Richard Warren

20thc British art and poetry (mainly), plus bits of my own – "Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Tag Archives: aeropittura

John Armstrong Turnbull flies again

It’s more than five years (gulp) since I did a quick post on the nearly vanished “English Aeropittura” of John Armstrong Turnbull, the Biggles of “Group X”, the post-Vorticist show organised in 1920 by Wyndham Lewis. My thanks to Stephen Delaney, who points out that there are two paintings by Turnbull at the Canadian War Museum in addition to the one I posted. How did I miss these at the time? Or maybe they weren’t online then. But here are all three now, and rather a revelation they are too. William Roberts may have sniffed, but Lewis knew a good thing when he saw one. Click to enlarge the images.

 

These have a fine Vorticist sensibility, the two “new” works particularly. The inevitable comparison with the aeropittura of the second wave Futurism of twenty years later (Dottori or Crali) is a fair one, but there is no chunky fascist-Deco confidence here; we are in a vertiginously fragile world where verticals and horizontals have lost their bearings, and the Vortex is a tail-spin. The Red Air-fighter, in particular, is such a spiralling abstraction that it is impossible to decide whether in fact it has been displayed here sideways.

But beyond these, where on earth is the rest of Turnbull’s work? For starters, does anyone out there have an image of his pages in the “Group X” catalogue? It’s a shame that the Imperial War Museum does not have a painting by him. Very topically, this reminds me that I still have to see the applauded Wyndham Lewis exhibition at IWM North, on till next January. Does it include a Turnbull? I don’t think so. But meanwhile, here’s a helpful review by Nathan Waddell.

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John Turnbull: English Aeropittura

What is known about John Armstrong Turnbull, ex-Royal Flying Corps observer and pilot, who made what appears to have been a very brief artistic career exhibiting with the ex-Vorticists and others in “Group X” in 1920? It’s clear that Wyndham Lewis had a high regard for his work, and one can see why from this painting, Air Fight of 1919, done for the Beaverbrook war artist programme, and now in the Canadian War Museum. This is wonderfully complex, and rather spikier than Nevinson’s war planes of the same era. It belongs (despite its lack of sub-cubist spatial fragmentation) up there with the later aeropittura of il secondo futurismo – Dottori, Crali etc. “Airman Turnbull vanished with the same jet-like speed with which he had flown in upon us,” recalled William Roberts in 1957. But to where did he vanish? And where’s the rest of his work?