Anthony Turpin’s large, diverse body of work–painting, collage, etching and sculpture–reflects creative energy and his personal experience of a world seen in space, color and form. His work is eclectic, searching, a personal effort to find meaning in the language of vision.
Anthony (Tony) was born in Chicago in 1938, the second of two children of his father and mother, Miles Alexander and Ruth Farr Canary Turpin. The family resided in Evanston until moving to southern California at the end of WW II. He attended public schools in South Pasadena, and embarked on his undergraduate education at the University of California, Berkeley, class of 1960. Earliest memories of his attraction to the arts was discovery of his older brother’s art supplies, the contents of which he appropriated for his own use. His theft was quickly discovered. Graciously, his parents provided him with his own: Crayolas, coloring books, paints and brushes were an early part of his developing an interest in the visual arts. His brother, Miles, attended a Saturday morning program for gifted art students at the Chicago Art Institute. Tony said, “He was my first teacher and I was fascinated watching him go through exercises drawing and painting in different media, and I soon became captivated by the process of making my own crude images of airplanes, streamlined cars, cowboys, and comic strip characters.” This encounter with the wonders of paper, paints and pencils was instrumental in nurture of his creative instinct.
Tony’s exposure to the visual arts continued in Los Angeles where, in the mid 1940’s, at the end of WWII, his father introduced him to friends and business associates in the advertising industry–artists, illustrators, and designers – who encouraged his artistic endeavors. His public-school teachers through grammar school and into high school were encouraging and provided instruction as well as direction. Hester Lawman was especially helpful—well versed in a variety of different media and a student of Millard Sheets at Scripps College in Pomona–she challenged his thinking about the creative process and was first to suggest he consider studying art at university. She enabled him to attend all-day Saturday classes for high school students at Art Center School In Los Angeles.
Tony enrolled as a liberal arts major at U.C. Berkeley in September, 1956, when the cold war influenced so much of national consciousness and the dictates of mandatory military service. “I recall being much affected by my peer group, my contemporaries, and a sense of anxiety about my course of study, my life’s direction, career choices, and a very uncertain future”. Through this time he continued to paint and draw while enrolled in prerequisite courses for his bachelor’s degree. (No time for art classes due to lower division course requirements). At the end of his sophomore year he considered leaving Berkeley, but his mother’s intervention prevailed and continuing at U.C. seemed inevitable. The “Italy compromise” was reached in the summer of 1958, and thanks to his father’s complicity, Tony embarked on a year’s course of study at the University for Foreigners in Perugia near Assisi, not far from Rome. That course focused primarily on Italian language, and did not meet his expectations for exposure to art, history, culture. He was fortunate to move to Rome and live with friends with whom he’d traveled from New York to Italy. Two were pre-med students at the University of Rome and the third a graduate student in architecture. He was able to enroll at the University of Rome as an exchange student. There he joined the Circolo Artistico, an artistic enclave near the Piazza d’ Spagna on Via Margutta where artists, writers, and poets worked and lived. A drawing class met every evening. An instructor simply let participants paint and draw and was helpful as both critic and analyst. Tony’s time in Rome was enlightening and coincided with the beginning of new directions closely associated with mid-twentieth-century contemporary movements in European and North America. New ideas about making art flourished and influenced his thinking. At the same time, Italian artists, such as Alberto Burri and Lucio Fontana, were creating large, spectacular works using new, non-traditional materials.
Returning to Berkeley in 1959 to resume his studies, he was further privileged to have classes from renowned professors in history, art history, biology and zoology who broke through lingering adolescence and engaged his imagination. A most productive time ensued – a time of growing into adulthood and emerging maturity in his thinking.
Knowing he would have to serve in the military, he applied for the Naval Flight Training program at Pensacola, Florida. He was in the process of completing that application when he was temporarily delayed by orders to report for induction into the Army. To his relief, his pending application for flight training precluded any obligation to the Army. He was inducted into the Naval Reserve while awaiting orders to his Navy assignment. Tony began regular drills at the training center in Pasadena, CA, and eventually was ordered to the Naval Officer’s Training School at Newport, RI, reporting in November, 1961. The five months program concluded in April,1962, and he was commissioned Ensign, USNR, and received orders to the aircraft carrier, USS Oriskany (CVA 34), homeported in San Diego, CA. Upon reporting, he was immediately assigned to duties that were challenging and rewarding. He served on the Oriskany as division officer, assistant first lieutenant, officer of the deck. During this time he was involved during periods of international tensions with the Cuban Missile Crisis and President Kennedy’s assassination. After 23 months aboard Oriskany he was ordered to Naval Air Station, Whidbey Island, WA. He arrived late in 1963 and was assigned duties as Aide and Flight Lieutenant to the fleet wing commander, Commodore Donald G. Gumz, a distinguished Naval Aviator who flew missions in the Battle of Midway and throughout Word War Two. Tony’s exposure to many WWII veterans engendered a deep respect for those who gave so much of themselves in service to their country. He continued developing, endeavoring to improve his proficiencies with paintings and drawings from the Western Pacific and the Pacific Northwest.
In 1964, he was temporarily assigned to accompany Commodore Gumz to Washington D.C for duties in the Pentagon and the Bureau of Naval Aviation. During that short time he met, quite by chance, Elizabeth Gordon, who was working in the Department of State as a management intern. Three months after they met, they were married following a long-distance courtship conducted mostly over the telephone. They were married in January of 1965, in Coupeville, on Whidbey Island, WA. During the year that followed their marriage he continued drawing and painting, Art was his real motivation at the time. Elizabeth was fully supportive of Tony’s interest in pursuing a post graduate art education. And he said, “We found we weren’t cut out for a career in the Navy.”
Path Into A Career In Art
Before he was released from active duty in the Navy, in early 1966, and with his wife’s encouragement, he applied to Art Center in Los Angeles and was accepted. Tony and Elizabeth moved into a small apartment in Los Angeles where he began in the fine arts program intending to attain an MFA degree. Tony studied with Lorser Fietelson, a well- recognized artist whose work was in collections of the Museum of Modern Art, in New York, and the National Gallery, in Washington DC. “He was a man of few words but eloquent in those he chose.” Fietelson studied at the Art Students League in New York in the 1920s with such well-known artists as Edward Hopper, George Bellows—two of the great American painters of the early part of the 20th century. His stories about them and his time in New York were told without drama but captured a sense of the energy and vision of that time. Tony thrived under his teacher’s intellectual approach to art, his vast knowledge of art history, his reference to all the painters who became influential to him and his work: Turner, Blake, Cezanne, the moderns, expressionists. His work reflects influences of their approaches to subject, process, content. Those two years at Art Center gave Tony exposure and focus in his direction as an artist, as well as a sense of purpose and confidence that he was on a life-fulfilling path. It launched a career of continuing experimentation and exploration with assurance that it was the road well taken.
At the end of two years at Art Center, Elizabeth and Tony decided to move back to Whidbey Island, Washington. In 1964 they had purchased rural land on the north east end of Whidbey with a view of Saratoga Passage and Mt. Baker. They loved the area and sank roots there in 1967, moving into a bare-bones house they built that year. Their home was enlarged and grew over the years to accommodate their family. Daniel, their first son, was born in 1970, followed by a second son, Andrew, in 1975. Tony painted daily in the loft studio.
Launch Of An Art Career
This period was a very rewarding time for Tony. Relationships with other artists were established. He was well-served by acquaintance with friends and painters from the Northwest who were of great influence. However, though Elizabeth had taken a position with Washington State Department of Social and Health Services as a social worker, Tony realized the need to contribute to the family finances with more than earnings from sale of his artwork. He was fortunate to find a position as an art instructor at Skagit Valley Community College, in Mount Vernon, WA. He taught in the art program for eighteen year and was head of the art department at the Whidbey Campus in Oak Harbor, WA.
Tony reaffiliated with the Navy in 1967, joining the Naval Air Reserve, and was assigned to various units supporting Naval Aviation operations both ashore and at sea. Retiring from the Naval Air Reserve in 1992, he completed thirty years of service. His recollection of so many unique and dedicated people with whom he served is a valued part of his life’s memories.
In the early seventies his work gained recognition. A first place award at the Bellevue Art Festival and acceptance of his work for the Northwest Annual at the Seattle Art Museum were introductions to Seattle’s thriving art community. Affiliation with Seattle galleries and sales of his work led to new opportunities. Tony had a one-person exhibit of his paintings and drawings at the Frye Art Museum in 1972. His work was shown at Haines Gallery, Kirsten Gallery, Gallery Kiku, as well as at Gallery Mack. Tony also exhibited with Rose Nagatani, in Burlington, WA, with her group of a well-established artists including George Tsutikawa, Paul Horiuchi, Philip McCracken, Clayton James Richard Gilkey, and many others. His work was shown in Eastern Washington and California, as well. He established a rewarding relationship with Art and Rita Hupy, founders and strategic contributors to establishment of the Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner. Tony served as a member of the board of directors of the museum for three years in the early nineties. Also, his work was featured for 25 years at Museo in Langley, WA, inaugurating a long relationship with the owner, Sandra Jarvis.
Through the 70’s and 80’s Tony taught classes for the University of Washington Department of Community Development throughout Washington and Oregon. Seminars in art, design, drawing and painting were a rewarding part of his life as a teacher and artist. In 1974 Tony was accepted as a member of the Puget Sound Group of Northwest Artists and became acquainted with Jim Scott, John Ringen, Glen Oberg, and John Ebner—members of a distinguished group of painters and watercolorists.
Community Service and Involvement
Tony has been involved in many community activities devoted to environmental issues related to the restoration of Puget Sound, shoreline restoration, watershed management. He served as a member of committees dedicated to protection of our fragile environment. He was a member and President of the Oak Harbor Multi-Cultural Advisory Council, an organization dedicated to promoting racial equality. In 2015 he was selected for a position on the board of trustees of New Leaf, Inc, an organization dedicated to serving handicapped and disabled persons in Oak Harbor, WA, offering them gainful employment and other services. Elizabeth had participated as a board member and he wished to continue her legacy. He retired from his position as president of The New Leaf Board in January, 2020.
Personal Milestones That Shaped Later Art
When Elizabeth retired in in mid-1990, they embarked on a lifelong dream and traveled extensively. Annual trips to Italy began in 2000 . They spent a few weeks or sometimes more than two months each year until 2013 when Elizabeth was diagnosed with a recurrence of cancer.
“So many of our decisions are made by circumstance,” Tony reflects. Elizabeth’s battle with cancer was life-shaping. She was integral to Tony’s career as an artist and in so many other ways—she was sympathetic but stern, with a marvelous reputation among co-workers and those she served. She was self-assured without being over- bearing, caring for all and engaged in the lives of her family and everyone she touched. Her loss in 2014 was profound and far-reaching in Tony’s life and resulted in a long hiatus from his work.
Recently, in November, 2019, Tony became re-acquainted with a previous friend from the past, Patricia Hawley, a well-known teacher and poet. They married in November, 2019, and now live in Coupeville, WA. Patricia shares Tony’s passion for the arts as well as love of travel. Of their planned trip to Italy soon Tony says, “I’ve been back to Italy each year since 2015 where I’m able to immerse myself in art and culture of a country and people attuned to a rich history and a way of living that inspires and renews my creative energy. With Patricia, Tony is rebuilding a new life and is moving into a new chapter as an artist with new projects and renewed vitality.
Watercolor Over The Years
Tony has worked in oils and watercolors, wood and metal. What he enjoys about watercolor is found in the process of making a painting when little, unexpected things happen that defy one’s attempt at precise “control.” These unintended moments due to the fluid nature of the medium can be special when they become part of the painting. Responding to these unexpected “surprises” may become just the thing that adds the most to the finished work. The challenge is to develop one’s own individual approach using tools, materials to which you respond and that express your vision. No approach to subject matter defies the methodology of watercolor. “I work with all types of papers, hot press, cold press, rough, watercolor boards, absorbent grounds, and in a variety of water based mediums.” One’s response to the process seems to dictate a “direction” And continual painting (practice) leads eventually to one’s personal idiom, development of recognizable style and technique..
Lessons For New Artists:
Tony advises immersion in study of art history and the lives of artists who have contributed so much to the culture of many peoples, countries, continents. A primary lesson would be to read extensively. A knowledge of the history of art is essential and will expose the eye to the broad, diverse language of vision of artists through the ages. Aspiring artists would be advised to start by reading classic texts such as those by James Joyce, A Portrait Of the Artist as a Young Man, and The Art Spirit, by Robert Henri. He counsels also to pay attention to literature and poetry. ”Poets talk about the world with a visual language that often reveals inner aspects of things perhaps unseen that are the stuff of art. Do this to refine your interest and instinct to find your place as a visual artist.”
He values exposure to new artistic expressions and exploration of new directions. “Art is a thinking process that engages parts the brain in creative processes”, he says. “That process reveals one’s own inner self that is integral to your identity as a maker of art regardless of your medium”. Whether with traditional materials or with pixels and video, the visual thinking process is absolutely essential to development of a “signature” that is unmistakably “you”. Some of the work done with computers and three-dimensional imaging is absolutely fascinating and will have a place in art history now being written. “Traditions of the past are evolving into new art forms and expressions,’ he says.” He encourages young artists to find the irresistible medium that engages the soul and must be nurtured—cannot be denied. “The one that gives your eye and brain a little “wow” each day and the path you must follow.
An Art Legacy Built On Artists Who Have Gone Before
He sees much of his work as “unfinished”—personal experiments in visual thinking. His is an organic, growing, developing body of work. As he puts it, “A little seed plants itself and over the years and grows to something previously unknown until resurrection in the process of creating.” Tony points out that his work has been inspired by artists who gone before—they are mentors and their legacy is apparent in each artist’s portfolio. “I’ve been accused of being too eclectic by some as my things don’t unite as a body of work and include many styles, genres, directions. That is not to me a concern.
When asked about his legacy, Tony says,” I would like to be recognized for a contribution to the “inventory” inspired and created by and of the Northwest. I feel gratitude towards many, including those long-deceased, from whom I’ve received help and insights along the way: I’ve partaken liberally from their life’s works and am indebted to their influence.”
Vintage Watercolorists of Washington opens Saturday, March 7th, at Sunnyshore Studio (2803 SE Camano Drive). Meet Anthony Turpin and the other artists at our “Meet the Artists” Reception from 3:00-5:00pm.