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Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Out and About

One Equall Light was an exhibition themed on the “Sermons and Holy Sonnets of John Donne” was held from 30th June - 20th July, 2014 at St Giles, Cripplegate and St James, PiccadillyChristian Arts collaborated with Art and Christianity Enquiry on the exhibition organisation and the ACE International Conference was held during the beginning of the exhibition period. The exhibition coincided with the City of London FestivalThe exhibition included selected work from Christian Arts members and work from invited artists, Susie Hamilton at St. James and Margot Perryman at St. Giles. Link to the exhibition catalogue here - Catalogue. I attended Sam Wells' talk on 'Art and the Renewal of St Martins' at St Giles Cripplegate (which was part of the ACE conference) with Jean Lamb and Wendy McTernan and then visited the St James Piccadilly half of the exhibition with Wendy again and Hayley Bowen.

Art and Life at Dulwich Picture Gallery: Ben and Winifred Nicholson were at the forefront of the Modern British movement and produced some of the most memorable works of the period. Discover ten years of artistic exploration by the couple in this exhibition curated by their grandson, Jovan Nicholson. It provides a rare opportunity to see their views of the same landscapes, seascapes, still lifes and portraits alongside pieces by contemporaries Christopher Wood, Alfred Wallis and the potter William Staite Murray. I thoroughly enjoyed this excellent show when I visited on Friday.

Can't Tell Nathan Caton Nothing is a Radio 4 comedy that mixes stand-up with re-enacted scenes from comedian Nathan Caton's family life. Regarded as one of the best young comics in the UK, Nathan's award-winning combination of personal and topical anecdotes has lead to appearances on BBC2's Mock The Week, BBC3's Russell Howard's Good News, BBC Radio 4's Now Show, News Quiz. I watched part of the recording of the third series with Paul Trathen.

The sheer variety of work presented each year is what makes the RA's Summer Exhibition an annual highlight of the cultural calendar. I went with Christopher Clack who has 'Teenage Boy', one of his portrait photographs, included in the show. Alongside Chris' marvellous image, in a room which also includes work by James Turrell, is a wonderful video by Everton Wright which was, for me, one of the best things in the show. I also particularly enjoyed work by John Bellany, Peter Freeth, Kaori Homma, Anselm Keifer and Wolfgang Tillmans.


Gene Clark - Ship Of The Lord.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Sabbatical art pilgrimage: Metz Cathedral

I didn't sleep that well in Metz (in common with other nights on the trip to this point). I had been fine during the day when I had my itinerary to keep to and the amazing art and architecture to see, but at night all the other factors about this trip would crowd in and cause me to worry. Similar to daily life then where often I wouldn't do what I do if it weren't for focusing on the next tasks in hand, rather than worrying about what might or might not happen.

I woke to the sounds and songs of striking railway workers at their picket line and rose early to visit Metz Cathedral, arriving while the building was primarily open for worshippers rather than tourists like me. The sounds of hoovers echoed quietly in the background as the sound of plainsong also rose from the crypt. The routines of the Cathedral's cleaners are as regular and ubiquitous as the rituals of the services and in their own way as meaningful and sacred. This is, in large measure, how we deal with the anxieties and worries of constant change and what might be; by building for ourselves patterns of sameness, regular routines which bring a sense of security and solidity to what otherwise feels as though it will slip from our grasp and control by means of its fluidity and movement. This may be illusion but it is consoling and enables us to cope with change:

Our bodies age, our cells replace continually
without regard to our volition.
We are not who we were.
All is mutability, constant change.

We cannot bear so much reality -
being changed utterly - so build routines,
schedules, repeating patterns of sameness,
to mask our awareness of transition.

Metz Cathedral is nicknamed “God's Lantern” and is renowned for the vast expanse of its stained glass – 6,496 square metres over twice as much as Rouen and three times as much as Chartres. Within this incredible expanse is glass from the thirteenth century all the way through to windows installed in the 1960s by Marc Chagall, which are what have brought me to Metz. It is not simply the expanse of glass here which is impressive but also the range and variety that can be seen. Basil Cottle has noted that the glass here “is not stylistically co-ordinated; its assembly has been by slow growth, and many hands have participated, with many colours and iconographic schemes.” Yet, the “effect on entering the nave is dazzling: three tiers of windows, including the richly glazed triforium; extremely tall and acute-angling vaulting and apse windows, and a grove of slim clustered shafts receding eastwards into pools of colours” (B. Cottle, All The Cathedrals Of France, Unicorn Press, London, 2002)

The Cathedral has a simple but effective leaflet 'Parcours spirituel' which identifies a prayerful route around the Cathedral taking in 16 of its most important aspects, including its modern glass. At each of these points in the Cathedral information and a prayer can be found, encouraging all visitors not simply to be tourists but worshippers as well. I know from personal experience, having created a similar leaflet for St Margaret's Barking, how much such simple initiatives are appreciated by parishioners and visitors alike. An argument can be made that such approaches, like the information provided on wall cards in museum exhibitions, can direct viewers to see the artwork from one perspective alone. However, this does not have to be the case as viewers often take that perspective as a starting point for then seeing others. Additionally, providing no way in to perspectives on artwork, as curators have found, can leave viewers unable to begin to engage with the artwork at all.

Chagall came to stained glass relatively late in his career with the commissions for the baptistery at for Notre-Dame-de-Toute-Grâce du Plateau d’Assy completed in 1957. These derived from his friendship with Pere Couturier and included two small windows in grisaille of an angel holding a jug of holy water and an angel with candelabra and flowers. Chagall, as a Jew, had concerns regarding commissions for a Christian church to the extent that he insisted on the phrase, ‘In the Name of the Liberty of All Religions’ on the baptistery mural.

Following this commission, however, Chagall working with Charles Marq, from the Atelier Simon Marq, received many church commissions for stained glass with his ambulatory windows for Metz Cathedral, realized in 1960, being the first of these commissions. “Marq developed a special process of veneering pigment on glass, which allowed Chagall to use as many as three colours on a single uninterrupted pane, rather than being confined to the traditional technique of separating each colour by lead strips.”

Chagall was inspired both by the Bible and his visits to Israel. Accompanied by his wife Bella and his daughter Ida, Chagall went to Israel first in 1931. The main reason for this visit was a commission he had received from the Parisian art dealer and publisher, Ambroise Vollard, to do a series of illustrations to the Bible. He travelled a great deal, painting and drawing in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Safed. The country left a vivid impression on him, and back in Paris the light and landscape he had seen were echoed in many of the etchings for his work, The Bible. In 1951, the opening of large retrospective exhibitions of his works, in Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv, prompted Chagall's second visit, and in 1957, he was again in Israel following the publication of his illustrations to the Bible. Vollard had died shortly before World War II and Tériade published the commission that had finally been completed in 1956. A second book of Bible illustrations was published by Vervé, also in that year.

Chagall said that, “In the East, I found the Bible and part of my own being. The air of the Land of Israel makes one wise.” For him, the Bible was “pure poetry, human tragedy.” He said that it “filled him with visions about the faith of the world” and that it inspired him so that he saw life and art “through the wisdom of the bible.”

Chagall also made a link between stained glass which comes alive “through the light it receives” and the Bible which is “light already.” Stained glass, he suggests, “should make this obvious through grace and simplicity.” Jonathan Wilson has noted that “Chagall became fascinated with stained glass after he had moved to the south of France in 1950.” Chagall was undoubtedly “seduced by the endless Mediterranean unfolding of color-as-light and the possibility of capturing in glass the kind of spiritually charged, quasi-mystical, sometimes biblically inspired images to which he was increasingly drawn.” Indeed, Chagall spoke of light as being the material which creates stained glass. “The light is natural,” he suggested, “and all nature is religious.” Therefore, “every colour ought to stimulate prayer” and, "whether in cathedral or synagogue the phenomenon is the same: something mystical comes through the window.”

André Malraux summed this up when he wrote: “I cannot understand why stained glass, which lives and dies with the day, was ever abandoned. … Artists preferred the light. But the stained glass window, which is brought to life by the morning and snuffed out by the night, brought the Creation home to the worshipper in church. … Stained glass eventually surrendered to painting by incorporating shade, which killed it. It was six hundred and fifty years before someone found a way of shading off colors in glass: Chagall.”

It has been suggested, rightly I think, that Chagall’s use of colour is mystical, with “the yellow of revelation flooding the Tablets of the Law,” “the white of faith surrounding the cross” and “the supremacy of blue in his work” indicating “the wisdom of overcoming bitterness and hatred.” Here we have the yellow of revelation flooding the Garden of Eden in Chagall’s 1963 Creation window for the triforium of the north transept while deep blues and reds characterise the combination of ecstasy and sorrow in the two ambulatory windows from 1960 which tell the story of the Jewish people in key episodes from Abraham to Jeremiah by way of Jacob, Moses and David. James Waller has written that here “Chagall is all curves and tonal flares,” his “modulation of tone, within the fabulously fragmented and flowing glass panes” lending “his colours a deeper, more smoldering dimension.”

Waller contrasts Chagall’s curves with the “constructivist angles and flat-colour planes” of the windows by Jacques Villon, created for the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament in 1957. Villon’s “highly expressive constructivism, divided into powerful sections of colour makes a startling impact within the medieval interior” and “flare brilliantly, even on an overcast day, drawing all eyes towards them.” In the early morning light, his “stained-glass compositions of the Crucifixion (centre), the Jewish Passover and Last Supper (left), and the Wedding Feast of Cana (right)”, blaze in a stunning conflagration of light.

Jacques Villon was born Gaston Emile Duchamp, the oldest of six children. Three of his younger siblings also achieved fame as artists: Suzanne Duchamp-Crotti, Raymond Duchamp-Villon and Marcel Duchamp. He and his brothers became friendly with leading cubists including Albert Gleizes. This circle of artists attempted to extend the innovations of Cubism into the realm of life through architecture and the decorative arts. Along with Gleizes, Villon was one of the few French artists who explored abstraction during the early 1920s while during the early 1930s, again prodded by Gleizes, he took part in the activities of Abstraction–création. As with Gleizes’ own work, these pictures are carefully governed by systems of mathematical proportion; his emphasis on planar construction was played off against free linear motifs to produce the most lyrical abstract paintings of his entire career. Villon saw painting as “a method of prospecting, a manner of expression. With colour as bait …”

From 1957 onwards Brigitte Simon and her husband Charles Marq began to create stained glass with the greatest contemporary painters beginning with Jacques Villon. Hayley Wood writes that:

“The studio technique used on the windows by Villon and Chagall is acid etching on flashed glass, which is clear glass with a veneer of colored glass. The etching process for glass is basically the same as the process used for metal plates in printmaking: an acid-resistant ground is applied to the glass, and a design is carved, drawn with a tool that will scrape away the resist. This is then placed in an acid bath, and the acid eats away at the exposed carved areas. Subtle tonality—color fields representing the spectrum of transparent color between the color of the veneer and the clear base glass--can be achieved with extremely skilled and careful monitoring of the process. Black enamel paint is used on the Chagall and Villon windows for the detailed work (a technique of monochromatic painting called grisaille).”

The final modern windows at Metz are two entirely modernist abstract compositions: small window sections by Roger Bissière from 1960, the glass segments of which look like mosaic tiles miraculously transported into lead cames and stone portals. Bissière made stained glass windows for the churches of Cornol and Develier (Swiss Jura) in 1958, as well as for the north and south transepts here in collaboration with Charles Marq.

Bissière was the forerunner of the new non-figurative generation which began after the war in France. From 1925-1938 he was Professor of fresco painting at the Académie Ranson where he was particularly appreciated for his simplicity and natural kindness. He taught Alfred Manessier, Vieira da SilvaJean Le Moal and many other young non-figurative painters for whom he was considered the ‘father’ of their style. Through its inner radiance and poetic qualities his work has spiritual resonance. “Painting is not a job,” he said, “we only paint when Grace falls upon us.”

Finally, from this visit it is worth noting that Metz Cathedral has an ongoing arts programme centred on music and the visual arts. Exhibitions are hung within the body of the Cathedral with the exhibition at the time I visited by Eban being abstract works based on these words from Georges Rouault:

“Shape, color, harmony
Oasis or mirage
For the eyes, the heart or the mind.”


Norah Jones - The Sun Doesn't Like You.

Windows on the world (301)

Chelmsford, 2013


The Killers - Read My Mind.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Talent Show and Praise Party


Dougie Dug Dug - Funky Action Songs.

Sabbatical art pilgrimage: Poetry

Here are two brief poems which I have written during my sabbatical:


Reading 'Drysalter' before Mass at Aylesford Priory.
Lip-smacking words savoured on tongue,
epiphanic explosion come.

Using the escalator at Tottenham Court Road,
praying a David Adam prayer,
raise us from the depths of despair.

Watching film of a plastic bag dancing on the breeze
for fifteen minutes straight,

beautifully evident benevolence.


Our bodies age, our cells replace continually
without regard to our volition.
We are not who we were.
All is mutability, constant change.

We cannot bear so much reality -
being changed utterly - so build routines,
schedules, repeating patterns of sameness,
to mask our awareness of transition.


Thursday, 17 July 2014

Sabbatical art pilgrimage: St Andrew Bobola Shepherds Bush

St Andrew Bobola Shepherds Bush is one of London’s hidden gems. St Andrew Bobola was a Polish Jesuit missionary and martyr, known as the Apostle of Lithuania, and this Roman Catholic Church dedicated to him opened in 1961 in a former Presbyterian Church building which has been extensively and beautifully restored as a living memorial to Poles who died during World War II. The church holds the main shrine in Britain to the dead of Katyn, the Second World War massacre of Polish officers by Soviet soldiers.

Alexander Klecki was the architect responsible for the transformation of the building. Klecki, who died earlier in 2014, also undertook architectural projects which included Brighton Marina, Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 3 (with Sir Frederick Gibberd), and Sheik Ali Al Qureishi Palace in Dammam, Saudi Arabia. His sculptural work included a bronze Our Lady of Ostra Brama, Wilno (presented to Pope John Paul II at the Vatican), Katyn Memorial in Clifton, Bristol, an aluminium Christ for an Anglican Church in Newcastle under Lyme, and murals at Putney House, the Curzon Club and in the City of London. He was a member of the Association of Polish Artists in Great Britain.

Klecki's Stations of the Cross at St Andrew Bobola are rectangular bronze reliefs showing stylised figures from the Passion narrative. His sculptures include the large Christ figure forming the altarpiece as well as figures of both St Andrew Bobola and St Maximilian Kolbe. Ten of the stained glass windows at St Andrew Bobola are also his work. Given his involvement with the church it is no surprise to find that he was appointed as its custodian.

A bas-relief icon in the chapel of Our Lady of Kozielsk was carved by a lieutenant in the Polish army, Tadeusz Zielinski, who survived imprisonment in the Soviet camp at Kozielsk. The icon was carved in secret, using for tools fragments of steel lying in the ruins, on a limewood plank from a door of a Russian Orthodox church that had been converted by the Bolsheviks into a prison. Being transported to a camp at Grazowiec, Zielinski hid the carving in the false bottom of his suitcase: there he added colour using paints intended for communist slogans. The icon eventually travelled to England by way of Persia, Palestine, Egypt and Italy, and was installed in the church in 1949. (Extracted from an article by Jan Pieńkowski in the Hammersmith and Fulham Historic Buildings Group Autumn Newsletter)

Jan Pieńkowski has also described the stained glass windows which have been skilfully integrated into the church and which relates to the Polish soldiers, sailors and airmen who fought alongside the Allies in World War II:

“Their most distinguished leader was General Wladyslaw Anders, whose memorial fills the triple lancet stained glass window in the south transept. General Anders led the Polish Second Corps in the final push against German troops in Italy, including the heroic assault on Monte Cassino. The window depicts the crucifixion and includes the most revered Polish military decoration, the Virtuti Militari Cross …

The second remarkable window – in the north transept – commemorates Polish airmen who fought in the Battle of Britain. This was designed by the painter Janina Baranowska, who won the competition set by the Union of Polish Airmen in 1979 … The window was made by the firm of Goddard & Gibbs and inaugurated by Cardinal Rubin on 3 April 1980. The three lancet windows cleverly integrate the Cross with two swooping plane trails. The composition is surmounted by the icon of Our Lady of Ostrobrama.

Another interesting window commemorates the Polish secret underground men who were trained at the SOE centre at Audley End and then parachuted into German occupied Poland.”

Janina Baranowska was born in Grodno and remained there until the outbreak of the Second World War. In 1940 she was arrested and deported to Russia. Two years later she was released and joined the Polish Army in its march to the Middle East. In 1946 she moved to London where she studied under Professor David Bomberg at the Borough Polytechnic in 1947-50. For a number of years she was on the Board of the National Society of Painters and Sculptors, and Association of International Arts. In 1980 she became President of the Polish Artists Society in Great Britain, later the Association of Polish Artists in Great Britain and she was a member of the Catholic and Christian Artists group. Baranowska practises painting and graphic art, and designs stained glass windows. She has exhibited in leading galleries in the UK, France, Poland and the United States. Stained glass windows by her can be found at Holy Trinity Church in Wolverhampton, as well as at St Andrew Bobola.

For the last twenty years Baranowska has been working as a Director of the Gallery in the Polish Social and Cultural Centre (POSK) in Hammersmith, in London organising exhibitions and helping artists from Poland and other countries. The mission of POSK is “to promote and encourage access to Polish Culture in all its forms to Poles and non Poles.”

Many Polish artists were forced to flee mainland Europe during the Second World War. Some of these artists journeyed through many countries before settling in the UK, while others were captured and imprisoned before finding their way to British shores. Marian Bohusz-Szyszko was one of the key organisers in this group of artists. Douglas Hall has recounted how Bohusz-Szyszko organised art classes:

“at first in a reception camp, later at various addresses in London and finally at the St Christopher Hospice at Sydenham. The classes became known as the Polish School of Painting, and were eventually taken under the wing of The Polish University Abroad. The relatively younger artists, including [Stanislaw] Frenkiel, founded in 1948 the Young Artists Association … A group calling themselves Group 49 took its place a year later and mainly consisted of pupils of Bohusz-Szyszko … In 1955, with Polish artists beginning to be more successful commercially, a society was formed with the neutral title of The Association of Polish Artists in Great Britain (APA) … Although APA was intended to be a broad church, the pupils of Marian Bohusz were still the most important element.” A former pupil, Halima Nałęcz, was the founder of the Drian Galleries which also regularly hosted “a plethora of personalities from the artistic world of London, both English and Polish.” In addition, Bohusz-Szyszko and other exiled Polish artists (such as Frenkiel, Adam Kossowski, Henryk Gotlib, Marek Zulawski and Alexander Zyw) were part of a consistent but under-recognised strand of artists utilising sacred themes. Bohusz-Szyszko’s work can be found at St Christopher’s Hospice in Sydenham, where he was artist-in-residence.

Many of these artists featured in the recent Pole Position exhibition at the Graves Gallery in Sheffield. Specifically religious paintings in this exhibition, such as Janina Baranowska's Crucifixion and Marian Bohusz-Szyszko's Christ Crowned with Thorns, were “on the anguished side of Christian art” and “agonise in brilliant, almost hellish colour” (Pole Position: Polish Art in Britain 1939 - 1989, Graves Gallery Sheffield, 2014).

As well as organisations like POSK and APA, the Church has been a key source of support for many in the émigré community. Monsignor Bronisław Gostomski was a recent parish priest at the church who was known for working hard to support and unite the Polish community. As parish priest since 2003, he had spearheaded a £1 million renovation project at the church and worked to unite older and younger generations of Poles within his congregation. As the chaplain of  the Polish Ex-Servicemen’s Association (SPK), he cared spiritually for those who had been left in England when the dramatic events of the Second World War and the Cold War took their course.  Moreover, he cared also for those who had come to England in more recent  years in pursuit of a new life and opportunities.  As the Parish Priest he could bring everyone together as one family, regardless of age or personal history. Tragically, he was among 96 victims of a plane crash on April 10 2010, which also claimed the lives of the Polish president Lech Kaczynski, Polish president-in-exile Ryszard Kaczorowski and many of the country's top officials and dignitaries.

With these connections and links St Andrew Bobola is a significant space for memory and memorial, specifically for Poles who died during World War II, but also, more generally, for the Polish community in the UK as a whole.


Krzysztof Penderecki - Utrenja I: The Entombment of Christ.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Sophia Hub update

Here is the latest update from the Seven Kings and Newbury Park Sophia Hub:

Sophia Course

Day One completed of the latest Sophia Course. This Sophia Course is aimed at Valentines Ward residents (funding from the Community First fund) and is a reflective and transformative opportunity to look at the community in which we live and generate ideas that can become social enterprises.

The six participants, plus Ros Southern and I, all loved this day together.  We are shaping businesses with a heart.

sophia course 1 flirt small group

We looked at:
  • our best examples of community projects and community spirit; 
  • what our values are;
  • what our neighbourhood is like (mainly, but not exclusively, the bad bits);
  • using statistics to back-up our perceptions;
  • finding the root value of the ideas we have for community projects and businesses; and
  • setting the homework!
Day two is next Saturday.  It is possible we could fit in another person or two, particularly if you live in or near Valentines ward in Ilford.  Get in touch if you are interested or want to be contacted for the next course.

sophia course 1 flirt wool ending

Comment from participant: “What I found inspiring was the sharing and caring and everybody thinking together” - Nima.

Thanks to Flirt Cafe for being a wonderful venue for us in the upstairs room.  It’s nice to be supporting a new enterprise in the area.  The cafe address is 361 Ley Street, Ilford IG1 4AA and telephone number 0208 001 7061.

Enterprise Club

A quick rundown on the speakers programme. July sessions will run from 12 – 2pm with the speaker starting at 12.15 pm (parking restrictions end at 12.00 noon).

15th – Manzoor Ahmed, community chef & promoter of pop ups.  Director of local business, Fusion Foods.

22nd – Nnenna Anyanwu a business growth development consultant and runs her own local business.  She is on the steering committee for Sophia Hubs Seven Kings and wants to talk on the personal characteristics needed to work for yourself.

29th – Ola Asgill, Managing Director of Ketco Ltd, based in Chadwell Heath,  He will be leading a session on business plans and will be here from 12 – 2.  He will present for about 45 minutes and then set some tasks and give time for feedback and support.  Ola is also on our steering committee

In August there will be two evening Tuesday sessions 7 - 9.00pm and then a break for two weeks.

Tuesday 5th August 7 - 9.00pm, St Johns Church – speaker to be arranged.

Tuesday 12th August 7 - 9.00pm, St Johns Church – speaker to be arranged.

No sessions on 19th and 26th.

In September the first session will be led by Sue Howard on the Map of Meaning. This will be a longer session looking at the map and working out how to make our work meaningful and fitting in with the meaning in our life.  We are starting the new term with something deep and reflective.

With thanks to volunteers Jenny Coverdale and Elaine Freedman who have been supporting the enterprise club over the last few months.


Lloyd Cole and the Commotions - Brand New Friend.