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Thursday, 11 September 2008

Art interview - Henry Shelton (1)

After a successful career as a commercial product designer, Henry Shelton's time is now mainly set aside for his religious paintings. He says: "People often ask me what inspires me to paint a picture. Well, there are many reasons of course and I guess it doesn’t pay to analyse them too closely. I only know that when I stand facing a blank canvas I do hope to find inspiration from somewhere. Usually an idea will come to me when I least expect it and long before I can actually begin painting. All creative people will agree that a good idea can come to you anywhere, any time. But I like to think there may be a little “Divine Intervention” in what I do as my ideas are certainly intended to witness our Christian faith and depict images that will touch us all to the very core of our beliefs." Henry is involved in developing plans to launch a Christian Art Society which will encourage the commissioning and placing of contemporary Christian Art in churches, as a means of fundraising for charities.
JE: You've said that you first became aware of the importance of Christian Art as a choir boy in West Ham. What was it that attracted you to Christian Art at that time?

HS: It was the same thing that attracted me to the great Dutch masters; the art spoke to me. I used to look at the altar and see images that were just so powerful. The images seemed to bring the past into the present and to form a profound link with the lineage of the past.

JE: You originally trained as a draughtsman. What impact do you think that has had on your art?

HS: The impact has been tremendous. I studied as a lettering artist which taught me drawing skills and discipline, and led me to study great artists, like the typographer and artist, Eric Gill.

JE: In what ways have you been influenced by the work of other artists and how has that influence been felt in your work?

HS: When I first saw the great Rembrandt’s in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the power of his images seemed to transcend time. I see myself as an artist trying in my small way to continue that lineage and my passion as a Christian artist is to keep that lineage alive in my generation as a witness.

JE: Over the years, and through your commercial and Christian Art, you have worked in a variety of styles with a high degree of felicity. How do you choose an appropriate style for the image you have in mind?

HS: As I’ve got older I’ve come to see the picture in my mind before I start working on it. For example, the windows that I designed for All Saints Goodmayes needed to be modern but representational and so I had to develop a specific simple visual style for the images before I could begin work.

JE: Your most recent Christian Art works, which are to be included in the 'Visual Dialogue' exhibition at St Johns Seven Kings from 3rd-5th October, seem to have a 'less is more' approach as you are painting in a semi-abstract style with pared down imagery. What has led you to this approach?

HS: The real answer is prayer. My most recent pictures have all come to me in prayer as I have been meditating on particular Bible passages. Most of my work now comes through a meditational process.

Someone recently asked me what my current painting is and it’s an abstract painting of the gates of heaven. That’s an amusing image in its own right; putting up a ladder to paint the gates of heaven! As an abstract work people won’t immediately know what it represents. It’s an image designed to draw people in; for them to engage with it and discuss it.

JE: You make use of minimal flowing lines to create the human figures in your 'Stations of the Cross' (also to be exhibited at St John's) and your etched windows at All Saints Goodmayes and yet the minimalism of these works seems deeply expressive. How do you see the emotion seep into the work through the combination of line and colour alone?

HS: It is the pathos of suffering. As I’ve got older I’ve learnt that ‘less is more’ and through the development of my work I’ve learnt to express emotion in a semi-abstract form. That’s really why I paint; it all goes back to feeling.

Mat Kearney - Undeniable.

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