientific modes of enquiry, as well as draw on our latent memory of an innocent gaze. In doing so, he reminds us that our sense of wonder is not lost.