Friday, August 03, 2012

What Would Turner Paint at 35,000 feet?

QMA have very generously paid for me to attend an EMu training course at KE Software's office near Oxford Road station.  So after just 3 weeks in Doha, I found myself on another Qatar Airways plane, this time destined for Manchester!   Putting pen to paper, I started jotting...
... It's shortly before 8am and we've just taken off.  From my seat I peer out of the window and have an excellent view looking to the West. 
As we ascend we rise above the clouds I recall being told that the painter, JMW Turner, would spend hours simply gazing up at the clouds, simply observing, watching.   So the question enters my mind: what would he have painted if he were to have gazed from besides and above the clouds?  What visual impressions would he have created - especially the light, shading, and colour?  Where would he have looked?  Up, down or across?  And what would he make of the different shapes, including the curvature of the Earth? 
Now at the cruising height, we're atop the fluffy white clouds, which at a distance are like remote islands floating in a now hazy sea whose waters show but traces of the land masses below.  Sometimes we are drawing close to them, moving besides them, and we see them rise up and across towards us, billowing fully in 3 dimensions, like celestial icebergs, a well-defined yet immaterial presence.   Reflecting clear sunlight, they radiate the luminosity of paper lanterns, but here the light is coming from many directions. 
The scene below becomes gradually clearer revealing at first a largely uniform mass of sand with indistinct features.  It's seemingly washed out by the summer heat, but looking more closely reveals a few roads criss-crossing the landscape, and then shades of colour, with reddish hues and assorted patterns from the shadows of the clouds.  And above the clouds we only see our movement relative to the clouds, we only detect their movements through their shadows drifting across the static land... and dwelling there with our eyes can be discerned a few geometric plots of human habitation in the midst of ... and soon more is revealed: many more settlements - the haze is reducing and now there are traces of green, faint at first, and then of stronger hue - irrigation circles
And now all obscured again by a soft hazy blanket.   Empty space ... infinite space ... the horizon merges white and blue.  Textures and shade, layered, uniform, ... Then suddenly like twin prongs, two straight lines converge.  What are they?  Roads?  Pipes? Canals? I don't know.  We're approaching the coast.  The hazy view below makes it seem hazier above until a network of lines appears and an orange patchwork... and strips of cultivated land - they look like fields!  There's less haze and more detail ... and these patterns stretch far and wide. And we can see finer details in this patchwork - denser patterns, settlements, many houses.  Then we cross an expanse of water, perhaps a lake or an estuary? 
Now bolder strips of green, even the specks are prominent.  A river!  It twists and turns, with cultivation hugging its curves, and trees and forests, but still surrounded by sand. More irrigation circles, some having concentric radial discs.  As we continue north and west the landscape thickens - sometimes with mountain ridges, sometimes with vegetation and cultivations... Across the Black Sea into Eastern Europe and more familiar patchwork of fields... 

Very soon we were crossing the North Sea and over East Anglia, starting our descent.

It was only my third visit to the Manchester area, the last one was also mainly work-related (a meeting about Personal Learning Environments).  Actually, on that occasion I stayed not at a hotel, but a meditation centre, and on this occasion although I did stay in a hotel (Ibis, Portland Street), I had some free time to join a ceremony at its current location in Stockport.   Meditation helps me not to have my head 'in the clouds'... :-)

No comments: