Master of Color, Artist William Turner Died Christmas Eve 2021
William Turner’s paintings brought joy, spontaneity, and were a unique eruption of color for a native Northwest Artist. On Christmas Eve, he peacefully died from complications of Parkinson’s at his home in Gig Harbor, Washington.
While his work has been exhibited primarily in the Northwest, he was in exhibitions throughout the country including the Butler Institute of American Art, the Laguna Beach Museum of Art, Seattle Art Museum, University of Washington, Henry Art Gallery, Bellevue Art Museum, and the Springsville Museum of Art in Springsville, Utah. Some of the many collections which hold his work include the Washington State Arts Commission, the Tacoma Arts Commission, Central Missouri State University, the Nordstrom Corporation, the Museum of Northwest Art in LaConner, Washington, and the Tacoma Art Museum.
Turner embraced adventure with a contagious spirit. After receiving his BFA from the University of Puget Sound in 1965, he was immediately drafted into the Vietnam conflict. Rather than skirt the responsibility, he immediately enrolled in the Naval Officer Candidate School. Turner often told friends and family “I was determined to embrace the experience.” He was the Gunnery Officer on the USS Radford (DD446) serving two cruises to Vietnam and was awarded two Bronze Medals. It was in Vietnam, Turner was exposed to Agent Orange which caused Parkinson’s in his later life.
Upon his Naval discharge in 1968, Turner traveled throughout Europe, then landed in Tunis in 1969. He spent that year traveling by foot, mostly hitchhiking, across Libya, to Cairo, up the Nile to Khartoum, across the Sudan, through Uganda, and ending his journey in the Serengeti. Africa’s rich cultures, vibrant and varied landscapes, and the immediacy of the fragility of life on the Serengeti embedded imagery into his imagination throughout the remainder of his life.
William Turner received his MFA from the University of Washington in 1973. He studied with Jacob Lawrence, Michael Spafford, and Alden Mason. Mr. Spafford and Mr. Mason profoundly influenced his work, and he considered all three of his mentors great friends. He said they taught him how to teach and mentor other artists; later in his career, he taught classes at Tacoma Community College, Pratt Fine Arts Center, and mentored a small group of artists from his Tacoma studio.
He received numerous awards and honors, notably The Pollock/Krasner Foundation Visual Arts Grant, New York, Artists’ Fellowship Inc. Grant, New York, and First Prize 1st Annual National Juried Exhibition, Viridian Gallery, New York, and the Dr. Lester S. Baskin Memorial Award, Tacoma Art Museum. Turner is most remembered for these bodies of work: Spiral Abstractions and Figurative Abstractions (1982 - 2000) and his various Landscapes series (1994 - 2019). No matter the series, all his paintings exude a rich color pallet and a painterly quality that entices his viewer. Turner painted to jazz and his work demonstrates rhythm, profound energy, improvisation, and a resolution of opposites. Until the very end, Turner was painting, even if it was in his head. He often spoke with his caregivers about what he was imagining while painting on a canvas only he could see.
In 2022, there are two planned retrospectives of William Turner’s work: this coming summer at his gallery, Ryan James Fine Arts in Kirkland, and the Museum of Northwest Art opening October 15. This exhibition will be through February 2023.
William Turner is survived by his wife, poet Josie Emmons Turner, son Whitman Turner, sister Kay Duguay, nephews William Duguay (Jennifer), Tom Duguay (Jon Curtis), niece Debbie Duguay (Sue Kangiser), many great-nephews and a great-niece, and his beloved companion and studio dog, Charlie.