Wikio - Top Blogs - Religion and belief

Monday, 31 August 2009

Greenbelt diary (2)

'Visionaries' exhibition

Paintings by Clive Hicks-Jenkins in the 'Visionaries' exhibition

Paintings by Phillipa Claydon in the 'Visionaries' exhibition

Sixpence None the Richer

Sixpence None the Richer

My Greenbelt began, as is often the case (and one of the best reasons for going), by an unplanned meeting with friends and the chance to share some food together as we swapped notes on what we planned to see and do over the Festival.

One of the first things that I did was to visit the Visionaries exhibition and chat with its curators, Meryl & Malcolm Doney from the Wallspace gallery. The exhibition brings together a selection of recent and contemporary artists working in the Visionary Art tradition - which has its roots in the work of William Blake, Goya and Samuel Palmer – i.e. those who explore with passion the territories of the spiritual, the religious and the human condition. This version of the exhibition, which was originally shown at Wallspace, had a slightly reduced range of artists exhibited but this had the positive effect that some of the less well known artists in the exhibition, such Clive Hicks-Jenkins, Phillipa Claydon, Harry Adams and Brian Whelan, could be more fully represented.

Dave Tomlinson spoke about 'Church without borders' by viewing conversion as a process and way of life and churches as the hands, feet and heart of Christ in their communities. His talk seemed to me to be a summary of what I see us being to a limited extent and what I want us to become more fully at St Johns Seven Kings and, as a result, I will post separately a fuller set of notes from this session.

In an aside he spoke about Jesus writing in sand which led on to my writing the following meditation:

You wrote
in sand
washed away
in rain
swept away
by hand
You wrote
in speech
no scribes
journos or
at your feet
You wrote
in flesh
breath hammered
and beaten
from your

You wrote
in sand
a pregnant
causing stones
to fall
from condemning
You wrote
in speech
turning our
upside down
You wrote
in flesh
an emptying
of self
empty lives
with love

Finally Sixpence None The Richer played a great set which included most of their very wonderful Divine Discontent album, some crowd-pleasers in 'Kiss Me' and 'There She Goes', as well as new material for their next album. Matt Slocum and Leigh Nash went their separate ways after making Divine Discontent as Matt explained in the Greenbelt programme: "Leigh and I had been making music together since we were teenagers. As we approached our 30s, there was a bit of restlessness to explore other things, but in the midst of this exploration, I felt a void open up, like I needed to be making music with Leigh." I, for one, am glad to see them reunited and making great music together.


Sixpence None the Richer - Melody of You.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Greenbelt diary (1)

Travelling to Greenbelt from Uley, where I am staying thanks to the genorosity of my friend Diana, gave the opportunity for sampling some of the local art.

Nailsworth has several galleries and the Ruskin Mill College. In the Nonsuch Bookshop I bought a book of Greg Tricker's Catacombs paintings as a present for Diana. These are paintings and stone carvings centred around early Christianity and inspired by the wall paintings in the catacombs beneath Rome. Tricker is a local artist, living in Nailsworth itself. Also in Nailsworth I saw examples of the work of the Welsh artist Sara Philpott whose neo-romantic paintings celebrate the mysteries of motherhood and creation.

Painswick hosts an Arts Festival throughout August which included the Painswick Centre Open Studios and an exhibition by the Gloucestershire Guild of Craftsmen. Work that I found of particular interest included that by milliner Sarah Cant, ceramicist Ann James, and printmaker Christopher Noble. Guest artists at the exhibition came from the Artist Blacksmithing course at the Hereford College of Arts. Nadine Angela was among these and exhibited two Ritual Bowls; vigorous, sensual swirls which by being broken communicated their iconic as opposed to utilitarian nature.

In the Behold exhibition at the Arts Festival, I saw some wonderfully quirky sculptures made with found objects by Edwina Bridgeman that had a real English eccentricity but which were all based on biblical themes. The largest was a Madonna and Child but there was also a piece based on the Songs of Songs and another on the passage from Isaiah about the lion and lamb lying together and a little child shall lead them.

Bridgeman writes that she makes:

"figurative three-dimensional sculpture from found wood, often driftwood, and found objects. The work is narrative and I use words and stories as a starting point. Although I make work on many different subjects, often working to commission, journeys are a recurrent theme. I have made work about the voyages of saints (St Newlyn and her children, St. Brendan and the sea monsters) to secular journeys, Laika clambering aboard her rocket and the giraffe Zarafa travelling down the Nile on a barge. My work is often described as joyful and I am keen to create an atmosphere of optimism and a sense of moving forward. Humour is also an important element. Found objects support not only the humour but bring their previous lives with them giving the work depth and, hopefully, create a piece with which one would want to engage."


Noah And The Whale - Blue Skies.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Canon's installation

Philip Ritchie

A collection of clergy at the after-service reception - Paul Trathen, Brigid Main, Graham Hamborg & Gordon Tarry

Today I was at Chelmsford Cathedral for a service at which Philip Ritchie was installed as a Non-Residentiary Canon of the Cathedral.

Philip is responsible for the provision of adult education and training resources in the Diocese of Chelmsford including the Course in Christian Studies, Lent and Eastertide Schools and Reader Training. He is also on the staff of the North Thames Ministerial Training Course (now part of St Mellitus College).

A Canon is an honour given to distinguished people who have made a significant contribution to the life of the Church across the Diocese and beyond. Philip fully deserves this honour for the work he has done in developing training within the Diocese. I have greatly enjoyed working with him on The Big Picture courses that we have run together with Paul Trathen for several years as part of the Lent and Eastertide Schools and in the development of the Christians in the Workplace resource pack.
Bishop Laurie wrote in tonight's Order of Service that "On an occasion like this, when our priests or deacons are made Canons, clergy who have served the Diocese in particular ways and from every quarter can be honoured by us all as we give thanks to God for their ministry. They represent so much that is splendid in the Christian Church as it goes diligently about its business of worshipping Almighty God and proclaiming the Gospel of Christ in word and deed."
Another example of of a priest doing just that was given as a result of meeting up with Paul Trathen, who was also at the service and who gave me a whole pack of materials that he has recently collected about the ministry of Bernard Walke.
At about the same time that I came across Annie & Bernard Walke through seeing some of Annie's work in an exhibition catalogue while in Cornwall, Paul had bought a copy of Bernard's autobiography Twenty Years at St. Hilary in secondhand bookshop in St Davids Pembrokeshire.
A few days after seeing my post on the Walke's and commenting on the synchronicity of our both discovering this couple's work and ministry simultaneously, Paul was in Cornwall himself, a short distance from St Hilary's, and able to visit and collect the materials that he gave me tonight.
As a result, I now have postcards of some of the artworks commissioned by Bernard for St Hilary's, a biography of Bernard by Donald Allchin, Bernard's autobiography to borrow, and a CD of the 1934 recording of Bernard's radio play Bethlehem as performed by members of the congregation of St Hilary's.

The Innocence Mission - I Never Knew You From The Sun.

Hyde Hall - Church outing


Paul Weller - Wildwood.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Airbrushed from Art History (12)

The final circle of artistic influence found in the French Catholic Revival was that which formed around the Dominicans, Maire-Alain Couturier and Pie-Raymond Régamey. Thomas F. O'Meara has described this circle of influence well in ‘Modern Art and the Sacred’, an article for Spirituality Today:

“Born in the Loire on November 15, 1897, the young Couturier was mobilized for the First World War and wounded on the front. By 1919 he was studying painting in Paris with a group centered around Maurice Denis and then worked for the next five years in various churches in the media of fresco and stained glass. During the early 1920s he toured Italy, read Paul Claudel, discovered Matisse, Picasso and Le Corbusier, met Jean Cocteau at the house of the Maritains, and worked for Action Française. His interior odyssey, however, moved within not only art but within Christianity, drawing him to religious life, first as a Benedictine oblate and then as a Dominican, receiving the habit in 1925. He speaks of "that day in 1925 when freedom entered into my life, having the face of love."

In the years immediately before and after his ordination, Couturier's superiors, far from discouraging his art, offered some commissions: a novitiate chapel, the chapel of the Dominicans at Oslo, frescoes for the private chapel in Santa Sabina (Rome) of the Master General in 1932. Assigned to a priory in Paris, even while working on churches and windows up through 1937, Couturier assumed a widening ministry of preaching and spiritual direction. Simone Weil wrote her Letter to a Religious to the Dominican at the suggestion of Maritain in 1942 when both Weil and Couturier were in the United States.”

“Even at the end of the nineteenth century, with the work of Cézanne and Monet scarcely absorbed, young artists pondered the sad, derivative state of religious art. Joseph Pichard's L'Art sacré moderne chronicles the new atmosphere which emerged from 1890 to 1914, and which was then taken up again after World War 1, fostering the first attempts at a modern church architecture in Europe. Pichard himself helped to found conferences and then a periodical which was to exercise particular influence. Within eighteen months of its inception, however, the journal L'Art sacré was taken over by the publishing house of Cerf which confided its direction to Régamey and Couturier.”

“Régamey writes: “From the time of his training at the Ateliers d'Art Sacré under Denis and Desvallières, Pere Couturier's greatest ambition was to revive Christian art by appealing to the independent masters of his time. He discussed the project many times between 1932 and 1935 with the Abbé Devémy who was chaplain at the sanatorium in Assy, opposite Mont Blanc. In 1936, his friend Jean Hébert-Stevens, who worked in glass spoke about the project to Bonnard, who was very interested; at this time, however, no opportunity came to make the idea materialize. In 1938, Hébert-Stevens suggested to Couturier that he speak to Braque about the idea.

In 1936 Abbe Devémy thought of commissioning artists who were not "third-rate" for a church in an area near the Alps to serve sanatorium patients. In 1939 Couturier stopped to visit his friend and was asked to collaborate in planning "Our Lady of All Graces." The project began by acquiring a window designed by Rouault. The war years intervened, with meetings with Maurois, Focillon, Dali, Stravinsky, and conversations with Léger and Chagall on the prospect of collaboration at Assy.”

“Early in 1940 the French Dominican arrived in New York to preach a series of Lenten Conferences in French at St. Vincent de Paul, and then to visit Canada. The war trapped him in North America: lecturing in Canada, meeting artists such as Salvador Dali, painting a Way of the Cross for the Dominican Sisters of Elkins Park, serving as chaplain to French pilots in Jacksonville, Florida.

Couturier returned to France in August 1945, a changed man, deepened by his exile, filled with new perspectives for art and faith. His activity gave expression to more striking ideas about how the church, in its decoration and liturgy, should relate to modern painting, sculpture, design and architecture.”

“By the time of his return to France, it was clear to Couturier that the resurrection of religious art through an incarnation with modernity would never be accomplished by lesser talents, a quasi-modern religious art, and the institutional church. He had conceived the bold idea of involving the great figures of the twentieth century in aspects of church decoration -- even if they were fallen away from, or indifferent to, the church.”

“In a revolutionary move, Couturier attracted for the decoration of the new church of Assy in the south of France Léger, Braque, Matisse, Chagall, Lipchitz and others. Assy was consecrated in June, 1950. By then Couturier was corresponding with Matisse over the chapel for the Dominican cloistered nuns at Vence.”

“Three great churches were touched by the Dominican's statement that modern art can express the sacred in line and color: (1) Matisse's chapel for the Dominican sisters at Vence, (2) the windows and mosaic by Léger and Bazaine at Audincourt, (3) and what we might call the religious art gallery of Assy.”

“Conservative reactions both in France and in Rome became increasingly vocal. In the years which followed, Régamey and Couturier worked on a dual front, explaining and further encouraging the breakthrough of twentieth century art in the decoration of Assy, Vence and Audincourt and defending the very possibility of this new incarnation to the intégristes and to Rome. After an operation, Couturier never fully recovered his health and died in early 1954.”

“What is the lesson of the Assy church where the tapestry backdrop for the sanctuary was done by Lurcat, the facade mosaic by Léger, the tabernacle door by Braque, windows by Rouault, stained glass and a ceramic mural by Chagall? Couturier answered: for Christian art to exist at all, "each generation must appeal to the masters of living art, and today those masters come first from secular art ... there are no dead masters in art." It is not sensationalism which turns the commissions away from the ateliers of the academy or of the hierarchy, but the search for those individuals in whom, in our times (no others exist), art is living. You must employ life where you find it. ‘Let the dead bury the dead’. Devémy, the pastor of Assy observed. Assy is not a masterpiece - it lacks rigor in organization - but as a cultural-theological statement it is of the greatest import.”

Despite the strength of the conservative reactions to their work and writings, Régamey and Couturier were not alone in their views or their initiatives. For example, Patricia Grzonka writes in ‘Better Bodies’, an article for Freize, of “Vienna’s Galerie Nächst St. Stephan, founded in 1954 and directed and programmed by Monsignor Otto Mauer, a Catholic priest” was, “in the 50s and 60s, the most important centre for contemporary art … hosting “art movements from Informel and Tachism in the 50s to the happenings of the 60s.” Grzonka considers this an unusual development writing that: “Austria had a peculiar way of coming to terms with the present through the paradigms of the past. Only in Austria, for instance, could an avant-garde gallery have been funded by the Catholic church.”

Arnulf Rainer was one of the artists supported by Mauer and, in an interview published as ‘Elf Antworten auf Elf Fragen' (in Otto Breicha ed., Arnulf Rainer Hirndrang, Salzburg 1980), said:

"I had many discussions with him [Mauer] at that time and it was he who made it clear to me that connections between religion and artistic creativity, as I saw them, weren't as peculiar as they seemed. He felt that the same way himself about them ... He visited me in my studio, looked at my pictures, chose and bought two of them. And then he made me an offer to have an exhibition in his gallery. I became interested. In those days I had a very particular and rather extreme profile as an artist. It was a daring thing to mount an exhibition of my work. I was amazed how spiritually involved Mauer was; as far as he was concerned, there was no difficulty in relating religion to modern art, which was prevalent at that time in Christian circles. By contrast Mauer seemed shaped by his contact with this form of art. He certainly wasn't a ‘progressive' priest. Theologically he was more traditionally orientated. But he was an incredibly intelligent and articulate man with an extraordinary wide horizon. He was capable of relating things to each other, which was certainly not an everyday achievement. He had important functions in the Church, though there were wide circles within the Catholic world, which absolutely rejected him and, in fact, actually saw in him a particular sort of demon. This was especially because of his contacts with artists. As far as we were concerned he emanated great spirituality as well as being a totally charismatic person. He used to preach sermons which were real works of art. And he gave himself up so utterly to his theme that he literally swayed in ecstasy in the pulpit. He fascinated all of us, just as great artists fascinate.”

The influence of his contact with Mauer can also be seen in the way in which Rainer relates his overpaintings to his interest in mysticism, non-verbal prayer and the teachings of St John of the Cross:

“I realised that there wasn't only that sort of religious art, as in the nineteenth century, where a figure of Christ or a Madonna was created in the greatest detail; there is also an overall religious ‘seeing', in which one only aims for the general structures of the imagination. Through it I have come more and more to paintings in dark colours - of course not totally black. There is always a small bit of light, mostly at the edge or in a corner. At the beginning I didn't want to do any ‘overpaintings'. I wanted to paint specific subjects. But it was always black, black and black again which came to me. I just couldn't do anything else. I had no idea beforehand that it would turn out like this. More than once, I tried to break away, but it was impossible. I realised that the quality and truth of the picture only grew as it became darker and darker.”

In the interview Rainer reveals what Christ means to him and goes on to describe his first picture of Christ:

“It started as a black figural-structure. I attempted to make a crucified figure. At the start it was a kind of cubic stretch-figure. But it wasn't successful. It was a stylistic platitude. So I went on painting and the figure of Christ became a cross. And finally, this cross became veiled by a dark cloud. But I am quite satisfied that something is still perceptible. It doesn't even have to be consciously perceptible. He [Christ] withdraws when we attempt to represent him. Perhaps he is there in an intimation, in an extinguished, fragmentary way. In certain signs. And yet he even withdraws there. As soon as one thoughtlessly repeats it.”

In the UK, Walter Hussey, as noted in his Pallant House biography, “was responsible for commissioning some iconic works of twentieth century music and visual art, first as Vicar of St Matthew's Church Northampton and subsequently as Dean of Chichester Cathedral, from likes of William Albright, Leonard Bernstein, Benjamin Britten, Henry Moore, Graham Sutherland and William Walton”:

“It was while he was Vicar of St Matthew's that Hussey decided to celebrate the church's 50th anniversary by organising a musical concert. Seizing the opportunity given by CEMA (Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts), the forerunner of the Arts Council, he invited the BBC Symphony Orchestra to play and commissioned 'Rejoice in the Lamb' from Benjamin Britten. Despite a great many obstacles and in the face of reactionary opposition his tenacity of vision enabled him to get his way. He went on to organise a concert by the great soprano Kirsten Flagsted, and commission Henry Moore's 'Madonna and Child' sculpture, which was unveiled in February 1944, a 'Litany and Anthem for St Matthew's Day' from W.H Auden in 1945, Graham Sutherland's 'Crucifixion' in 1947 and in 1949 'The Outer Planet' from the poet Norman Nicholson.”

“He then became Dean of Chichester Cathedral, an appointment that may well have been influenced by the fact that the Bishop, Dr George Bell, was also a great patron of the arts, and obviously made the appointment with a view to preserving the artistic continuity. Bishop Bell retired in 1958, but Hussey remained as Dean until his retirement in 1977.”

“After he arrived in Chichester Hussey gave further commissions to contemporary artists and composers, guided by the principle that, "Whenever anything new was required in the first seven hundred years of the history of the cathedral, it was put in the contemporary style." In 1961 Sutherland painted an altarpiece for the Chapel of St Mary Magdalen. Hussey later approached Leonard Bernstein, who he had briefly met in New York, to compose a piece of music for the Cathedral, the result being the 'Chichester Psalms' (1965), which were set to the original Hebrew. The following year John Piper was approached to design a Tapestry for the screen behind the High Altar. Other commissions include furnishings by the sculptor Geoffrey Clarke, an altar frontal by Cecil Collins, a set of Copes by Ceri Richards and a stained glass window by Marc Chagall. Kenneth Clark memorably described him as 'the last great patron of art in the Church of England.'”


Leonard Bernstein - Chichester Psalms - Adonai ro-i.

Choose Together

“This place has known magic, very dark, very powerful. This time I cannot hope to destroy it alone. Times like these, dark times, they can bring people together but they can tear them apart. Evil will pass through from their world into our own – these are mad times we live in, mad – and the darkest hour is upon us all. In my life I’ve seen things that are truly horrific, now I know that you will see worse. You have no choice. You must not fail.”

These are words taken from the trailer for the film Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince; a film and a series which are about a battle between forces of darkness and light described in words and images that are not so dissimilar from those we heard today in each of our Bible readings:

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” (Ephesians 6. 12-13)

“Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD." (Joshua 24. 15)

"Does this make you want to give up? What gives life is God’s spirit; human power is of no use at all. The words I have spoken to you bring God’s life-giving Spirit. Yet some of you do not believe." (John 6. 61-64)

Does this mean that as Christians we are actually living in the equivalent of a Harry Potter film? Life generally, although it is often a real struggle, doesn’t look or feel like that! Fantasy books and films can be a means of exploring the dark forces in life and the sense of a cosmic conflict in our world but they can also be a reason for dismissing, as fantasy, this Biblical sense of there being a cosmic conflict in which we are all in some way engaged.

The most helpful writer I have found on these themes to date is Stephen Verney, a former Bishop of Repton. His commentary on John’s Gospel, Water into Wine, begins by noting the way in which this Gospel consistently speaks about there being two different levels or orders to reality. What he means by this are different patterns of society, each with a different centre or ruling power. He gives as an example, the difference between a fascist order and a democratic order:

“In the fascist order there is a dictator, and round him subservient people who raise their hands in salute, and are thrown into concentration camps if they disobey. In the democratic order … there is an elected government, and round it persons who are interdependent, who share initiatives and ideas.”

So, what are the two orders that he sees described in John’s Gospel? In the first, “the ruling principle is the dictator ME, my ego-centric ego, and the pattern of society is people competing with, manipulating and trying to control each other.” In the second, “the ruling principle is the Spirit of Love, and the pattern of society is one of compassion – people giving to each other what they really are, and accepting what others are, recognising their differences, and sharing their vulnerability.”

I see these two different orders clearly defined when Jesus comes before Pilate, as I have described in the first of a series of meditations I have written on the Stations of the Cross:

Jesus and Pilate
in a clash of cultures.
Pilate is
angular, aggressive, threatening
the oppressive, controlling
Empire of dominating power,
with its strength in numbers
and weaponry,
which can crucify
but cannot
set free.
Jesus is
curves and crosses,
love and sacrifice,
the kingdom of God;
a kingdom of love,
service and self-sacrifice
birthing men and women
into the freedom
to love one another.
The way of compassion
or the way of domination;
the way of self-sacrifice
or the way of self;
the way of powerlessness
or the way of power;
the way of serving
or the way of grasping;
the kingdom of God
or the empires of Man.

These two orders or patterns for society are at war with each other and it is this struggle, against the rulers, the authorities, the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil, of which we are a part.

Now, in today’s readings, we are consistently asked to choose our side in this struggle. Verney writes of this being the key question for us as human beings, the question being “so urgent that our survival depending on finding the answer. He writes that:

“we can see in our world order the terrible consequences of our ego-centricity. We have projected it into our institutions, where it has swollen up into a positive force of evil. Human beings have set up prison camps where they torture each other for pleasure. We are all imprisoned together, in a system of competing nation states, on the edge of a catastrophe which could destroy all life on our planet.”

And so, as Colin Buchanan writes in his commentary on Ephesians:

“… the major battle in which we are called to engage is among the principalities and powers, in the structures of society, in the liberation of the oppressed, in the conserving of the environment, in the provision of housing and jobs, and in the protection of the helpless and innocent, such as the unborn foetus, and abused children.”

It is at this point that we often draw back and say what people often say about engagement in politics i.e. what different can I make? What different can my vote or my voice or my actions make? Aren’t we talking here about global order and forces that can’t be influenced or affected by individuals, so what possible difference can I make on my own?

But individual action is not what Joshua, Jesus or Paul were primarily talking about. Joshua was challenging a whole nation about whether they would choose to follow God corporately. Jesus was talking to the disciples who would go on to form the bedrock of the Church. And Paul, who had already written in Ephesians 3. 10 that “[God’s] intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God, should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms”, when he writes about the armour of God writes not in the singular but the plural. The armour of God is armour for us to put on and use together in the cosmic conflict.

Colin Buchanan writes that:

“Our being ‘drawn together’ by Jesus Christ, as denominations, church fellowships and individuals within those fellowships, is crucial to the fight … Paul may be telling us how to become a single army under the hand of God … So let the church identify the enemy and, as a single force – the body of Christ, go for the jugular. We have … God’s kingdom to bring in. We can only do it … together.”

We have seen this happen in practice in the various non-violent revolutions of the twentieth century; Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jubilee 2000 and other campaigns show what is possible when people of faith and people of peace come together in sufficient numbers to make a difference. Together we can engage the principalities and powers, the structures of society, to liberate the oppressed, conserve the environment, provide housing and jobs, and protect the helpless and innocent.

Together; we can only do it together. Joshua challenged the people of Israel, Jesus challenged the disciples, Paul challenged the Church:

‘Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the ego-centric ego, where people compete with, manipulate and try to control each other or the Spirit of Love, where people give to each other what they really are, and accept what others are, recognising their differences, and sharing their vulnerability. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Spirit of Love.’


John Lennon - Come Together.

Friday, 21 August 2009

c4m webpage update (19)

There are three new stories on the commission4mission webpage this week. First off, a round up of some recent press coverage; an interview with Henry Shelton about his commission at Queen's Hospital (to be dedicated by the Bishop of Barking on Tuesday 1st September) and an exhibition review that I wrote for Art & Christianity.

This was followed by updated information about the first two events in our autumn programme. Henry's Stations of the Cross are being exhibited at St Barnabas Walthamstow as part of the E17 Art Trail in September. Then in October our artists will be exhibiting at All Saints Goodmayes as part of their Festival weekend which also features a concert organised by c4m member, Alexander Chaplin.


Tom Waits - Hang On St. Christopher.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

@ the Park (2)

I went to see Rodney Bailey's @ the Park exhibition today. Rodney writes that:

"This collection of work summarises an evolution and a virtual marker from faithless to faithful. Here I visualise a spiritual renaissance in myself and my local environment. Having used parks as a short cut to another place, as a setting to pass time or to check out the passing trade.

This exhibition displays an alternative to the way I engage with these same spaces. Documenting these settings I have provided the viewer with an insight to my past activities.

The pictures are of parks in the two mile radius of Camberwell, each have a specific viewpoint depending on the time, the subject and the location. The pictures each aim to take the viewer and allow them to become actively engaged in each picture. On close examination some pictures reveal a fantasy world of witches, faces, fairies and goblins. The views shown encompass light, colour, definition and intensity.

The @ the Park exhibition has cemented me from wishful to faithful in a quote from the writings of Nichiren Daishonin, founder of Nichiren Buddhism: If a tree is deeply rooted, its branches and leaves wil never wither. If the Spring is inexhaustible, the stream will never run dry. Without wood, a fire will burn out. Without earth, plants will not grow. Nichiren is like the plant, and my teacher, the earth."

Joni Mitchell - Big Yellow Taxi.

Windows on the world - London


Neil Young - Crime In The City.

Glimpes of Clarity

"Sometimes we find ourselves on the edge, falling uncontrollably through life, punctured by a cannonball sized hole of despair, overwhelmed by emotion, facing the perhaps impossible task of trying to pick up the pieces and put ourselves back together from a pile of shattered fragments."

Glimpses of Clarity was a recent exhibition by George Triggs at the Art Academy which features in the current edition of art of england. Broken is the piece that provide the cover photo for this edition of the magazine and about which the above quote pertains.

Triggs has written of this work:

Broken goes about examining the fragility, isolation and silent determination of our existence. It captures the seemingly impossible task of picking up the pieces and putting ourselves back together after a complete emotional implosion. This life-size figure is in fractured pieces slumped on a stool. It is trying to rebuild itself, examining the deterioration of its own existence, examining what it means to be broken, questioning whether it can return to life anew, questioning whether the cracks and experiences stay below the surface and whether some pieces of itself are gone forever. Broken was created in solid clay, then cast as a hollow shell, which I then literally shattered into pieces and reassembled. Looking at all the pieces, it seemed like an impossible task, which made it both more exciting, exhausting and inspiring. The process was a huge emotional and thought-provoking journey for me which I feel transfers to the work.”

Photos of the work can be found here and here.

T.S. Eliot writes, at the end of The Waste Land, of shoring fragments against his ruin and that equates to Triggs' sculpture but both, I think, also capture a sense of the inspiration and revelation which comes as this shoring of fragments against our ruin takes place. Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective presents a similar vision and one that I have linked to Jesus' restoration of Peter following his denial (John 21. 15-19).

Leonard Cohen in Anthem highlights the sense in which we all are cracked and broken within our lives and that, it is actually through our cracked natures that light comes into our lives and the world:

"Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in."

This echoes 2 Corinthians 4: 6-12 in which Paul writes of our lives as being like cracked clay pots with the light of Christ shining through the cracks or fractures in our lives. I have reflected on this insight in the meditation below:


least among the clans of Judea.
Home town,
a place from which no good was known to come.
In appearance,
without beauty or majesty, undesired.
In life,
despised and rejected, unrecognised and unesteemed.
In death,
made nothing.
His followers,
not wise, not influential, not noble – fools!

The light of the knowledge of the glory of God
in the bodies and form of human beings.
Light shining
through the gaps and cracks of clay pots.
Light shining
in the unexpected places, despised faces, hidden spaces.
Light shining
in the poor, the mourners, the meek, the hungry.
Light shining
in the merciful, the pure, the peacemakers.
Light shining
in the persecuted, the insulted, the falsely accused.
Light shining
in the lowly, the despised, the nonentities.
Light shining
in weakness and fear and trembling.
Light shining
in the foolish followers of the King of Fools.


Leonard Cohen - Anthem.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Windows on the world (66)

Swindon, 2009


Paul Weller - From The Floorboards Up.

The Art of Remembering

I've been in touch recently with The Memorial Arts Charity and has been interested to find out about the current Art & Memory Exhibition which is on from 2nd April - 1st November 2009.

The launch of the exhibition took place in April among the gardens, parkland and arboretum of West Dean Gardens, West Sussex. Over 300 people attended the Private View, many who had travelled from far afield to witness the launch exhibition for The National Collection of Contemporary Memorial Art.

The exhibition is open daily 10.30 - 5.00pm, last entry 4.30pm. Prices for tickets to the Gardens (exhibition free): Adults: £6.75 - Over 60's: £6.25 - Children: £3.25 - Family: £16.50. Concessions available. A fully illustrated catalogue is available (which includes a fold out map) from the West Dean Gardens shop for £5.00, and also from The Memorial Arts Charity for £6.50 (£5.00 plus £1.50 p&p).

Over the last two years the Charity has been commissioning fifty-five new lettered works on a memorial theme. These works bring together the traditional components of British memorial making, above all fine lettering, with the fresh interpretative vision of fifty-five different makers. The proposals range widely, from the traditional to the very contemporary. They include works in stone, slate, wood and other materials in the form of standing stones, headstones, lettered steps, sculptures, a bird bath, words cut into chalk on a hill and a fountain. The ability of such works to comfort, move and inspire the public, and the necessity for founding a permanent collection of Memorial Art, was borne out by the overwhelming response to their first exhibition, The Art of Remembering (Blickling Hall, Norfolk, 1998). Fifteen works from this first exhibition will be included in the permanent Art & Memory Collection.

After eight months the Collection will be distributed between six major public sites around the British Isles: Blair Castle in Scotland; Canterbury Cathedral Memorial Garden; Winterbourne Botanic Garden in Birmingham; the Monnow Valley Arts Centre in Monmouthshire and Grimsthorpe Castle, Lincolnshire. The Collection will enable a wide audience to discover this rewarding but under-appreciated art form – to learn about good design and fine lettering, poetry and prose and the possibilities for commissioning individual memorials.


Michael McDermott - Wall I Must Climb.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Another shade of blue

Another artist that I came across while leafing through catalogues in Cornwall was John Miller, who was born in London in 1931 and started painting as a teenager. Online he is described as follows:

"His first main career was as an architect and after a visit to West Cornwall in the mid-fifties he returned to live there in 1958 with Michael Truscott. He was elected to the Newlyn Society of Artists in 1961 and became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 1964.

He went on to show in London, New York, Vancouver and Europe and made many broadcasts and television appearances. Visiting the Isles of Scilly led to the beach paintings, and after living at Sancreed for many years he painted from a house on the beach at Lelant where some of his most evocative paintings were done. Travels in places such as Goa and Greece also influenced his paintings, as did his deep spiritual and religious beliefs, which shine through the colour and intensity of the images.

The blue and white images of beaches, sky and sea have become a trademark of both his artistic style and personality. Rock star Chris Rea required an image for ‘King of the Beach’, and chose a painting by John Miller for the CD cover. His paintings have decorated the walls of TV’s ‘Eastenders’, and the set of John Boorman’s film ‘The Tailor of Panama’.

In 1989, he published an autobiography, “Leave Tomorrow Behind”. After a short illness he died on Tuesday 23rd July 2002, at his home in Penzance. The memorial exhibition included a selection of paintings inspired by his last trip to Goa alongside works in both oil and gouache of his beloved Cornwall. Further reading: Another Shade Of Blue and John Miller 1931-2002: Seeing Is Believing."

My initial impression from a brief look at Miller's work is that his 'spiritual' works exemplify what has become a common and now clichéd feature of 'spiritual' or 'prophetic' painting i.e. a single colour field with a sole figure spotlit in a celestial beam of light.


Deacon Blue - Swaying Arms.

Annie & Bernard Walke

As a result of briefly scanning an exhibition catalogue while on holiday in Cornwall, I've discovered the following fascinating story of the artist Annie Walke and husband, the Anglo-Catholic clergyman, Bernard Walke.

Annie Walke was born in London and studied at Chelsea School of Art and at the London School of Art. She first came to Cornwall with her husband when he was curate in Polruan. Bernard, known to his friends as ‘Ber’, became Vicar of St Hilary near Marazion in 1912. He had previously worked in the East End of London and been curate of another parish in western Cornwall, an area where the Church of England had never really replaced the old Roman Catholic Church in the affections of Cornish-speaking people to whom English had come at the Reformation as an unfamiliar new language to supplant the church Latin they were used to. Thus those who had not later converted to Wesleyan Methodism tended to be Anglo-Catholic, and sympathetic to Bernard Walke’s strong feeling for ritual, drama and art.

Walke was happiest in the company of artists and ordinary working people. He persuaded such Newlyn artists as Harold Knight, Norman and Alethea Garstin, Gladys Hynes, Ernest and Dod Procter and others to decorate the church. Annie painted a picture of St Joan of Arc which formed the reredos to an Altar to St Joan. Pictures on the chancel stalls were painted by Knight, Hynes, the Procters and Annie Walke and depict scenes from the lives of Cornish Saints. The pictures on the priest's stalls represent, on the south St Hilery, and on the north the dedication of the church by the Abbot and monks of St Michael's Mount. The pictures on the pulpit are the work of Ernest Procter and represent legends connected with St Neot, St Kevin and St Mawes. The reredos in the Lady Chapel represents the house of the Visitation and the picture of the event was painted by Ernest Proctor. A large crucifix on the north wall is the work of Phyllis Yglesias, a memorial to Canon F. Rogers of Truro Cathedral who died in the parish in 1928. West of the crucifix is a reredos painted by Roger Fry. In the south west corner of the church is a reredos, painted by Ernest Procter, of an Altar of the Dead, built in memory of Gerard Collier who during world was one sought to find a way of peace for the world.

Walke studied the speech of the working people of the parish - farmers, tin-miners, fishermen, the postman - and wrote religious plays in local dialect for local people to perform in the church. St Hilary gained nation-wide fame when he wrote and directed a Christmas Play Bethlehem. Through his friendship with media man, Filson Young, broadcasts were made of this and others, in the tradition of medieval Mystery Plays, all written and devised by Walke and performed by the people of St Hilary. Bethlehem went on the air for the first time on 22 December 1926.

It was a milestone in regional broadcasting. Reith took the unusual step of telephoning the vicarage at St Hilary afterwards to say that he had been listening with Ramsay MacDonald (leader of the Labour party) and that both had been deeply moved. This was in the early days of broadcasting and Walke was able to put over a lot of Catholic teaching as listeners all over the country were charmed by these Cornish voices proclaiming Christ’s life. These became a feature of broadcasting in the 1920s and 30s, but unfortunately there had to be a tragic end.

The fame of St Hilary drew a nasty reaction. Various people with a grudge were determined to destroy this beautiful little shrine to Catholic devotion in Cornwall, where his wife and their artistic friends had painted murals and altarpieces and pictures. Complaints were made, court action taken, and finally the Protestant element broke into the church with axes, crowbars and hammers, smashing and defiling everything they could lay their hands on. Walke was only just able to retrieve the Blessed Sacrament and take it to his home to prevent the ultimate sacrilege. This was in 1932 and he was absolutely shattered.

Walke described these events in his memoir, Twenty Years at St Hilary, published originally in 1935. It is a tribute to its value that it now has a third re-issue, putting it in the category of a classic. Michael Farrer, President of the Anglo-Catholic History Society, writes that "it is the autobiographical memoir of a remarkable and fascinating priest, who began as a curate at Polruan near Fowey and moved to St Hilary, Marazion, near Penzance in 1912. He wrote this memoir while in a sanatorium, being treated for tuberculosis. He shows no real bitterness in his book, and through all his struggles, he comes over as a happy man. One is left with the sense of a character it would have been a delight to have known."

The Royal Cornwall Museum's collection includes work by Cornish artists and artists living in Cornwall, particularly from the Newlyn and St Ives Schools. These include large works by Annie Walke.


Jack Clemo - The Broadening Spring.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Proverbial wisdom

A proverb is a succinct and memorable statement containing advice, a warning, a prediction or an analytical observation. King Solomon is credited in the Bible with writing an entire book of Proverbs based on the wisdom that God gave him through his experience of life.

1 Kings 4. 32-34 tells us that:

“God gave Solomon wisdom—the deepest of understanding and the largest of hearts. There was nothing beyond him, nothing he couldn't handle. Solomon's wisdom outclassed the vaunted wisdom of wise men of the East, outshone the famous wisdom of Egypt. He was wiser than anyone—wiser than Ethan the Ezrahite, wiser than Heman, wiser than Calcol and Darda the sons of Mahol. He became famous among all the surrounding nations. He created 3,000 proverbs; his songs added up to 1,005. He knew all about plants, from the huge cedar that grows in Lebanon to the tiny hyssop that grows in the cracks of a wall. He understood everything about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. Sent by kings from all over the earth who had heard of his reputation, people came from far and near to listen to the wisdom of Solomon.”

Solomon’s reputation rested not only on his own brilliance but also his patronage of learning and the arts. The Queen of Sheba, who visited him because of his reputation for wisdom, was just one of a stream of visitors who poured into Israel to hear him and put him to the test, and from whom he learned as well. He and his wise men culled the wisdom of the east, but incorporated nothing that was not in line with God’s standards.

The book of Proverbs begins by setting out what wisdom is for:

“These are the wise sayings of Solomon,
David's son, Israel's king—
Written down so we'll know how to live well and right,
to understand what life means and where it's going;
A manual for living,
for learning what's right and just and fair;
To teach the inexperienced the ropes
and give our young people a grasp on reality.
There's something here also for seasoned men and women,
still a thing or two for the experienced to learn—
Fresh wisdom to probe and penetrate,
the rhymes and reasons of wise men and women.”

Wisdom, in the Old Testament, tends to be the voice of reflection and experience, rather than of bare command or preaching. Through Wisdom, we are persuaded, even teased, into seeing a connection between God’s order in the world and his orders to human beings. That includes the absurdity or foolishness of going against the grain of God’s creation.

Then Proverbs gives us the key to wisdom. “Start with God,” it says, “the first step in learning is bowing down to God; only fools thumb their noses at such wisdom and learning.” Or in other translations, “the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.”

The ‘fear of God’ is the starting point of Proverbs and the pivot of all Wisdom literature in the Bible. Secular philosophy tends to measure everything by human beings, and comes to doubt whether wisdom is to be found at all. But the Old Testament with this motto – ‘the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom’ – turns the world the right way up, with God at its head, his wisdom the creative and ordering principle that runs through every part; and human beings, disciplined and taught by that wisdom, finding life and fulfilment in his perfect will. Knowledge in its full sense is a relationship with God, dependent or revelation or wisdom and inseparable from character or discipline.

So how can be we best use the proverbs and wisdom that we are given in the Bible? It is important to bear in mind that proverbs are by nature generalisations. They state what is generally true, not invariably true. The writers do not deny that there are exceptions. But exceptions are not within the scope of proverbial sayings. For instance, Proverbs states that those who live by God’s standards will prosper in the world. This is generally the truth (and we have statistical evidence today about the health and general well-being of churchgoers to back this up). But it is not an ‘unconditional’ promise, as the example of Job and the life of Jesus clearly show us.

So, these proverbs are not a set of commands or laws that must be followed to the letter in order that we benefit from wisdom. Instead, they are given to persuade us or tease us into seeing a connection between God’s order in the world and his orders to human beings. The style of the proverbs is to provoke thought, getting under the skin by thrusts of wit, paradox, common sense, and teasing symbolism. They are a bit like the parables of Jesus, something to make us think about life rather than being a set of clear and simple instructions to follow.

As a result, it is good to digest or study them a few saying at a time, weighing one saying against another and getting an idea of the general teaching on a particular topic. One resource that I have which helps in doing this is a calendar which has a different proverb for each day together with a very brief relational reflection on that day’s proverb. This calendar is also available as a screensaver for your computer, so could be downloaded to your pc at work as a reminder to you and your work colleagues of God’s values in public and private life.

That brings me on to another aspect of these proverbs that they are for the whole of life. There is no separation of the public and private or the sacred and the secular when it comes to the proverbs and wisdom in the Bible. Proverbs applies the principles of God’s teaching to: relationships, home, work, justice, decisions, attitudes, reactions, everything we do and say and think.

Proverbs 1. 20-21 says:

“Wisdom goes out in the street and shouts.
At the town centre she makes her speech.
In the middle of the traffic she takes her stand.
At the busiest corner she calls out.”

This open proclamation, made above the noise of the market, shows that the offer of wisdom is for the person in the street, it is for the business of living. So, for the Bible’s wisdom to really make sense we have to take and use it in everyday life; to apply to our Monday to Saturday lives rather than keeping it bottled up on Sundays alone. As Amy Carmichael prayed, “Holy Spirit, think through me till your ideas are my ideas.”

Lord Jesus, who as a child did learn and grow in wisdom: enable us to learn from your Word in such a way that we will walk in your ways and daily grow more like you, who are our Saviour and our Lord. Amen.

(Use made of material from The Lion Handbook to the Bible)


Leigh Nash & Jars of Clay - With Every Breath.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Eden Project & Lost Gardens of Heligan



Eden Project

Eden Project

Eden Project


Show of Hands - The Flood.

Windows on the world: Cornwall

Tintagel Castle

Tintagel Village

Eden Project



Blessid Union of Souls - Light In Your Eyes.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Airbrushed from Art History (11)

So far in this series of posts we have examined the circles of artists and influence which formed around Maurice Denis, Jacques Maritain, and Albert Gleizes, each in turn making a distinctive contribution both to the development of Modern Art and of the French Catholic Revival. Before examining the final circle of influence which affected both movements, that which formed around the Dominican Friars Couturier and Régamy, we turn to a quest which linked artists involved in the three circles of influence we have explored to date.

That quest was for an objective, scientific approach to art. This search began with Georges Seurat, who was widely believed to have developed a scientifically based understanding of colour known as Neo-impressionism or Pointillism in conjunction with the mathematician Charles Henry. This style spread across Europe with the Italian Divisionists becoming strong proponents and paving the way for the development of Futurism.

Peter Brooke, writing in the ‘Afterword’ to The Aesthetic of Beuron and other writings, notes that Paul Sérusier, a member of the circle around Denis, was “dissatisfied with Seurat’s solution, mainly because he felt it did not offer an adequate account of form in painting.” Sérusier found the science he was seeking in the work and writing of Benedictine monk Desiderius Lenz:

“who as painter and sculptor in the late nineteenth century anticipated many of the ideas associated with twentieth-century art – the rejection of naturalism and perspective and an insistence on ‘abstract’, geometrically based principles for painting. The artistic school he founded in his monastery at Beuron in Southern Germany had a great influence on ecclesiastical art and gained admirers among the European avant-garde, including Alexei Jawlensky, Alphonse Mucha and Paul Sérusier.”

Dutch artist, Jan Verkade had joined the circle of Denis and Sérusier, the Nabis, on
his arrival in Paris in 1891. He studied with Sérusier in Brittany where he converted to Roman Catholicism. After time spent in Italy, Verkade “joined the Beuron monastery as an artist-oblate in 1894.” He “worked under Lenz on St Gabriel’s in Prague in 1895 and on the refectory in Beuron in 1897” before becoming a priest in 1902. Sérusier and Denis were introduced to the Beuron School by Verkade. Sérusier visited Lenz in Prague in 1895 and becoming Lenz’s champion in France publishing his translation of Lenz’s essay The Aesthetic of Beuron in 1905 (with an introduction by Denis), on, as Brooke notes, the eve of Cubism.

Sérusier claimed to have been ‘the father of Cubism’, a remark which has generally been treated as far-fetched, but which, Brooke suggests, is understandable in the light of Lenz’s essay:

“Sérusier (and Lenz) pose the problem of form in painting. They believe it is a problem to be tackled objectively. Which is to say that the characteristics of form (straight line, curve, circle etc) interact with the human sensibility in a way that is predictable, almost, one might say, measurable ... Particular importance is attached to the most elementary geometrical figures (square, triangle and circle), to elementary symmetry and to the Golden Section.”

Brooke notes that “all these characteristics are clearly relevant to the general history of Cubism” and that when Sérusier’s later book ABC de la Peinture (setting out ideas which are very similar to those of Lenz) was published in 1921, it was “quite clearly part of the same intellectual world” as Gino Severini’s Du Cubisme au Classicisme (also published in 1921), Albert Gleizes’ Du Cubisme et les moyens de la comprehendre (1920) and La Peinture et ses Lois (1922 or 23), “and the arguments constantly repeated in [Amédée] Ozenfant and [Charles Edouard] Jeanneret’s publication L’Esprit Nouveau.” He concludes that “it would be very easy to see Sérusier as the father of the Cubism of the 1920s, or at least as the oldest participant in that particular debate.”

Brooke writes, in his introduction to Du Cubisme au Classicisme and La Peinture et ses Lois, that:

“Both Severini and Gleizes ... believed that there were objective principles behind the act of painting analogous to the laws of musical harmony; that these had been lost or had become obscured; and that Cubism was an attempt to recover them. Both were responding to one of the most dramatic moments in the history of modern painting – the moment when Cubism seemed to be losing its impetus, to be yielding the ground to other ideas.”

Severini had “turned to a numerically/geometrically based figurative painting, arguing that painting had been discovered as a science at the time of the Renaissance and that this was a progress which could not be negated by a return to the Egyptian or the Romanesque.” Severini writes in his autobiography The Life of a Painter that “many artists liked to discuss geometry and mathematics” but that he found their discussions insufficient thinking “that artists should apply, and would benefit from, strictly observed rules of geometry and mathematics which had value “beyond their constructive value” through “something strictly innate to artistic creativity.”
Severini writes that he “glimpsed the path leading to the infinite, towards absolute purity, superhuman poetry and perfect harmony, in numbers”:

“In fact, somewhere beyond a painting, a statue, a poem or a symphony, lies the art and poetry contained therein. Poetry and art belong to a profound stratum of being, common to all forms of expression, and therein is the pure source that animates everything, holds everything together, that is, the artist to the universe, the work to the cosmos, the individual to the collective soul; the measurement of all this is in numbers. This accounts for its metaphysical value, beyond human values ...”

Severini “confirmed that clear and precise rules had dominated artistic creativity in ancient times” and saw that there was, therefore, “a whole metier to be restored”, a vocation was being ignored by the academies and that only some of the artists of his generation had envisaged. Of these he specifically mentioned Denis and his references to such laws in the book Théories where he writes of the Beuron School. Severini had also read The Aesthetics of Beuron and noted that their aesthetic could be summarized in these few lines: “The simple, the clear, the typical, whose roots are in numbers and the simplest of measurements, remains the basis of all art, and measuring, counting, weighing are its most important functions. The aim of all great art is the transmission, the characteristic application of fundamental geometrical, arithmetical, symbolic forms, originating in Nature, to serve great ideas.”

Brooke notes that “soon after writing Du Cubisme au Classicisme, Severini entered into relations with the Roman Catholic Church, initially in the person of Jacques Maritain, the Thomist philosopher who had a particular talent for presenting Roman Catholic doctrine in such a way as to appeal to the intellectuals of the cultural avant garde.” Severini wrote of Maritain’s Art and Scholasticism that he “was amazed at the extent to which it agreed with the most modern goals, and at the profound sense of freedom, from what supreme heights of intelligence, the author could observe, put in order, and clarify, everything related to art.” Maritain recommended Severini for commissions as a mural painter for churches in Switzerland and Severini went on to become particularly successful at obtaining commissions for the painting of religious works.

Brooke also writes that:

“Gleizes had converted in 1918 to a belief in God which he expressed in terms of the Christian and Roman Catholic tradition, though he initially made little effort to enter into contact with the church itself ... He took the view, which he expresses in La Peinture et ses Lois, that Christianity had manifested what was great in it in the period we now characterise as the ‘Dark Ages’, from around the fifth to the twelfth centuries, in Western Europe ... But, from the twelfth century, this Christianity, which had given rise to the art we call ‘Romanesque’, is in decline. The early Renaissance – the period Severini has indicated as the moment when painting became known as a precise science – is a symptom of this decline. Thomism – the basis of Maritain’s philosophy – is another. In this period, an understanding orientated towards time (immeasurable, immaterial, of the nature of consciousness) gave way to an implicitly materialist understanding based on space. In other words the quality that had been possessed in the early period was precisely the quality which had been rediscovered in Cubism. To go back to the Renaissance as Severini was proposing was to deny what was essential and truly (indeed, literally) revolutionary in the Cubist achievement ...

La Peinture et ses Lois represents the moment when Gleizes began to see [this argument] clearly, very probably in reaction to Severini’s book.”

Brooke notes that:

“In opposition to Thomas Aquinas, Gleizes saw Augustine as the philosopher of the Benedictine spirit ... In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, the conflict Gleizes saw between this Augustinian spirit and the Thomist spirit took the very acute form of a public quarrel between Gleizes and Fr Pie-Raymond Régamey, a Dominican, director of the journal Art Sacré, and leading champion of the efforts to engage leading modern artists in the service of the Church ... Régamey’s hostility to the influence of Gleizes was an extension of the hostility he already felt towards the influence of the School of Beuron. And ... it was a matter of principle.”

Thomism, Brooke argues, “draws a sharp distinction between the ‘natural’ and the ‘supernatural’, and argues that there is no passage between them.” For the Thomist, humanity “lies wholly within the sphere of the natural” where the “highest faculty is reason, and reason cannot aspire to the supernatural, which can only be known by revelation.” Therefore, for the Thomist, it is impossible “that an artist should come to a knowledge of the divine through the practise of his craft.”

However, “in the early Christian writings of Augustine admired by Lenz and Gleizes ... continuity [between the human and the Divine] is stressed [by means of the spirit, the ‘noetic’ faculty, which is the means by which we enter into union with the Divine and the ‘supernatural’ becomes included in human nature in all its fullness], and the manipulation of numbers – the business of the poet, the musician, or the artist – is presented as part of it.”

Brooke, although a promoter of the issues and ideas that preoccupied Lenz, Sérusier, Severini and Gleizes, is not unaware of the weaknesses in their arguments. Each insists that “there are objective laws that are appropriate to liturgical art”, each insists that “they have found these laws, or at least elements of them” but “their laws are different” and none “succeeded in compelling those around them to accept their findings.”

So while Sérusier, Severini and Gleizes were each at the forefront of a Modern Art movement – Post-Impressionism, Futurism, and Cubism – and in their explorations of geometrical and mathematical rules for art were engaging in current debates and teasing out the implications of Cubism in particular, eventually their practises and arguments became more about theology and liturgy than the continuing development of Modern Art and the balance that was held initially between faith and art became subsumed by faith. The result was that Modern Art developed in alternative directions through different movements and the work undertaken by these artists and those around them has been overlooked, dismissed or treated as a footnote to their earlier work.


Francis Poulenc - Ave Verum Corpus.