Tide & Change in the River Medway

Stephen Turner is a visionary UK artist who uses elements of the natural world as both subject and medium. In 1998 Turner produced a unique installation, entitled "Tide & Change in the River Medway" in an abandoned nautical fort, built last century on a salt marsh island in the middle of the Medway estuary in Kent.

Throughout August Stephen recorded the movements of the tides on huge canvas tarpaulins stretched across the riverbed at strategic positions around the water’s edge. Then, over a complete cycle of the moon from September to October, he lived on the island and received visitors, carried over on boats as the tides allowed, to view the river-worked canvases hung on the ramparts of the fort.

Here are some excerpts from the diary Stephen Turner kept during his month on the island:

Monday 21.9.98
The fort construction is complex and beautiful – a polo mint form divided into eleven vaulted bays.
The canvases have all come out so differently – visual equivalents for the changing movement and energy of each tide. I have started to glimpse how the water flows. In these works the river sings its own muddy Medway ballad – of sediment, syringes and shells, telling its own story, in its own voice.

Monday 28.9.98 (first quarter moon)
The fort is slowly sinking into the mud on which it stands. Flooding keeps the foundations permanently wet, while rain works its way down from the unprotected roof above. Fourteen inch thick steel sheet turns to rust which flakes and falls to the floor of the fort. Roots of small thorny bushes force the brickwork apart. Nature will reclaim it.

Friday 9.10.98
Charcoal embers provide black for drawing, local chalk a white and fresh mud the warm greys in between. Baking mud in my camp fire, I obtain light brick red, orange and yellow. I collect verdigris coated copper scrap, scrape it down and work it with vinegar into paint and pastel. These with rust from the fort, provide unique local colour. Today’s batch of pastels are so hard that the paper needs to be wet to use them and the chalk has little hiding power. When I could go out and order any one of a thousand colours made into perfect paint, why does less always feel like more?

Monday 12.10.98 (last quarter of the moon)
I watched the tide surging in toward the heart of the sprawling Medway towns. In our increasingly urban lives we need such powerful reminders of nature – if only more people noticed.

Friday 16.10.98
Finished a 360* sequence of drawings through the gun ports, using mud as paint. Found a fragment of Romano-British pottery decorated with fingernail marks below the rim. Nearly two millennia ago, someone else here was working with the mud.


2001 Update:
Stephen Turner is now Artist in Residence in a forest near Canterbury, His current project is related to Tide & Change in that he is working with rings of canvas fitted around the base of trees – which stay in place for an entire year, and an annual record of their activities. For the painting he does as part of this installation, Turner extracts pigment from the trees, using Native American and Celtic recipes, which provide colors that are unique to each tree.

Stephen Turner’s website is currently under construction, but you can contact him via email at StpTurner@aol.com