TWO old masters are simultaneously making an appearance at local galleries. The long-awaited Turner’s Wessex has opened at Salisbury Museum, while Howard Hodgkin is featured at the New Art Centre, Roche Court.

I may be stretching the definition of Old Masters by including Hodgkin, but in my eyes he is certainly a master and by any definition, at 82 he is certainly old. His first solo show was more than 50 years ago, and he has been part of the art ‘establishment’ since a Hayward Gallery show in 1980 .

And good for him, because in all that time he has consistently obeyed only his own rules, and refused to pander to outside pressures.

Like many good artists, he can be a bit hit and miss, but he offers up to the viewer some genuine moments of surprise and wonderment.

The things he can do with a few brushstrokes and some (often quite lurid) colour defy description, and his paintings seem almost effortless, mere casual gestures. As a photographer I am always in awe of people whose hand-made marks have that quality.

Turner has that same capacity to inspire a sense of wonder, and I’ve been trying to think of younger contemporary painters who might become the next old masters. It would seem that painting is at a dead end: the artists who create awe-inspiring works today tend to be working with sculpture and installation, particularly light. It doesn’t need to have any deep meaning, metaphysical or political, and I’m all for that.

Those lionised contemporaries who do have a message, such as Jeremy Deller, are capable of producing some very dull art.

Light was of course Turner’s inspiration, and he sought out the most difficult weather conditions to inspire his best paintings. Today’s landscape photographers work is the same way, of course, and leave the camera at home on nice sunny days.

Turner was acutely aware that the new photographic process had implications for the future role of painting, but it didn’t influence his approach, as is often suggested of painters later in the 19th Century.

I see in Turner an artist searching to represent his own spiritual connection to the landscape. He saw beyond the bucolic tranquility favoured by many of his contemporaries (or later artists such as our own Edwin Young). Turner depicts idyllic scenes but they are often subverted by a kind of terrible beauty, the knowledge that nature can be malign as well as nurturing.

Turner’s Wessex - Architecture and Ambition is showing throughout the summer until late September. All museum tickets are annual passes.

Howard Hodgkin is at New Art Centre until July 26.

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