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Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Sabbatical art pilgrimage: St Martin-in-the-Fields

The Revd. Dr. Sam Wells, Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, spoke about ‘Art and the renewal of St Martins’ at the beginning of July as part of the International Conference organised by Art & Christianity Enquiry (ACE).

After initial remarks on the theme of art as a plurality of possibility showing what could be by using form, media and idea for creation, appreciation and interpretation, he took John Calvin’s threefold office of Christ as a frame for speaking about art, St Martins and Art at St Martins.


·        Prophet – Art holds up a mirror to society and asks, ‘Are you proud of what you see?’ Art can create a dream of society fulfilled and thereby the painful gap between the ideal and reality. Prophets often shock and some prophetic acts are shocking.
·        Priest – We can “heaven espie” through art (e.g. icons). Art enables us to see beyond the stars. It can, therefore, be a sacrament.  Through the arts the ordinary stuff of life speaks or sings of the divine. Artists are the high priests of creation.
·        King – Art shows what humanity can be when we reach our full potential.  Kingly art stretches us and is about glory, as with the roadsweeper Wells encountered who spoke of his love of opera as being “his glory.” Artists construct acts of worship. God is the great artist and each human life is an interpretation and improvisation on the creativity of God.

St Martins:

·        Prophetic – Advocacy on social issues.
·        Kingly – St Martins is a premier parish church which affirms national culture and identity.
·        Priestly – The priestly role is central to St Martins.

Art at St Martins:

·        Prophetic – Homage to Soweto by Chaim Stephenson is a memorial to those who suffered during the Apartheid regime in South Africa. Hector Pieterson was a 13-year-old killed in the Soweto uprising in 1976. In the sculpture he is being carried in the arms of a fellow student. The sculpture is a tribute, lament and prayer for victims of injustice and violence. Mike Chapman’s Millennium sculpture on the portico depicts the scandal of particularity found in the incarnation.
·        Priestly – Brian Catling’s Processional Cross has been cast in a strong yet lightweight aluminium and is gilded in white gold. In Jesus, God came face-to-face with humanity and vice versa. Jesus is, therefore, the crossroads. Wood went adrift when it was used as a cross. Here drift wood has been attached to the cross; two pieces of wood have been tied humbly together by a length of string – an allusion to St Martin tearing his cloak in two and giving half to a beggar.
·        Kingly – James Gibbs’ building signified a new era of church building. Shirazeh Houshiary’s East Window has no direct representation of conventional imagery. The oval is a prophetic image of interruption. It can also be seen as an egg about to burst (a Kingly image). The window governs all it surveys. This cross is a vortex of renewal, a whirlpool of holiness. 

St Martin’s has an Arts Advisory Panel for the Art Programme that began under the church’s Renewal Project. The panel is chaired by Sir Nicholas Goodison and also includes Vivien Lovell, Director of Modus Operandi. Other members of the advisory panel include Revd Dr Sam Wells, vicar of St Martin’s; Rod Beadles and Ali Lyon, Churchwardens; Eric Parry, architect of the Renewal Project; art historians Wendy Baron and MaryYule; and Alister Warman, curator.
As part of the renewal of St Martin-in-the-Fields by Eric Parry Architects, Modus Operandi was appointed to create an Art Startegy for the Grade I listed church.  As a result of a competitive interview process, overseen by the Art Selection Panel, five major new artworks were commissioned: Tomoaki Suzuki’s Christmas Crib, Shirazeh Houshiary’s East Window, a poem by Andrew Motion which was realised by letterer Tom Perkins and set into the balustrade of the Light Well, a new Altar by Shirazeh Houshiary and the new Processional Cross by Brian Catling.

The building won a RIBA London Award in 2009, an ACE/RIBA Award for Religious Architecture, A Civic trust Award and the Europa Nostra EU Prize for Cultural Heritage.  It also received a British Construction Industry Award and was highly commended in the Regeneration and Renewal Awards.

In addition to the commissions through the Art Programme, the visual arts also feature in the renewed building in the Crypt Gallery. The Gallery in the Crypt’s dramatic 18th Century architecture makes a stunning backdrop to display modern art and photography.

Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble.

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