RA Magazine Winter 2012
Issue Number: 117
Ken Howard RA in conversation: Following in Turner’s footsteps
IAN WARRELL: Your new book, Ken Howard’s Switzerland: In the Footsteps of Turner, brings together the work you have created during five visits to Switzerland, following in the great master’s footsteps. After studying his watercolours in the Print Room at Tate Britain, how conscious were you of Turner’s images when you were painting at the same places?
KEN HOWARD: I found many of the exact spots, and painted the same
subjects, though some places, like Lucerne and Zürich, were quite changed. But there was a major difference because I have a repetitive strain injury, which now affects my hands, and has meant giving up watercolour. So, unlike Turner, all my work was in oils.
IW: Turner tended only to record quick impressions in pencil or watercolour to develop later, whereas you paint the whole image in front of the subject.
KH: I prefer that. I either complete a work in one session on the spot, or I paint them entirely in the studio, working from sketches. I never mix the two. If you’re in front of the subject you have to work quickly – especially if you are concerned with light.
Photo: Jurg Gebathuler.
IW: I was thinking also of the difficulties of painting when the weather was changing very quickly. It seemed to rain a lot during your visits, and wasn’t there one occasion when you were in the St Gotthard pass and it started to snow?
KH: The conditions there were terrible! Jürg Gabathuler, my Swiss friend who came with me, was forced to hold my easel so it wouldn’t blow away. But the effect was there, the subject was there; so I had to do it.
IW: How did you transport the canvases? Was Jürg’s car fitted with racks for
KH: No, the car was always full of wet paintings. One morning Jürg came to me and explained that, while he was sorting the car out, he had left one of the pictures – a morning’s work – on the roof and forgotten about it when he drove off. Only later did he remember it, by which time it had blown off into a field. Luckily, after he left a note in the hotel, someone kindly brought it back.
IW: Turner apparently lost a sketchbook during his travels.
KH: I would have hated to lose a sketchbook even more than losing a painting done on the spot. A sketchbook is pregnant with possibility, so for Turner it would have been a real tragedy.
IW: After covering the sites Turner had visited, you travelled to other places in Switzerland. Was there anywhere he might have especially enjoyed?
KH: If Turner could have gone up to the Gornergrat, a ridge above Zermatt, by the Matterhorn, I think he would have lost his head. It was the most visually exciting place I’ve ever been to. But he couldn’t have got up there because the railway to the top came after his time.
- Ken Howard at 80 Richard Green,
London 16 Jan–2 Feb 2013
- The artist signs copies of Ken Howard’s Switzerland: In the Footsteps of Turner by Jürg Gabathuler and Ian Warrell (£25.95, RA Publications) on 16 and 17 Jan 2013
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