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Water’s Edge

Arthur Turner’s watercolors are locally iconic, and seriously cool.

A longtime Glassell art teacher and senior statesman of the city’s art world shows beautiful new watercolors this month at Moody.

A longtime Glassell art teacher and senior statesman of the city’s art world shows beautiful new watercolors this month at Moody.

A longtime Glassell art teacher and senior statesman of the city’s art world shows beautiful new watercolors this month at Moody.

At 73 years old, Houston-born artist and Glassell School of Art instructor Arthur Turner has established himself as a prolific abstract watercolorist whose work, which is sometimes reminiscent of contemporary textile patterns, fetches a healthy sum for the genre. Turner’s lithe paintings have sold for $12,000.

Despite his accomplishments—his vita is nine pages long and includes participation in galleries from Texas to Minnesota, as well as inclusion in dozens of private and corporate collections—the “old dude” (Turner’s words) isn’t content to call it a day. Instead, Turner, who is repped by Houston’s Moody Gallery (2815 Colquitt St.), where he shows new work this month, and by New York’s Walter Wickiser Gallery, continues to evolve—along with his hometown itself. “The city keeps changing,” he says, “and getting more progressive.”

Born in 1940, the modest and polite Turner—with thin gray hair, glasses and an affinity for Hawaiian shirts—grew up on a farm in north Houston and was one of the first students at Sam Houston High School, now called Sam Houston Math, Science, and Technology Center. He received his bachelor’s in art from Denton’s North Texas State University—now the University of North Texas—and his master’s from Cranbrook in Michigan.

After spending some time as an assistant prof at James Madison University in Virginia, he felt a gravitational pull from Houston and returned in 1967. Two years later, he landed a teaching gig at the MFA’s Glassell. He’s been there ever since.

Today, hopeful young artists stand in long lines to register for Turner’s courses. “The biggest reward is when the light bulb goes on,” says Turner about his students, who often go from rookies to prizewinners under Turner’s tutelage.

When Turner isn’t teaching or gardening for fun, he creates art in his studio in the Heights, where he shares a duplex with his partner, a former student whom he met in his first year at Glassell. “I found a great building to work from,” says the teacher, noting the simple things that have kept him local all these years.

“And I’ve found a gallery that I really like,” Turner adds. “They know what they’re doing.” His current exhibit at Moody, Roundels and Totems, scheduled to be up from June 1 through July 6, is a continuation of the artist’s Roundel series that’s inspired by naturally occurring “circular forms” such as butterflies and moths. The show will feature Turner’s beautiful, larger-scale watercolors that measure 40 by 60 inches, as well as a 25-foot abstract landscape interpretation.

In the latter, “Victory, 5,” an abstracted, trailing-off-the-page form coaxes the viewer’s eyes from one of edge of the canvas to the other and back again. Eventually, the beholder’s eyes land in the middle, where shapes within shapes, painted in desert southwest hues, bring a sense of peace and pause. It’s mesmerizing. It’s ancient and future. It’s signature Turner.