THE PASSION OF ADMIRAL PUGGY BOOTH
“I got the sailors to lash me to the mast to observe it; I was lashed for four hours,
and I did not expect to escape, but I felt bound to record it if I did.”(J.M.W. Turner, on painting ‘Snowstorm: Steamboat off a Harbour’s Mouth’)
Under spittled, blown, obliterated foamhe was trussed to the mast so he could witnessstormy kaleidoscopes of hackle and plumeat his own bidding, to paint and encompassoceanic visions. Picture him therein the dance of the lurching tide, buffetedand scuffed by snow-laced lashes of swept air,his gibbet the crossbar of the masthead,the tilting steamboat like a toy ship tossedon whale-heavy waves, the painter’s wincing limbsfastened there like Odysseus to the mastbefore the fatal persuasion of the sirens.How did the mind then compress, translate, transfusethe sun-thrilled seething of the wuthering flakes,the husky clamour of tunnelweb waveswefting in guffs? How did the hand remakethe unassailable riot, framing the fluxof water-pelt, wind-flex, the flinch and blanchof weathered flesh, the sail in the focal vortexreflecting the nuclear sun? The avalancheof glassy shatterings, the whole world’s form,spun from the mazy hollows of a seashell,is a mere drop of water in a stormthat smoulders in the furnace of his will.The sun enflames the tidal concertina.Luminous fumes, glacial exhalations,seraphic in the nebulous atmosphere,exalt the common man. Great affirmationsof the spirit hoisted high. Chaos seems sereneas if pigment smeared on canvas could sufficeto make the cosmic order reconvene.The sun’s holocaust upon the icea blinding clarity of disbodied naturewhere all things that come into his sightentranced in each obliterated feature,nettled with hail, lacquered with burning light.Say then the true bearing of the artist’s mindis a reflex to rouse and contradictas a cyclone that runs contrary to the wind,eliding concepts of scale and impactin a brushstroke, the bright invincibleenergy of life brought to light againwith palette knife impasto, welter of scumble,the bristle-flick of spindrift like spat phlegm,the volcanic will erupting and collapsingin art of intense resistance that receives,with immense vigour and panache, the gatheringcrescendo of the warring, lawless waves.