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A Colourful Life: A Journey Through the Eyes of John Turton

Art Lovers | 28 March 2019

by Sunnefa Penning


Mullumbimby based artist John Turton was an early bloomer. Encouraged by his parents and inspired by his grandfather’s realistic and romantic painting, John embarked on his journey as an artist at the age of 11 when his parents gifted him a set of oil paints when returning from Europe. He won the West Australian newspaper art prize in late primary school and since then has been celebrated widely across Australia receiving multiple awards, holding over 30 solo exhibitions, art residencies and showcased at the National Gallery of Victoria.

John draws inspiration from Australian nature and the challenge of using colour to breathe life into the landscapes he so eloquently paints. He has forged a successful career by exploring his deep curiosity and relationship with the environment, its beauty and scale, its shape and spaces, its light and energy, something he describes as ever-stimulating.

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John Turton at work in his Mullumbimby studio

Despite a focus on painting natural landscapes, he doesn’t like to define his style and regards himself as a colourist, working primarily by instinct, rather than a landscape artist. Atmosphere is what I try to get in my painting. I think my work often depends on how I am feeling on the day…if I am feeling energetic, my paintings become more energetic. And if I am feeling sombre, the colours are usually more muted and tranquil.”

John’s use of colour in his work is a lovely testament to his jubilant attitude towards life, family and art. He enjoys the freedom to experiment and the complete autonomy that comes with being an artist, however teaching is one of his biggest joys. A genuine passion for creating and sharing art led him to teach at highly regarded art institutions around Australia, including The Fremantle Arts Centre, the Brisbane Art School, and he teaches regularly with Artable, doing landscape workshops in acrylics and pastels.

Watching students develop their work during a workshop is not only a privilege – it also continues to inspire and instill confidence in me as a painter and person”.

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Sunlit Earth (133 x 70cm, Acrylic on canvas)

Last week Art Lovers Australia spoke with John Turton about his life, ideas and inspiration.

What do you love about being an artist?

I’m so lucky in being able to paint in my own time when I feel like it. I love the excitement when I do a good painting. I’ve enjoyed teaching and facilitating workshops more and more as the years have gone by. I really enjoy the students’ company and watching their work progress.

I’ve been really lucky that I’ve been able to go at my own pace and work from a studio at home, so I got to watch my family grow up. I have also been extremely fortunate to make enough from my work to support my wife’s part-time income, enabling us to give our five children a fairly decent childhood. If it hadn’t been for my parents-in-law buying us a house, however, when we very first married, my life would have been very different. I think it’s safe to say that I would not have had the luxury of being a full-time artist, so eternal gratitude there!

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

Although originally from Perth, I have been living near Mullumbimby for 33 years. I think it is probably because of the duality of these two opposing palettes that I have been led more in the direction of playing with and exploring colour. It’s hard to know where I get my inspiration from, mainly from within, I think! I also definitely get it from shapes and form, skies and light.

Why did you become an artist?

Basically, art was the only thing I was good at. I did Leaving Art at Junior level and got to paint murals on the walls in the art room at Hollywood High which was pretty cool. After High School, I was lucky enough to have an art school very close to my house. I could hop on my bike and be there in five minutes. Claremont Technical College was only small and was very well regarded in its day. It produced a lot of good artists, a lot of whom are still painting now. From there I went to the Institute (now Curtin University) where I got a Bachelor of Fine Art.

A fairly well-known artist Brian Yates showed me how to put chunky paint on canvas. I really liked his work. Really childlike and naive with a good colour sense. Also, a friend’s mum was an artist, she did interesting work!

Golden Glow (94 x 89cm, Oil & acrylic on canvas)

What is your philosophy on art and life?

My philosophy on life is basically to ENJOY…. enjoy my work and enjoy my family! Also, to be the best person and artist I can be. As I said previously, watching students develop their work during a workshop is not only a privilege – it also continues to inspire and instil confidence in me as a painter and person. What I would like to give students and viewers of my work, is the confidence to express their own hidden talent. I’d like to think I am an inspiration to others who may not have the confidence to pick up a brush and put colour on canvas.

My philosophy on art is that everyone should have a go – just do it! Focus, enjoy the process and let go of any preconceived ideas about the outcome or final result. Let go, it’s all fun! Sometimes the best things that happen are those that I have no idea how they came to be.

What are some of your career highlights?

My first exhibition was at Select Framers in Claremont, Perth which was a sell-out. I entered lots of local council competitions in the late 70’s and won most of them which was a buzz as well as inspiring. I got bought by the National Gallery about that time. I’m pretty sure Ian Templeton, the Arts Director of the Fremantle Arts Centre, that had something to do with that. Ian offered to swap us a property in Toodyay for all the exhibition pieces. At the time, we had no desire to live in Toodyay, so turned him down! Probably a big mistake!Quentin Gallery in Claremont was another one that did well for me, they sold a lot of paintings. We moved over to Brisbane in 1982. I taught at Brisbane Art School for a while and a few local art groups such as Coochiemudlo, and the Yurarra Art Group.

I got involved with Verlie Just at the Town Gallery. She did a lot for me, a wonderful lady. Her husband Arnold was also a gem. I got involved with more galleries e.g. Framed in Darwin. Anne Phelan, who ran this gallery until quite recently, was amazing. She used to organise a variety of “contra” deals. For example, we once had two weeks full accommodation for me and my family at the Crocodile Inn at Kakadu where I painted the extra panels for a big piece they had previously bought. It was a fantastic experience. After Verlie died, I became involved with Red Hill Gallery who have also been very good to me. Byron Fine Art Gallery also stands out in my memory. Liz was amazing!

Some of the highlights of my career have been as artist-in-residence; most particularly the three months spent in the Gascoyne region of WA. I was based in Carnarvon and taught a lot of “station ladies”. After this stint ended, I was fortunate enough to be offered a deserted station as a base by one of my students. This was very isolated, several hours/km NW of Carnarvon and quite a distance from the nearest neighbour. An amazing experience but I think we only lasted about 6 weeks…my wife, my one-year old daughter and I!

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Sweeping Plains (78 x 69.5cm, Acrylic on canvas)

How would you describe your art in three words?

Colourful, distinctive and harmonic.

What are your professional dreams/goals?

I’d like to hang in some decent galleries in Melbourne and Sydney. I feel like a lot of my work is never even seen. I’d like to become a better artist…that’ll come through a lot more practice, I suppose. And more confidence!

I don’t really like speaking about my work. I find it hard because I don’t really know how I do a lot of the things I do…they just work out. There’s no formula, I hope my paintings speak for themselves.

Have you got any advice for up and coming artists?

Have confidence in yourself and keep on plugging on! Don’t get put off by people’s silly comments!

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Turtonj Ochre Sands 70x101 2400


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