Wikio - Top Blogs - Religion and belief

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Dialogue with my Maker

Painter, Sarah Kelly Paine, drew on her illustration roots and her passion for colour, patterns, the beauty of creation and the great wealth of stories from the Bible for her exhibition Dialogue with my Maker which has just finished at St Martin in the Fields.


Leon Russell - Stranger In A Strange Land.

Hope for a resurrected future

St Paul was someone who prayed continually (I have not stopped giving thanks for you, he says in Ephesians 1. 17). In other letters he says to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5.17), that in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving we should let our requests be made known to God (Philippians 4.6) and encourages us to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Ephesians 6.18). Paul was, it seems, in an ongoing conversation with God in which he prayed through his emotions and his everyday encounters. So there is much that we can learn from his prayers.

In this prayer (Ephesians 1. 11-end) he prays first that God the Father will give the Holy Spirit to the Church at Ephesus. He has already said (in verse 14) that all Christians receive the Holy Spirit in their lives as a mark of God’s ownership on their lives. So he is not praying here for the Holy Spirit to be given for the first but, instead, for more of the Spirit to be released in our lives. Later in this letter he urges the Ephesians, instead of getting drunk on wine, to go on being filled with the Spirit.

He is praying for an ever deepening experience of the Spirit because it is the Spirit who takes us deeper into God. The Holy Spirit brings wisdom and revelation about God; as Jesus said, the Spirit teaches us everything revealing the truth about God and reminding us of all that he told his disciples (John 14. 17 & 26). As Paul prayed, we too need to constantly ask for more of the Spirit in order that we know more of God.

We need to recognise however that this is experiential as well as intellectual. The Spirit reveals the character of God to us, not just facts and information about God, in order that that same character begins to be expressed in the way we live our lives. This is real knowing, not head knowledge but heart knowledge. When we have such knowledge then we can cope during the hard times, such as bereavement, when we don’t know how or what to pray or when our prayer can only be questions or accusations towards God.

Paul acknowledges that these times come; that there are times when we find it hard to pray. We do not know how to pray, he writes to the Church in Rome (Romans 8. 26) but in those times the Holy Spirit himself comes to help us by pleading with God for us in groans that words cannot express. We are often quite restrained in our relationship with God and in our praying. Therefore, we will often praise God and say that we will obey or follow him but we rarely argue, protest, complain or question him, at least not publicly. Yet here Paul is saying that the Holy Spirit wishes to help us express our deepest feelings – the groans that words cannot express - to God. Doing so is part of our coming to know God more deeply.

As we do so, we come to see, and be captivated by, the hope for the future that God is working out in the world through Jesus and the Church. Jesus’ resurrection is a foretaste of what will happen to all of us and this world that we inhabit. Like Jesus, we will be resurrected into a future where there will be no more death, no more grief or crying or pain (Revelation 21. 4) and this future will be lived out on a newly transformed earth which has been united with heaven. This is a future in which the rule of God is over all and the character of God expressed in and through all. A future for the world and humanity as we were originally intended to be before our sin marred God’s creation.

This is the hope to which we and all who have gone before can look forward. This is the hope to which Paul prays that our hearts and minds will be opened so that we see how rich are the wonderful blessings God promises his people and how very great is his power at work in those who believe.

As this hope takes us captive, we can play our part in moving humanity and the world towards this resurrected future. God’s power to bring about this resurrection future can be at work in us too. We have been chosen to be in union with Christ, people living under his rule and revealing his character in the world. This is what it means for us to be saints and to live as saints. By living as little Christs, which is what the word ‘Christian’ actually means, we reveal him to others and draw others into this hope for resurrected future. God chose us to be his own people (his saints) in union with Christ because of this purpose, based on what he had decided from the very beginning. We are, therefore, Christ’s body in our world, the completion of him who himself completes all things everywhere.

Let us then, Paul writes, praise God’s glory. We have a guarantee in the gift to us of the Holy Spirit that we shall receive what God has promised his people. Our groans will be heard, our lives transformed, and our future assured.

Billy Preston - That's The Way God Planned It.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Ai Weiwei and Gauguin

Ai Weiwei is a Chinese artist, curator, architectural designer, social commentator, and activist. His Sunflower Seeds installation in the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern is made up of millions of small works, each apparently identical, but actually unique. Each seed has been individually sculpted and painted by specialists working in small-scale workshops in the Chinese city of Jingdezhen. Porcelain is almost synonymous with China and, to make this work, Ai Weiwei has manipulated traditional methods of crafting what has historically been one of China’s most prized exports.

Juliet Bingham, Curator, Tate Modern says: "Ai Weiwei's Unilever Series commission, Sunflower Seeds, is a beautiful, poignant and thought-provoking sculpture. The thinking behind the work lies in far more than just the idea of walking on it. The precious nature of the material, the effort of production and the narrative and personal content create a powerful commentary on the human condition. Sunflower Seeds is a vast sculpture that visitors can contemplate at close range on Level 1 or look upon from the Turbine Hall bridge above. Each piece is a part of the whole, a commentary on the relationship between the individual and the masses. The work continues to pose challenging questions: What does it mean to be an individual in today's society? Are we insignificant or powerless unless we act together? What do our increasing desires, materialism and number mean for society, the environment and the future?"

William S. Rubin writing in 1961 noted that Catholic critics were retroactively citing Paul Gauguin as an important precusor of the revival of sacred art. Rubin thought this inappropriate as, although Gauguin made a number of paintings with manifestly religious subject matter (many of which are included in Tate Modern's current Gauguin exhibition), they were conceived from the point of view of the nonbeliever. There are many paradoxes and ironies surrounding Gauguin's sacred themes, as they are catagorized in the Tate exhibition, some of which are noted in the exhibition guide.

Firstly, in his conversation and writings, Gauguin presented himself as fiercely opposed to the Christian Church. Nonetheless, his art was pervaded by religious themes and imagery, frequently drawing upon the Old and New Testaments for source material as well as the myths and belief systems of other cultures. Gauguin began to address sacred themes when he was working in Brittany, possibly influenced by the Catholic artist Emile Bernard. Among the distinctive qualities of the region that he wanted to capture was its deeply ingrained Catholic faith. The Vision of the Sermon (Jacob Wrestling with the Angel) 1888 powerfully conveys the faith of the women experiencing the vision through Gauguin's painting style, with clearly defined outlines and bold colouring that resembles stained glass (an approach known as 'Cloisonism' after a medieval technique for decorative enamel work) which means that the painting cannot be experienced simply as a quasi-anthropological study.

Secondly, Gauguin often paints Christ as having his own features in order to suggest that he has experienced suffering and betrayal at the hands of critics and artists that is in some fashion synonymous to the suffering of Christ. While there is undoubted arrogance and challenge in this stylistic technique, the genuine emotion that it calls up in Gauguin and which he translates onto canvas genuinely offer insight into the Agony in the Garden.

Finally, Gauguin was bitterly disappointed to discover on arrival in Tahiti that missionaries had been successfully converting the islanders to Christianity for more than a century, leaving little trace of the old traditions. He set about reconstructing the lost myths in his art, devising imaginative references to deities such as Hina, the goddess of the moon, and Tefatu, the god of the earth. He carved his own wooden idols and included them in his paintings, in which they resemble time-worn artefacts. In his art, at least, the Tate guide argues, ancient myth becomes part of everyday Tahitian life. However, the reality that ancient myth was not actually part of everyday Tahitian life lends these paintings an air of unreal ideality which differs from the real force and power of the Catholic faith which he depicted in Brittany.

As such, Gauguin's paintings with Christian subject matter continue to excite and inspire artists working with such themes, dspite Rubin's reservations.   


Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Airbrushed from Art History (18)

In both Ireland and Malta the introduction of modern art was led by artists seeking to express their Christian faith through their art.

Marianne Hartigan, writing in When Time Began To Rant and Rage, says that Mainie Jellett and Evie Hone are often “credited with having introduced modernism into Irish art” and that there is “no doubt that their work, and particularly that of Mainie Jellettt, stretched the boundaries of Ireland’s perceptions of art.”

Under the tuition of Albert Gleizes, Jellett and Hone “created paintings that dispensed with subject matter and perspective and relied purely on line and color.” Mainie Jellett’s aim was:

“To delve deeply into the inner rhythms and construction of natural forms to create on their pattern, to make a work of art a natural creation complete in itself like a flower or any natural organism, based on the eternal laws of harmony, balance and ordered movement (rhythm). We sought the inner principle and not the outward appearance.”

“Jellett and Hone were swimming against the tide in exhibiting abstract works in an Ireland dominated, in the 1920s, by academic realism. A critic wrote of Mainie Jellett’s work exhibited in the Dublin Painter’s Exhibition in 1923: “I fear I did not in the least understand her two paintings. They are in squares, cubes, odd shapes and clashing colors. They may to the man who understands … modern art mean something but to me they presented an insoluble puzzle.””

From the mid 1930s onwards Hone’s “own inspiration took over and she abandoned the Cubist influence for a more personal interpretation of her subject matter” working, from 1933, in the Irish stained glass studios An Tur Gloine, where “her earlier abstract work helped her create a newly simplified style of stained glass where superfluous detail was removed and pure colors and shapes soared.”

“Mainie Jellett meanwhile remained dedicated to new principles in art and determined upon her methodical voyage of discovery. A deeply religious person, in the late 1920s and 1930s she introduced semi-abstract figures and strongly religious themes, moving away from the initial austerity of her earliest works by incorporating a wider range of color.”

“Slowly – partly prompted by Mainie Jellett’s endeavors to educate the wider public in modern art through lectures, exhibitions, radio broadcasts, and later by the establishment of the Irish exhibition of Living Art – the walls of prejudice against modern art in Ireland came down. In 1938 Evie Hone was commissioned to design windows for the Irish Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair; later her designs for a new window at Eton College brought her international recognition. In 1938 and 1939 Mainie Jellett was asked to represent Ireland in the World’s Fairs in Glasgow and New York. Of these critical breakthroughs Thomas McGreevy, then Director of the National Gallery in Ireland, later wrote, “It would seem incontrovertible historical fact that Evie Hone and Mainie Jellett jointly were the first Irish artists not merely to study but fully to master and then to introduce into the practice of painting in Ireland the principle and idiom of the modern French approach to the painter’s problem …””

The late thirties also proved to be of extraordinary importance for Maltese painting. Peter Serracino Inglott has written, in both Malta: Six Modern Artists and Sacred Art in Malta 1890 – 1960, of the “galaxy of extremely talented young men”, including Anton Inglott, Willie Apap, Emvin Cremona, Giorgio Preca, Carmela Borg-Pisani, Esprit Barthet, Victor Diacono, and Josef Kalleya, who “first broke out, in their several different ways, of the provincial cocoon in which they were born and bred; and then how they contributed, again each in his own quite distinct way, to the construction of a new cultural context …”

Inglott considers Kalleya, “the most deeply religious, as well as perhaps the most original” of this group. Dominic Cutajar has written of the way in which Kalleya, on his return to Malta from study in Italy, threw himself whole-heartedly into organising art-groups and societies. The first was Accademia di Bella Arti which Kalleya believed “proved the germ-society (società mamma) for similar endeavours in the Maltese art-scene.” This group was later refounded as Studio Artistico Industriale Maltese d’Arte Sacra which ran “study sessions attended by most of the Maltese young artists of the time.”

“Actual recognition of his artistic pre-eminence came rather late to this innovative Maltese artist. His art began to be taken seriously and commented upon only from the 1950s onwards.” Cutajar argues that “Kalleya’s steadfast holding to his artistic vision, in spite of the unpopularity it entailed him, contributed in paving the way for the triumph of modern artistic sensibility in our country.” He asks how Kalleya grew up to be “an artistic ‘rebel’ in the intolerant Maltese setting of his time” and concludes that the “particularity of Kalleya’s vision had two independent sources”:

“The principal one is his own wide and generous spiritual experience, for his entire artistic personality stems from an inner hot, bubbling torrent of spirituality, without a clear insight of which no real understanding of Kalleya’s art is possible at all. The second source is his own experience of contemporary art, mostly gained in Rome in the years running from 1930 to 1934; in truth, it was neither vast nor even systematic, but it did prove an important determinative factor to the development of his art.”

In his old age, Kalleya had the satisfaction “of enjoying the esteem and respect of the younger generation of artists and art-critics”, all whom recognised the value of his lone struggle. In 1978 Kalleya received a Gold Medal for his services to Art from Prof. J. Acquilina, President of the Malta College of Arts Manufacture and Commerce and, in 1990, a Crucifix by Kalleya was presented by the President of Malta to Pope John Paul II during his visit to the island.

Among those who have also infused modernism with spirituality was Emvin Cremona who created “chromatic sprees and feasts for the eye” with his Church commissions. However, Inglott suggests that, while he “did not fail to display imagination and tact in artistic work ranging from abstractions in broken glass to postage stamps and street decorations, his numerous essays in church painting resulted in repeated compromises between his creative flair and popular taste, always bathed in an atmosphere of quasi pre-Raphaelite spirituality.”

Dennis Vella notes, in Antoine Camilleri: Pictures in Clay, that study abroad in Paris and Bath enabled Camilleri “to witness, at first hand, the latest developments in Continental and American art, which, together with his colleagues in the Modern Art Group, the Artist’s Guild and Atelier ’56, he would be instrumental in grafting into Maltese art.” As such, and as Emanuel Fiorentino writes, “much more than the average artist of his generation, Antoine Camilleri has given great attention to experimentation in his art” raising “the use of objets trouves almost to a cult.” A vital aspect in the art of Camilleri is an authentic religious spirit which dominates much of his work and which at times transforms objects, in their everyday context normally inconsequential, into purely Christian iconographic terms.” Inglott writes that “like Kalleya, despite the prophetic ardour with which he proclaims his Christian conviction of the triumph of life through the experience of suffering and compassion, there is a basic gentleness and a family feeling in his images …”

Frank Portelli, like Camilleri, was another who, after study abroad, returned to Malta and joined the Modern Art Group. He developed of form of cubism, first seen in the narrative painting La Vie, which he called ‘crystallised cubism.’ Kenneth Wain describes this as “a cubism of planes not volumes”; “prismatic effects which the artist sought to obtain through the subtle use of finely graded and translucent colour tones which produces a glazed effect.” The evolution of this technique owed something to Portelli’s “long enduring fascination with the optical and light effects of stained glass.” Wain notes that each of Portelli’s projects show painstaking research including the “extremely original” altar in 1984 for the parish church of Marsascala or “the interior design of virtually a whole church, as was the case with the sanctuary of St Theresa, in B’Kara.”

Iona - Edge of the World.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Windows on the world (125)

London, 2010


Mavis Staples - Only The Lord Knows.

Spirituality, creativity and the Arts (2)

Last Saturday I was involved in '... hearts and hands and voices...’, this year’s Exploring Spirituality Day in the Diocese of St Albans.

Revd. Nicholas Cranfield, Vicar of All Saints' Blackheath and Arts Correspondent for the Church Times, was the keynote speaker. He spoke about the significance of shaping sacred space in churches, as much for those who are secular but visit churches, as for those who do share the Christian tradition. Symbols, in particular, mark out sacred space; as with the Christ in Majesty seen at St Andrew's Bedford, where we were meeting. He noted the various extremes within the Church in relation to this issue from the Iconostasis' of Orthodox Churches to the boarded up stained glass of Anglican churches in the Diocese of Sydney but outlined a Biblical basis for the Christian visual tradition beginning with Bezalel and his fellow workers who were filled with the Spirit for their artistic design work through to Christ as the visible image of the invisible God.

In the workshop which I led, we explored connections between the Psalms and popular song. Statements on different aspects of the Psalms made by Dennis Potter, Nick Cave and Bono were illustrated with songs from Stacie Orrico, Evanescence and the Black Eyed Peas. Discussion of these statements and songs led on to workshop participants beginning to write their own contemporary psalms.        

This was my second year of leading workshops at the Exploring Spirituality Day and on both occasions those attending have been particularly enthusiastic and engaged.

Alan Stewart, Vicar of St Andrew's Hertford, who is one of the Exploring Spirituality Day organisers has an exhibition at St Mary's Hertingfordbury on Friday 19th and Saturday 20th November. The exhibition will feature striking charcoals and vibrant oils.


Black Eyed Peas - Where Is The Love?

Friday, 22 October 2010

Commission: contemporary art in British churches

Much has been written about the ground-breaking efforts of twentieth century church art patronage, including the work of Marie-Alain Couturier and Pie-Raymond Régamey in France and George Bell and Walter Hussey in England. However much of this narrative, in the UK at least, peters out after the inauguration of Coventry Cathedral some fifty years ago. Commission, the current exhibition at the Wallspace Gallery, and the Art + Christianity Enquiry monograph Contemporary Art in British Churches seek to bring that story up-to-date.

Artists featured in Commission include Tracey Emin, Henry Moore, Craigie Aitchison, Mark Cazalet, Stephen Cox, Chris Gollon, Shirazeh Houshiary, Iain McKillop, Rona Smith and Alison Watt. The exhibition shows a key work by each artist together with installation photographs, drawings, maquettes and other documentation of the commissioned pieces.

The central argument of Contemporary Art in British Churches is that we are witnessing something of a renaissance of commissioned art for churches and cathedrals in this country. Paul Bayley argues that this upsurge of commissioning from the church sees many significant contemporary artists, such as those featured in Commission, creating art for church spaces. The approach underpinning this upsurge is, therefore, synonymous with that of Couturier and Régamey who argued that "each generation must appeal to the masters of living art, and today those masters come first from secular art."

Alan Green has provided a theological underpinning to this approach in the collaborative book by Chris Gollon and Sara Maitland based on Gollon's Stations of the Cross at St John on Bethnal Green; a commission which features in both the exhibition and monograph. In his Afterword Green points out that "Jesus was not afraid to associate with, and be looked after by, those who were not seen as good Jews ... Those who approached Jesus and seem to have got the best responses from him were not the religious elite, but those with no particular religious standing who nevertheless recognised something special in him and presented themselves honestly." As a result, he says "it seemed important to share this project with an artist who could come at the themes without the perspective of a shared faith." Maitland concurs saying, "I have come to think that there are real advantages, when working on themes about the Incarnation, in having an artist who is not an active Christian or, try as we will, the "God-bits" creep back in."

Maitland contrasts Gollon's powerful images with "the innumerable images of a rather soppy-looking Jesus, tidily and gracefully - if non-anatomically - pinned to his cross with not a wrinkle of pain on his forehead." Bayley too sets up a similar opposition between the significant contemporary artists participating in this upsurge of commissioning from the church and "self-styled 'Christian art' that though sincere and well-intentioned" is "often formulaic or decorative" and (tellingly) has "little or no standing within the art world."

There would seem to be here a danger of exchanging a religious elite for an artistic elite - the "loose amalgam of artists, curators, public and private galleries, art consultants and publishers" who, as Bayley notes, increasingly inhabit their own architecture, develop their own hierarchies and language, and expand the borders of their own ecosystem that to the outsider, and many an insider, can be opaque and excluding.

Although this reality is noted in the monograph, many of the criteria used to praise significant contemporary artists and dismiss self-styled 'Christian art' are drawn directly from this artistic elite. Contemporary art, for example, is viewed as 'challenging' and 'difficult' and is therefore a "critical dissenting activity" which changes the way we view the world as opposed to a lot of art commissioned for churches which reinforces the context, being decorative rather than transformative. However, the crowds which throng Tate Modern and other contemporary art galleries have been seen by some as evidence that contemporary art is 'populist' and 'easily understandable.' Conceptual art, it can be argued, is simply the illustration of ideas and once the concept has been grasped there is little left to contemplate. There are also legitimate questions that can be asked about the engagement of the art establishment in capitalism and of the extent to which spirituality in the arts provides a veneer for consumerism. These perspectives seem to rarely be heard within the arts world, and don't feature within this monograph, but dissenting voices should be heard if only to ensure that the current arts establishment does not become complacent.

Generalised and stereotypical oppositions of "significant contemporary artists" and "self-styled" Christian artists have always been characteristic of those who have argued for contemporary art in preference to earlier styles, whether the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood or Couturier and Régamey. What changes in these arguments is often simply the object of attack, as the previously avant-garde becomes passé. In contrast to such generalisations, what always truly counts in the visual arts is a sustained and contemplative viewing of works themselves which will realise depth of composition and insight within both the best of what is currently considered contemporary and what is currently considered traditional. This, to my mind, has been one of the strengths of the Wallspace Gallery with its embrace of, for example, conceptual, iconographic and visionary art.

There is a second exclusionary issue with a sole or primary focus on "significant contemporary artists" in church commissions which is that of cost. Much of the upsurge in church commissions of such artists has been publicly funded and Bayley notes that "in the wake of the credit crunch and public spending cuts the new austerity will slow the recent surge of Church commissioning." While the monograph contains some examples of local churches engaging with "the whole twenty-first century apparatus of arts consultants, planning stages and public consultations," such engagement is more suited to and more viable for Cathedrals and City centre churches. Local churches can therefore either feel excluded from or simply not consider the possibility of commissioning contemporary art.

If such churches are to be included in the upsurge of church commissions then they are likely of necessity, for reasons of access and cost, to engage with a different grouping of artists who will predominantly be those with local/regional, as opposed to national/interational, reputations. Generalised oppositions, such as that made by Bayley, are likely to discourage and depress such engagement because of the sense communicated of such commissions being second-rate. However where local churches genuinely take a sustained and contemplative look at the work of such artists creative commissions can result despite the absence of perceived 'significant' contemporary artists.

It is my experience, through commission4mission, that there are significant numbers of contemporary artists who are engaging with both faith and art yet who do not feel included by or engaged by the existing faith and art organisations and therefore lack networks for encouragement, debate, and connection to commissioning churches. It is also my experience, again through commission4mission, that the issues which seem to prevent a widespread involvement of local churches with commissions of contemporary art can be overcome through a different form of engagement to that which underpins the commissions highlighted by the ACE monograph.

I agree with Bayley that there has been a real and exciting upsurge in church commissions which builds on the twentieth century achievements of Couturier and Hussey, among others, and which is well documented by this monograph and Commission. Within this upsurge, I for one, wish to see the active encouragement and development of emerging artists and regional arts networks as another tier of such commissioning and as fertile ground for future creativity. My critique of aspects of the survey found in this monologue comes from this perspective and in this cause.


Duke Special - Portrait.    

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Turning the world upside down

Anish Kapoor's stainless steel sculptures in Kensington Gardens bring the sky down to earth and turn the world upside down. Constructed from highly reflective stainless steel, the giant curved mirror surfaces create illusory distortions of the surroundings and are visible across large distances, creating new vistas in this famous and much-loved setting.

The sculptures are sited to contrast and reflect the changing colours, foliage and weather in Kensington Gardens. Despite their monumental scale, the works appear as pure reflection of their surroundings: the sky, trees, water, wildlife and changing seasons. The distortions in the works’ mirror-like surfaces call into question the viewers’ relationship to both the work itself and the surrounding environment.

Mauro Perucchetti’s work at the Halcyon Gallery unites pop aesthetics with social comment. Perucchetti presents a critique of our society by holding up a mirror to our material desires through his use of materials, including coloured polyurethane resin, gold leaf, Swarovski crystals, and marble, which reflect our obsession with shiny, shallow surfaces. His bejewelled sculptures confidently satirise the work of Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst while challenging consumerism and greed.
Perucchetti's Jelly Baby Family sculpture will soon be installed at Marble Arch as part of the City of Sculpture Festival. This sculpture is part of a body of work inspired by the dilemma between cloning and religious or medical ethics. Perucchetti uses the jelly baby as an impersonation of cloned beings; the ambiguity of their sinister sweetness.
Close by the Halcyon is the Scream Gallery which also currently has a pop art influenced exhibition by Thai artist Pakpoom Silaphan. Silaphan paints Western celebrity icons such as John Lennon, Che Guevara, Andy Warhol and Muhammad Ali in white emulsion on old Coca-Cola, Pepsi or Fanta advertising signs found in Bangkok. As a Buddhist who had a Catholic education, he is interested in the power of advertising and popular culture seeing fashion as today’s opium of the masses and, like religion, as constantly shifting and re-inventing itself.

He says of his work: "The influence of living in a different culture inspires much of my work. I think multicultural societies are as complex as an unfit jigsaw, but offer many opportunities creatively. I like to work with themes from everyday life and popular culture, both for my subject matter and my media as well - newspaper cuttings feature in much of my work in 2D and 3D. I choose subjects by using my basic understanding of similarities between cultural issues and situations in everyday life, which I cannot define as right or wrong but as a conclusion. In terms of the selection of my work, I like to pick and combine subjects that have an inherent ambiguity and which have triviality and feeling in equal measure."

Thea Gilmore - Saviours And All.

Image Update: Terpstra, Rouault and Chagall

There are several items of interest in the latest Image Update.
Firstly: "In Skin Boat: Acts of Faith and Other Navigations, Canadian poet John Terpstra creates a singular apologetic of churchgoing. In a series of short personal meditations (sometimes one page, sometimes one sentence), Terpstra pieces together a mosaic of observations on his life as a churchgoer and the stubbornness of faith. Unlike many who write about the church, Terpstra is not interested in being right: “I have heard everything there is to say about this place, for and against; both its necessity and its redundancy. Have felt it all, in my bones.” But even if Terpstra has heard it all, he has shared something new with the rest of us in Skin Boat, which combines plain speech about the perplexities and delights of churchgoing with invigorating metaphor and an intuitive narrative order. Anchored by stories from the lives of St. Cuthbert and St. Brendan, Terpstra’s meditations range from the briefest epiphanies (“I have thought: perhaps perfection is not required.”) to complex stories that rise from within his church community: a brain surgery undergone by their pastor, and the echoes of a painful scandal that still reverberate through the congregation."

Read Image's web exclusive interview with Terpstra and learn more about his writing process here.

In the light of the Mayborn Museum at Baylor University currently housing two of the greatest masterpieces of modern religious art (Georges Rouault's Miserere and Marc Chagall's Bible series) they have this to say:

"Operating both in and out of the mainstreams of modernist art, these artists manage to retrieve and re-articulate for our time perennial human questions and responses. Rather than produce art that glorifies sensual experience as an end in itself, like the Pre-Raphaelites of the nineteenth century, or that demolishes the image of man in cynical eruptions of the diabolical, like many post-World War I art movements, Rouault (1871-1958) and Chagall (1887-1985) sought to probe the innermost reality of man and the world, interpreting its hidden mystery with a view to the transcendent. For Rouault, this involved exploring the darkest depths of the human soul in order to highlight the redemptive power of suffering. Chagall, by contrast, revealed what awe, exhilaration, and unspeakable happiness come with obedience to God’s law."


Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Aldborough Road South clean-up (2)

Audrey Shorer, myself and Tom Platt (Living Streets) with Council officials and members of the Safer Neighbourhoods Team at the Aldborough Road South clean-up

Cllr Bellwood with a Council Enforcement officer at the clean-up

Redbridge Council's Street Cleansing service were out in force on Aldborough Road South and Cameron Road today at the request of the Seven Kings and Newbury Park Resident's Association. Large amounts of rubbish were removed from front gardens and Seven Kings and Newbury Park Resident's Association members, with the support of Cllr Bellwood, the Fitter for Walking project and the Seven Kings Safer Neighbourhood Team, assisted with litter picking to ensure a full clean-up of the area.

The clean-up was agreed with the Council as one response to the Community Audit of Aldborough Road South undertaken by the Seven Kings and Newbury Park Resident's Association as part of the Fitter for Walking project run by Living Streets. Our Community Audit of Aldborough Road South highlights issues of traffic speeds, pavement parking, damaged paving, renewal of signage, litter, and seating in public areas along Aldborough Road South. We are calling for greater enforcement of the 20mph speed limit; traffic calming measures; a review of parking in the whole area; and additional signage to local amenities. Alongside these requests, we are offering to help fund new public seating and have helped organise today's clean up of the area and are planning a Spring 2011 event to promote pride in the upkeep of front gardens.

Mark Kennedy, Membership Officer for the Seven Kings and Newbury Park Residents Association said, "Our aim has always been to work closely with residents in both the areas we represent, together with community groups, council departments and other independent agencies from time to time to achieve one aim which is to actively to improve the communities we live in. The clean up in Aldborough Road South, Newbury Park is one of our latest initiatives to get our hands dirty to improve the road and area for all resident's benefit. We are always on the look out for new members to join our association as the more members we represent the more we can achieve with people giving us their views and support to make the community a better place to live in for all to enjoy."

Flyleaf - Fully Alive.

Windows on the world (124)

Gants Hill, 2010


After The Fire - Life In The City.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Confirmation Service 2010

Another memorable confirmation service tonight, this year at St Paul's Goodmayes. Bishop David and his assistant chef for the evening, Chris Peck, baked a chocolate cake in the sermon as an illustration of Jesus' story in which the kingdom of God is compared to yeast (or other raising agents such as baking powder). In this story, a little has a significant transformative effect. Bishop David called for the confirmation candidates, and all present, to allow the Holy Spirit to transform us so that we can in turn be transformative agents in society. We had four candidates in a service that was shared with St Paul's Goodmayes and St Nicholas Elm Park. Confirmation preparation was shared with young people from St Paul's and the whole group also went on the Diocesan confirmation weekend. All of which means that it is possible that they will continuing meeting together as a group as they seek to grow in their faith.


Switchfoot - New Way To Be Human.

Your face is a map of the world

This painting was inspired initially by a line in the 30 Seconds To Mars song 'From Yesterday', although the paintings theme is essentially the reverse of that of the song. The line, "on his face is a map of the world", got me thinking of the crucified Christ as wearing the world on his face and from there I thought that if I began with a globe I could create an image of Christ with the world literally on his face. From there I thought of building his body from newpaper headlines to indicate the sin which he bore on the cross, while the blue of the oceans in the globe led to outlining his body in blue. This is turn reminded me of the line "dancing the black night blue", in my poem of the same name (which was inspired by a line in 'King David dances' from John Berryman's Delusions, etc.), so I wrote the first stanza of the poem across the top half of the painting to create a greater sense of foreboding over the abstract hatcheted background which I had laid down initially.

The painting can currently be seen in commission4mission's Peacing Together One World exhibition at St Mary Magdalene Billericay (High Road, Billericay, Essex) which can be viewed until Saturday 23rd October (9.00am - 5.00pm). This varied show includes drawings, glasswork, paintings, photography, pottery, sculpture, and a wood relief. It features the work of Richard Baxter, Harvey Bradley, Colin Burns, Anne Creasey, Michael Creasey, Elizabeth Duncan Meyer, Alan Hitching, Mark Lewis, Caroline Richardson, Joy Rousell Stone, Henry Shelton, Sergiy Shkanov and Peter Webb.

Harvey Bradley, who has organised the show, is artist-in-residence throughout the exhibition. He will be demonstrating his approach to painting and will be happy to talk with visitors about the exhibition and commission4mission.

I will be reading 'Dancing the black night blue' and other poems at the Peacing Together One World performance evening on Friday 22nd October (7.30pm at St Mary Magdalene Billericay) which will also feature poetry readings, original poetry, meditations, images, and music from Pam Adams, Colin Burns, Anne Creasey, Michael Creasey, Keith Harman, Alan Hitching and Eileen Mayer.
30 Seconds to Mars - From Yesterday.

Aldborough Road South clean-up

The Seven Kings & Newbury Park Resident's Association has organised a clean-up of Aldborough Road South (from Wards Road to Cameron Road) and Cameron Road (from the junction with Aldborough Road South to the Station) on Tuesday 19th October. This is an initiative coming out of our Community Audit of Aldborough Road South earlier in the year.

The Council's Street Cleansing Team will leaflet residents in the area on Monday 18th to tell them that front gardens will be cleared and from early morning on 19th, the team will be clearing large items from front gardens.

We will be meeting on Tuesday 19th at 10.30am on the corner of Wards Road and Aldborough Road South to be provided with litterpickers and bags and to help with removing any remaining rubbish from the area. We will also leaflet homes to tell residents how they can dispose of their rubbish in future.

We would love as many of the local community as possible to come along and help out, so that this initiative has as much impact as possible. So, please come along yourselves and also tell your friends, families and neighbours about this initiative too.

This initiative follows on from several earlier clearance efforts, including Big Clean Ups, in the area and we are grateful to Russell Ward and his Street Cleansing team for their perseverance in continuing to take these initiatives on behalf of the local community. This clean-up initiative is an opportunity to thank them for the work that they do and to find out more about the issues that they face in seeking to keep our neighbourhood clean.

Norma Jean - Blueprints For Future Homes.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Windows on the world (123)

Gants Hill, 2010


The Killers - Smile Like You Mean It. 

Artz Ville: Challenging consumerism

ArtzVille is a web place where Arts Centre Group (ACG) members can express their views and comments on a variety of subjects and issues relating to the arts and faith. Via email, ACG encourage members to join in the discussion.

This season the Visual Arts section is looking at Challenging Consumerism. I have raised questions about whether art work could be integrated more readily into church spaces, and how churches could perhaps work with artists to present a radical and alternative view on modern practices, such as consumerism.

You can find my piece at if you wish to consider my suggestions.


Solomon Burke - Don't Give Up On Me.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Jyoti Sahi: Art as integrative process

On Friday night I went to hear the artist Jyoti Sahi speak at St Andrews Waterloo, an event organised by Christians Aware.

Jyoti set up the Indian School of Art for Peace, or INSCAPE, in 1984 with the idea of relating art to Indian spirituality. INSCAPE was a concept of an art school, modeled on the understanding of an ashram that Rabindranath Tagore created at Shantiniketan, north of Calcutta, in Birbhum district. Here the "Sadhana" or spiritual practice of the ashram is based on an understanding of the spiritual in art. Art is understood in a very broad sense, comprising not only the visual arts, but also story telling, poetry, and performance art. An attempt is made to realize a connective aesthetics in which the different arts support each other in a common search for wholeness.

Jyoti spoke about art as process, not simply as product, with that process also being a healing process needed by our contemporary society. His presentation was a journey through his artworks which saw art and creativity as a basis for spirituality.

He spoke about art as meditation and, in particular, of Ignatian imagination as a way of prayer. He spoke too of art and the imagination as process of finding integration and this most of all was what seemed modelled in his art where he integrated the stories and imagery of India's religions, tribes and castes with those of Christianity in a vision which ultimately sees life as a cosmic dance in which the yoke or yoga of Jesus is, through the cross, to unite the whole cosmos.

Jyoti's art is unitive and reconciling yet was originally based on and inspired by the angst and inner struggle of the German Expressionists (Emil Nolde, in particular) which he first saw as an art student in England. His great achievement has been to harness the force and energy of these Expressionist roots and channel them to form movements and confluences which bring opposites (pure/impure, male/female, ying/yang) together  creating a plant which can rise from the depths and bring forth blossom.

Richard Harries (Lord Harries of Pentregarth, former Bishop of Oxford) writes in his foreword to Faces of Vision: Images of Life and Faith by Jyoti Sahi & Eric Lott: "In these paintings humanity and nature come together as part of God's whole (creation). Jyoti brings before us in a way that is at once vivid and mysterious, the reality of the one God....The face of Christ opens out into the universal." 

Faces of Vision presents major themes in Jyoti's outpouring of evocative images. 'Life's Journey', 'Earth's Epiphanies', 'The Body, Broken & Whole', 'Transfiguring Vision' include pictures and reflective comment on such key images as Mother, Pilgrim, Seed, Tree, Fire, Drummer, Healer, Mystic, Bird, Dancer, and many more.


The Innocence Mission - God Is Love.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Community Garden (4)

Community Service volunteers

Cleared border ready for sensory planting

Cleared remembrance area

New noticeboards in the community garden

Today five Community Service Volunteers helped us with work on the community garden at St John's Seven Kings. They helped clear borders and the remembrance area ready for sensory planting in the borders and laying of membrane and chipping in the remembrance area.


Friday, 8 October 2010

The faith of Generation Y

On Wednesday evening I was at the book launch for The Faith of Generation Y which draws on the views of over 300 young people who have participated in Christian youth and community outreach projects around England over the last five years and which presents some fascinating and surprising findings for the wider Church to consider. A friend of mine, Sally Nash (Director of the Midlands Centre for Youth Ministry), is one of the authors, along with Sylvia Collins-Mayo (sociologist of religion), Bob Mayo (parish priest in West London) with the Bishop of Coventry, Rt Revd Christopher Cocksworth.

The Faith of Generation Y (those born from around 1982 onwards) provides an empirically grounded account of the nature of young people’s faith – looking into where they put their hope and trust in order to make life meaningful. The book goes on to consider whether Christianity has any relevance to young people, and asks whether the youth and community projects in which they participate foster an interest in the Christian faith.

The findings from the study suggest that for most young people faith is located primarily in family, friends and their selves as individuals – defined as ‘immanent faith’. ‘For the majority, religion and spirituality was irrelevant for day-to-day living; our young people were not looking for answers to ultimate questions and showed little sign of “pick and mix” spirituality,’ says Sylvia Collins-Mayo. ‘On the rare occasions when a religious perspective was required (for example, coping with family illnesses or bereavements) they often ‘made do’ with a very faded, inherited cultural memory of Christianity in the absence of anything else. In this respect they would sometimes pray in their bedrooms. What is salutary for the Church is that generally young people seemed quite content with this situation, happy to get by with what little they knew about the Christian faith.’

Sylvia adds: ‘The Christian youth and community projects were an important source of Christian faith support for the minority of young people who were already actively involved in Church. For the majority, however, the Christian dimension of the projects had little impact on them beyond keeping the plausibility of Christian belief and practices alive.’

Although often unfamiliar with formal religion, Generation Y are keenly aware of ethical issues, as Sylvia comments: ‘Young people today have to grow up quickly and the study showed that they often face a wide range of difficult choices. Consequently they were interested in ethics. The young people drew moral guidance from family as friends, but they also recognised the potential of religion, including Christianity, to provide them with guidelines for living.’

The assumption that teenagers are alienated from their parents and hostile toward religion – a hangover from the 1960s and 70s – is a deep-rooted but flawed stereotype according to the study’s findings. ‘Generation Y have less cultural hang ups about the Church than did their predecessors… The challenge to the Church is to provide them with the opportunities to explore and to learn about a narrative of belief of which they know little.’

What I found most interesting about the research as presented at the launch was that many traditional aspects of Church such as ritual and sacrament connect with Generation Y; something which incidentally also seems apparent from aspects of the alternative worship movement. The argument emerging from the research finding was that the Church needed to be its authentic self in connecting with Generation Y as this generation, through their interest in ethics, are asking 'does it work?' as opposed to 'how does it make me feel?'


Stacie Orrico - (there's gotta be) More To Life.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Gants Hill Art Project (10)

The regeneration work at Gants Hill is now complete and so this will be the final post in this series. Fr. Benjamin Wallis and I will continue our painting and photography sessions but not to document the Gants Hill regeneration. Some of the photographs from this series have been exhibited at St Pauls Goodmayes and will go on to the next commission4mission exhibition before possibly being shown at St Georges Barkingside.

The £7.2m Transport for London scheme has taken 18 months and the Mayor of London encouraged local people to celebrate the project’s completion with a three-day festival over the past weekend. Boris Johnson unveiled a commemorative plaque and toured the area, meeting local business people.

An open-air arts and crafts market was in Gants Hill across the three days with a range of stalls including handcrafted items, artwork, unique gifts and fashion designs. On Sunday, there was a Gants Hill relaunch with music and street entertainers. The free event had childrens’ activities including face painting, stilt walkers and much more.

The three-day celebration was organised by Redbridge Council and part funded by the Gants Hill Business Partnership.


Mavis Staples - Wrote A Song For Everyone.

Windows on the world (122)

London, 2010


Tom Jones - Strange Things.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Science, faith and flamingo

Brandon Flowers (of The Killers) recently spoke about the influence of his faith on his writing. Flowers regularly uses religious references in his lyrics and the new album Flamingo is suffused with religious imagery. In speaking about his latest single 'Crossfire' he said: "[My religion] always comes out, it's inevitable. There's a lot of imagery in the songs... I don't think about it, it's not a real conscious decisive thing that I'm trying to get into the songs; it just creeps its way in. Being a religious person living in Las Vegas, I definitely have been caught in that crossfire."

What Flowers is saying seems to be encapsulated in some lines from the title track of the latest album by The Script:

"Having heavy conversations
About the furthest constellations of our souls
We're just trying to find some meaning
In the things that we believe in"

'Science & Faith' has a chorus with which many people of faith can no doubt identify:

"You won't find faith or hope down a telescope
You won't find heart and soul in the stars
You can break everything down to the chemicals
But you can't explain a love like ours"

These are not songs about faith however, instead what Flowers and The Script do in songs like 'Crossfire' and 'Science and Faith' is to spiritualise the standard rock fare of boy girl relationships. They are therefore reversing the original basis of much rock 'n' roll and soul which saw gospel songs, styles, mannerisms and lyrics being secularised in order to sing about boy/girl relationships rather than love of God.

When this is combined with aging rock stars such as Tom Jones and Robert Plant re-energising and re-invigorating their careers and creativity by tapping into the songs of the American South, with its significant vein of gospel being particularly prominent, plus authentic gospel stars such as Mavis Staples releasing new material and the emo and goth bands with Christian members and themes, then there is much in mainstream music currently to demonstrate the continuing influence of Christian imagery and themes. 


Brandon Flowers - Magdalena.

TASK Newsletter (21)

Welcome to the latest TASK e-news, your regular newsletter from Take Action from Seven Kings sent fortnightly via email. This time we focus on policing, an exciting new play scheme coming our way, the imminent advent of a new trader group in Goodmayes and a live event in our new library.

Our October supporters meeting, open to all our supporters reading this, happens on Monday October 11 from 7-8pm at St.John’s Church, at the junction of St.John’s Road and Aldborough Road South. We will joined on the night by a special guest, Susan Heywood, who is trying to bring Redbridge residents’ and community groups together to share information, and where possible, collaborate as part of one giant co-ordinated effort. Hear what she has to say and catch up on all the local news.

Our autumn walkabout happens the same week, on Friday October 15 from 9am, meeting outside Seven Kings Railway station. It is a brilliant opportunity to join council streetscene staff, ward councillors and the police to take often immediate action on those everyday miseries of graffiti, dumping and anti-social behaviour which can so blight our lives. The route is always flexible and we welcome your suggestions on tackling eyesores and challenges near where you are.

Our local library is now well-established and continues to generate brilliant user figures. On Wednesday October 13 it hosts its first live evening event as part of the Word of Mouth arts festival, when author Orna Ross gives a lively talk on Literary Dublin called Meet the Dubliners. It runs from 7-9pm and tickets are free, although you are asked to reserve a place at the library itself or by phoning 020 8708 2737.

The quality of policing has been one of the constant themes of our TASK campaigning over the last two and a half years, with headline efforts on our part to get police to tackle public boozing and recognise the local fear of crime. On the basis that we do not just criticise but are always willing to take responsibility by getting involved ourselves, we are hoping to contribute to the local Seven Kings police panel - the body which decides local policing priorities - by nominating two TASK supporters as possible panel members for 2010/11. The Annual General Meeting of the panel is scheduled for October 18, at Canon Palmer School, starting at 7pm. It is is open to the public and we urge all interested supporters to attend to raise their policing-related issues.

Our Seven Kings council-sponsored business partnership is already in operation and we hear from councillors in neighbouring Goodmayes of their efforts to organise retailers and companies working there. The first meeting of the Goodmayes Business Partnership is scheduled for October 27, starting at 10am in Royal Sweets, at 58 Goodmayes Road, with a speaker from Business Link on seeking funding in these hard times. We wish them well.

Finally, for now, an update on a long-running story about the disused allotment site between Benton Road and Vicarage Lane, which some locals have been trying hard to develop as a much needed play site. The good news is that the Council’s Area 7 committee recently agreed to fund £2388 towards the cost of producing plans and submitting a full planning application for what is known as the Vicarage Lane Play Park, enjoying cross-party political support. This brings the dream a step closer in an area that has been massively developed as apartment housing over the last decade, but - shockingly - without any specific provision for play, and a long haul to existing open space like Valentines Park.

That’s all folks! Please pass us on to a friend or family member who might want to be part of our growing network, and get involved.

We are back in a fortnight when the first outline of the borough’s cuts will become clearer after the Cabinet meeting this Tuesday.

Low - (That's How You Sing) Amazing Grace.