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Iain Turnbull – The Artist & the Person


For a succinct summing-up of Iain, both as an artist and a person, one need look no further than the tribute by Russell Craig, Senior Lecturer in Fine Art, Queensland College of Art, Griffith University in the Summer 2009 edition of Imprint, the Quarterly Journal of the Print Council of Australia.  Russell, who knew Iain well, both as a tutor and a friend, wrote as follows: -


Iain Turnbull had great admiration for Ian Fairweather, showing much affinity with this celebrated Australian artist. As a traveller and creative individual, he showed comparable attributes of reserve, contemplation and wide intellectual interests.

Like Fairweather, Iain revealed a similar inclination towards calligraphy, rhythm and spontaneity of gesture in his approach to drawing, painting and printmaking. Where they differed was the choice of environment in which their work was brought to fruition. Fairweather in his later life was a hermit; Iain however, was committed to the idea of community and co-operation in his art practice. With this community spirit, lain forged many friendships and gained advanced skills and expertise in printmaking.

Rebelling against a conventional education, Iain chose to educate himself under the guidance of his artistic mother and erudite father. He had no real desire for formal qualifications until the age of 35, when he decided to complete his senior grade in order to gain entry to the Bachelor of Fine Arts at Queensland College of Art. He successfully completed this degree with first class honours.

His family's journeys and residencies overseas provided an upbringing of diverse and challenging circumstances. Early exposure to art and collecting artifacts influenced his creative development. He had a passion for reading and music but also collecting curios as thoughtful gifts for friends or inspiration for his visual ideas.

These quiet obsessions and intellectual pursuits contributed to his refined facility for connecting beauty of form with a spiritual aesthetic. This is particularly evident in his small assemblages. With carefully arranged wooden blocks and curious whittled sticks, these intimate constructions are symbolic expressions of emotional interiors. As in his prints, the essence of these assemblages is similar to the mystical correlation of art and music pursued by the Russian artist Vasily Kandinsky.

Iain's modest and unpretentious demeanor was frequently reflected in his artwork through subtle choice of materials and media applications. His layered prints were often produced by overlapping soft and hard ground etching plates using combinations of subdued transparent and opaque colours. These images encapsulated the poetry of the calliqraphic mark.

Iain Turnbull was 43 when he died of a cancer­related illness on 18 September 2009. As his colleague Gwenn Tasker aptly stated: 'A generous fellow-artist, a connoisseur, a natural intellect and true friend, Iain is, and will continue to be, sorely missed by those that knew him well.'


Iain rarely spoke much about his own art, preferring to let the viewer discover his or her own truth in what he had created.  He loved poetry and, as is often the case, one can discover deep insights into what motivated his life and his aspirations as an artist, through reading poems he cherished.


Among the many poems he had photocopied and filed away the two that follow seem, in retrospect, particularly relevant: –


may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old

may my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple
and even if it's sunday may i be wrong
for whenever men are right they are not young

and may myself do nothing usefully
and love yourself so more than truly
there's never been quite such a fool who could fail
pulling all the sky over him with one smile

e.e.cummings - Selected Poems 1923-1958 - Penguin Books (1963)



what the mind hears

As the sea
is contained in a cowrie shell
so inside the eyelid
a picture
within the ear a song
a rhyme under the tongue
or in cupped hands a shape a surface.
The conception always just beyond touching
out of reach
to reach it is creativity
to only feel its presence is frustration;
What the mind hears
when it will not give utterance –
Art itself but how to make it real?

Michael Dransfield - Streets of the Long Voyage – U.Q.P. Paperback Poets 2 (1970)



For a brief Bio and CV plus further comments on Iain the Artist click here      


Click here to read how Iain the Person was seen by family and friends and to share some of the words of collected wisdom found in his notebooks







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Caption pending




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