Smibert, The Tate and Turner

Tony Smibert in his Deloraine Studio

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JANUARY 2016 | Wai Lin Coultas

 MEANDER VALLEY residents are proud of local painter and art gallery owner, Tony Smibert. But they may be less familiar with Turner, the much-loved 18th – 19th century landscape painter who preserved in watercolour and oils, the essence of the British countryside of his time.

Tony Smibert’s private research into Joseph Mallord William Turner’s watercolour techniques kept him returning to Tate Britain for 25 years. His findings so impressed this London gallery, that he was appointed an official Visiting Artist Researcher.

“I was very fortunate to meet Dr Joyce Townsend, the Tate Senior Conservation Scientist,” shares Tony from his Smibert Studio in Deloraine. “Her doctorate is in Turner’s painting techniques. Of how he had laid his paint down … as a scientific process; not as an artistic one.”

Hence, Tony’s background as artist and art educator made him an ideal collaborator in her study of what Turner had painted in the 1700s and 1800s. The fruits of their joint labour include the publication of “The Tate Watercolour Manual” and the ongoing process of writing about Turner’s oil painting techniques, along with investigations into the painting methods of other artists during the golden age of British watercolour.

Tony’s interest in Turner is anchored in his years’ practicing Aikido. “I learnt very quickly that the best way to study anything is to look for and become apprenticed to the greatest master possible,” he elaborates. “And Turner is the world’s master of western watercolour.”

This apprenticeship has taken him to Turner’s exact painting locations to compare them to the English painter’s actual work. “I make my own sketches there for comparison – to deduce how he did the things that he did,” adds Tony.

That meant standing on the very spots where Turner had stood to paint the landscapes. And Tony is able to pinpoint those precisely from the thousands of sketches and detailed journals the deceased artist had left behind.

This process has allowed him to get into the mind of the Turner who loved to paint, rather than the romanticised figure historians know.

Consequently, he “can apply Turner’s painting techniques as he would have used them”. And if given a new challenge, can approach it the way Turner himself possibly would have.

This mastery, in turn, is driven by the question of why knowledge of Turner’s techniques became lost and how Tony’s research can restore this breach.

“I am a trained art teacher and I believe it is no good keeping information to myself,” he confides. “So the best way for me to learn is to know how I can pass it on to somebody else.”

Hence, he has embarked on giving lectures, writing publications and appearing on television and in art museums with ‘painting-like-Turner’ demonstrations in the United Kingdom and Australia.

All the research and demonstrations have yielded personal benefits. Tony has been artistically inspired by Turner’s eventual venture into the abstract.

“The point of studying Turner is not to paint things that look like he had done them. Rather it is to endeavour to be as explorative, adventurous, energetic and ground-breaking as he was.”

To make an appointment to view Tony’s own artwork, email his Deloraine studio: tony@smibert.com.

Alternatively, call 03 63622474 or 0409 474 622.

Mike Moores