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Monday, 8 February 2016

Foundations of the City: Exhibition reception

The opening night reception for Alan Everett's exhibition 'Foundations of the City' was held tonight at St Stephen Walbrook.

Sam Wells, Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, was the main speaker at the reception. He spoke about the six pieces in the show which depict the cross referring to The Dream of the Rood, which was the original inspiration for three of these works.

The phrase 'The Dream of the Rood', he said, has "a double meaning: on the one hand it's an account of a person dreaming about the personified cross; on the other, we are all part of the rood's dream - we are all companions of Christ, bearing his scars and sorrows."

He explored Alan's work in terms of:

  • the cross, for all its gruesome pain and agony, as depiction of "a realm of existence more textured, more interwoven, than the dullness of a regular life";
  • the cross as "a victory won at a terrible price";
  • "a cross in the heart of God since the foundation of the world";
  • the cross as "the ruin of sin, the ugliness of evil, the destruction of creation";
  • the cross as "salvaging true faith from doubt, true identity from obscurity, true Christianity from the accretions of history, tradition or culture"; and
  • the cross become "a new creation". 

By way of introducing the evening I said the following:

For over eight hundred years a place of worship has stood on this site witnessing to the power of God in people’s lives. Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece, the present church is the fourth to have stood here. Bombed in the Second World War and restored to its present magnificent state in 1981, twentieth century artists and craftsmen have adorned its interior. That is why Henry Moore’s travertine marble altar now stands at the centre under Wren’s dome usually surrounded by dazzling kneelers by Patrick Heron (although those are currently away undergoing repair and restoration).

Henry Moore’s altar design was intended, as you can see, for people to gather as a community around the altar where God could be found at the centre. God at the centre of our lives and communities is what we seek to celebrate through all that we do here at St Stephen Walbrook.

The stunning blend of old and new art and architecture to be found at St Stephen Walbrook draws significant numbers of tourists and other visitors’ year in and year out. William Newman’s dark wood panelling provides a dramatic backdrop to the regular programme of contemporary art exhibitions that the church hosts. The temporary exhibitions that we host add to the experience enjoyed by those who visit and aid the prayer and reflection for those of us who frequent this space regularly.

For these exhibitions, we partner with established art societies (such as the National Society of Painters, Sculptors & Printmakers or the Society of Catholic Artists) or artists with an interest in St Stephen Walbrook and our spirituality. In 2016 our programme begins with this show and will also feature solo shows by the stuckist artist Joe Machine, Brazilian artist Kim Poor, and group shows by the National Society and commission4mission.

In addition, during Lent, we will host the 13th Station in an exhibition of Stations of the Cross at 14 iconic locations in Central London. ‘Lamentation for the Forsaken, 2016’ is a digital art installation by Michael Takeo Magruder which evokes the memory of Syrians who have passed away in the present conflict, by weaving this names and images into a contemporary Shroud of Turin. Stations of the Cross 2016 will be launched tomorrow at Kings College Chapel Strand Campus and begins on Ash Wednesday. As part of Stations of the Cross 2016, we will hold an event discussing the current refugee crisis next Monday at which the artist will speak alongside Dionne Gravesande, Head of Church Advocacy at Christian Aid.

Alan Everett’s work, as you will see, also engages with current events by addressing experiences of persecution and martyrdom in our own time whilst also relating these current experiences to the foundational event for Christians of Christ’s crucifixion. In inviting Alan to exhibit here I was engaged by the organic nature of his work as he combines the deliberation of his rhythmic mark marking with the more random effects of drips and splashes; all cohering through his overall perception of the evolving work. This way of working is ideally suited to the exploration of construction and destruction, layering and fragmentation, life and death which is to be found in these works and this exhibition.

As a result, these paintings are a welcome and contemplative addition to the reflective and prayerful nature of this sacred space and will guide us in our meditation during Lent. Alan will share something of his inspiration and the motivations behind these works when he speaks about them here on Wednesday 4th March at 1.00pm. We will also explore their themes in worship through one of our Discover & explore services next Monday at 1.10pm.


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