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Installation view of “Alan Turner: Paintings, 1979–2009” (2018–19) at Parker Gallery, Los Angeles.
Installation view of “Alan Turner: Paintings, 1979–2009” (2018–19) at Parker Gallery, Los Angeles.

Alan Turner (1943–2020)

New York artist Alan Turner, known for his psychological portraits of humanoid figures that often appear fractured and distorted, with body parts such as eyes, ears, or chins scattered across backgrounds of stretched skin, died in Manhattan on February 8. He was seventy-six years old. According to the New York Times, the cause of death was progressive supranuclear palsy, a degenerative brain disorder.

“The first works of his I saw, in the mid-’80s, caused a discomfort which quickly evolved into mesmerized respect as I watched him unravel his odd path,” wrote Carroll Dunham in BOMB magazine in 2000. “Human elements shared an undulating space with totemic personal objects in an atmosphere that felt both antiseptic and sordid. He suffers from whatever is the opposite of attention deficit disorder—an alertness to detail made more disarming by its distance from retrograde exercises in illusionism.”

Born in the Bronx on July 6, 1943, Turner earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from City College and the University of California, Berkeley, in 1965 and 1967, respectively. While at the University of California, he studied with artist David Hockney, who allowed him to stay at his apartment in London to avoid the draft in 1968. Turner would later say that he believed he avoided punishment for draft evasion because his records were destroyed by protesters who raided draft board offices and burned documents in the 1960s. He had his first solo show in Cologne, Germany, in 1971, and returned to the United States the following year.

During the early stages of his career, the artist created a series of drawings and paintings of trees—his observations of the woods sometimes featured picnickers—before he began his inquiry into the various components of the human body. In a review of these somewhat disturbing yet somewhat comical compositions at Koury Wingate Gallery in New York, Dennis Cooper wrote in Artforum: “Alan Turner’s paintings strike a tone of disrupted civility peculiar to English art. Turner may be from the Bronx, but his show made me think initially of the skits of Monty Python, the films of Lindsay Anderson, and the music of the Pet Shop Boys. In each of these cases English society’s famous layer of politesse is lampooned with a self-reflexive cynicism disguised as parody.”

The artist has also had solo shows at Mitchell Algus Gallery, the CUNY Graduate Center, and Lennon Weinberg, Inc.—all in New York—and at La Vetrina in Rome; Allez Les Filles Gallery in Columbus, Ohio; Carol Getz Gallery in Miami; and 12 Duke Street Gallery in London. Over the years, he has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1977, 1981, and 1988, as well as a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1988 and a Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant in 2001. His works can be found in the collections of the Denver Art Museum; the Minneapolis Institute of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College; among other institutions.