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Friday, 21 August 2015

The Otter Gallery and the Chapel of the Ascension

'The Otter Gallery forms an integral and vital part of the University of Chichester. It offers a welcoming and accessible space for art to both its immediate community of staff and students and diverse audiences beyond.

Core to the gallery's mission is the care, promotion and development of the University's art collections, including a nationally significant collection of mid-20th century British art, reflecting its original intention to place art at the heart of people's lives.'

'The collection was started in 1947 when Eleanor Hipwell, head of art for the Bishop Otter College, acquired three paintings from an exhibition held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in order to display them in the University. Shortly afterwards, Miss K E Murray was appointed as a new Principal. Along with Eleanor Hipwell's successor, Sheila McCririck, Miss Murray pursued a determination to develop a collection of contemporary art that would inspire and inform the students of the University. The acquisition of quality work with inadequate monetary resources was a demonstration of Miss Murray's persuasive persistence. She was helped by the support of Bishop Bell, Chairman of the Bishop Otter College Council, and Walter Hussey, who arrived as the new Dean at Chichester Cathedral in 1955.

Their support was vital in helping to promote acceptance of an acquisitions policy that included controversial and challenging pieces such as Patrick Heron's Black and White. As the collection grew, it was displayed throughout the College for the benefit of students and staff.'

'The University of Chichester is fortunate to be the home of a collection of some 400 works of art by distinguished artists from the second half of the 20th and early 21st centuries. It is one of the most significant university collections, comprising not only oil paintings, watercolours, prints, drawings, textiles and ceramics, but also major works such as Jean Lurçat’s altarpiece tapestry, The Creation, in the Chapel, and Geoffrey Clarke’s aluminium sculpture of The Crucifixion above the Chapel’s entrance.'

The Chapel of the Ascension 'came into use in March 1962 to replace a smaller chapel elsewhere on the campus. It has since been used by the University to hold weddings, baptisms and confirmations of students and staff, as well as for music concerts and art displays.'

The Crucifixion was unveiled on 21 March 1962 during the dedication ceremony for what was then the chapel of the Bishop Otter College. 'The sculpture, by Geoffrey Clarke R.A. (1924 - 2014) is approximately 915 cm high and is made from cast aluminium. The abstract piece, attached to the gable of the chapel immediately over the entrance door, depicts the crucifixion. It incorporates the figures of the two thieves who were crucified alongside Christ. The sculpture also holds a nugget of glass, a symbol of the eye of God. Clarke was commissioned to do some work for Chichester Cathedral and was subsequently asked to create this piece for Bishop Otter College. He has used words such as ‘illumination; inspiration; light; kindling of mind and spirit; vision’ to describe the work.

Unfortunately, Lurçat's Aubusson Creation tapestry was not ready for the dedication ceremony and an alternative tapestry created by three students and inspired by the theme of the Lurçat tapestry was shown instead. The Lurçat tapestry has in recent years undergone conservation and on both occasions I have visited it is the student designed tapestry which has been on display. Madonna and Child by Willi Soukop is also currently on display in the chapel.

Axis Mundi was unveiled on 6 October 1990 and was 'created by the well known Sussex sculptor, John Skelton (1923-1999), whilst in residence at Bishop Otter College. The work is made from French limestone and is approximately 275 cm high x 280 cm wide. It is in the form of a Tau cross. Axis Mundi (translated: axis of the world or “world axis”), in religion or mythology, represents the connection between heaven and Earth. The vertical block represents life and the horizontal represents the after-life, at the same time representing the interaction of male and female forces.' Axis Mundi is located close to the Chapel of the Ascension. Both Axis Mundi and The Crucifixion feature on the Chichester Sculpture Trail which also includes work by Philip and Michael Clark and Philip Jackson, sculptors whose work I saw as part of my Sabbatical Art Pilgrimage and during which I first visited the Chapel of the Ascension. The sculpture trail ends at the Cass Sculpture Foundation whose 26 acre grounds are home to an ever-changing display of 80 monumental sculptures.

Current exhibition 'Art in Mind is an innovative collaboration between the Otter Gallery, the University of Chichester’s Fine Art department and three Coastal West Sussex Mind Centres. It started last autumn when project artist Helen Peters began a series of hands-on workshops with the Chichester and Bognor Mind services, allowing participants to get to know the gallery’s Modern British Art collections and experiment with various techniques and media.

The participants were formed of some 20 local people living with mental health problems who were encouraged to choose their favourite pieces of artwork from a large selection. In finding out about the materials and processes involved, as well as the history behind the pieces, they took inspiration for creating new work made from alternative forms of media such as weaving, paper cut outs, monoprints and clay.

Art in Mind is an exhibition resulting from this project, showcasing an eclectic range of some 17 mixed media artworks from the gallery’s permanent collection alongside the participants’ fresh artistic responses. Significant names in the history of Modern British art sit alongside less well known, and in some cases, local artists and makers. Chosen more for their texture, colours, subjects or perhaps personal connections rather than their art historical importance, the Otter Gallery’s collection is displayed beside the unusual and imaginative interpretations it has provoked – thus Art in Mind aptly reflects the very nature of a University art gallery as a stimulus for learning and research, accessibility and engagement.'


Jan Garbarek - In Praise of Dreams.

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