Wikio - Top Blogs - Religion and belief

Monday, 31 August 2015

Condition: I am shadow

Condition by Duke Special with drawings of Peter S Smith's daily shadow at North Sheen Station.


Stolen Lives - Strange Cargo.

SDNA: Electric Bloom

Over 200 years ago Hackney was a cultural destination for visitors around the globe, home to London's textile industry and the largest botanical hothouse in the world from the Loddiges family. 

has been exploring this fascinating hidden history by working with the local community and council for over six months, curating workshops across art, film, animation, music, spoken word, textiles and garden design with renowned creatives.

The result, an evening of celebration of Hackney’s textile and botanical history featuring giant projections and live music at St John at Hackney, sound and video installations at St Augustine’s Tower and the launch of two permanent lighting installations on Morning Lane and Churchwell Path.

Plus Carnival Performers from Hackney One Carnival, the premiere of two original Electric Bloom music compositions by Rowland Sutherland and Orphy Robinson, the Bikini Beach Band, Toshi-Monkey's blooming origami workshop, bell ringers and more....

For the full line up and for more information check the Electric Bloom website.

SDNA developed and presented the digital artwork for Love & Light at St Margaret's Barking.


Czeslaw Milosz, Oscar Milosz and Simone Weil

Czeslaw Milosz was a Polish poet, 'who with uncompromising clear-sightedness voices man's exposed condition in a world of severe conflicts.' He was influenced particularly by his distant cousin Oscar Milosz and also by the writings of Simone Weil. In his Nobel Prize speech he spoke about his relationship with Oscar Milosz:

'... Like all my contemporaries I have felt the pull of despair, of impending doom, and reproached myself for succumbing to a nihilistic temptation. Yet on a deeper level, I believe, my poetry remained sane and, in a dark age, expressed a longing for the Kingdom of Peace and Justice. The name of a man who taught me not to despair should be invoked here. We receive gifts not only from our native land, its lakes and rivers, its traditions, but also from people, especially if we meet a powerful personality in our early youth. It was my good fortune to be treated nearly as a son by my relative Oscar Milosz, a Parisian recluse and a visionary. Why he was a French poet, could be elucidated by the intricate story of a family as well as of a country once called the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Be that as it may, it was possible to read recently in the Parisian press words of regret that the highest international distinction had not been awarded half a century earlier to a poet bearing the same family name as my own.

I learned much from him. He gave me a deeper insight into the religion of the Old and New Testament and inculcated a need for a strict, ascetic hierarchy in all matters of mind, including everything that pertains to art, where as a major sin he considered putting the second-rate on the same level with the first-rate. Primarily, though, I listened to him as a prophet who loved people, as he says, "with old love worn out by pity, loneliness and anger" and for that reason tried to address a warning to a crazy world rushing towards a catastrophe. That a catastrophe was imminent, I heard from him, but also I heard from him that the great conflagration he predicted would be merely a part of a larger drama to be played to the end.

He saw deeper causes in an erroneous direction taken by science in the Eighteenth Century, a direction which provoked landslide effects. Not unlike William Blake before him, he announced a New Age, a second renaissance of imagination now polluted by a certain type of scientific knowledge, but, as he believed, not by all scientific knowledge, least of all by science that would be discovered by men of the future. And it does not matter to what extent I took his predictions literally: a general orientation was enough.

Oscar Milosz, like William Blake, drew inspirations from the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, a scientist who, earlier than anyone else, foresaw the defeat of man, hidden in the Newtonian model of the Universe. When, thanks to my relative, I became an attentive reader of Swedenborg, interpreting him not, it is true, as was common in the Romantic era, I did not imagine I would visit his country for the first time on such an occasion as the present one.

Our century draws to its close, and largely thanks to those influences I would not dare to curse it, for it has also been a century of faith and hope. A profound transformation, of which we are hardly aware, because we are a part of it, has been taking place, coming to the surface from time to time in phenomena that provoke general astonishment. That transformation has to do, and I use here words of Oscar Milosz, with "the deepest secret of toiling masses, more than ever alive, vibrant and tormented". Their secret, an unavowed need of true values, finds no language to express itself and here not only the mass media but also intellectuals bear a heavy responsibility. But transformation has been going on, defying short term predictions, and it is probable that in spite of all horrors and perils, our time will be judged as a necessary phase of travail before mankind ascends to a new awareness. Then a new hierarchy of merits will emerge, and I am convinced that Simone Weil and Oscar Milosz, writers in whose school I obediently studied, will receive their due.'

Simon Leys has written about Milosz and Weil:

'For Milosz, the discovery of Simone Weil's writings, as it had for Camus, gave new direction to his inner life. The traces of this revelation are found throughout his essays, his correspondence, and even his teaching (he gave a course on Manichaeism, directly inspired by Simone Weil's thought; and furthermore he edited, and had published in Polish, a thick volume of her selected works).

Milosz's religious posture seems to be both symmetrical with, and the inverse of, Simone Weil's. The latter's reflection on naturally Christian pagans, and on naturally pagan Christians, could be taken to sum up their respective positions quite well. Simone Well, though inhabited by a great desire to enter the Church to be able to partake of the sacraments, nevertheless denied herself that happiness, and deliberately stayed on the threshold, sharing in the destitution of the neo-pagans. Milosz, by contrast, born and educated in the Church, often wished to leave it; he wanted to escape the chauvinist and political Polish Church of his childhood, just as much as he wished to escape the depressing caricature of Protestantism into which he saw Western post-Council Catholicism sinking.

Milosz defined himself as an "ecstatic pessimist," and perhaps it is in this that he is closest to Simone Well. In the face of the mystery of evil, there is little room in their faith for Providence (which would alleviate suffering) or for the communion of saints (which would give it meaning). Is a consoling religion a baser form of religion? "Love is not consolation, it is light"--this phrase of Simone Well's is admirable; but why would light not bring some consolation? In any case, that is what simple souls naturally perceive when they piously go to light a votive candle before an image of the Virgin or some saint.'


Bruce Cockburn - The Light Goes On Forever.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Migration: This is a story about humanity

'Migration is what we have done since the earliest of times, triggering growth and enlarging our circles of possibility. Whether we’re discussing the Roman or British empires, 15th-century Venice or 20th-century New York or London today, great civilisations and dynamic cities have been defined by being open to immigrants and refugees.

They are, as migration specialist Ian Goldin characterises them, “exceptional people”. Over centuries, as he painstakingly details, it has been immigrants and refugees who have been part of the alchemy of any country’s success: they are driven, hungry and talented and add to the pool of entrepreneurs, innovators and risk-takers. The hundreds of thousands today who have trekked across continents and dangerous seas are by any standards unusually driven. They are also, as Angela Merkel says, fellow human beings. To receive them well is not only in our interests, it is fundamental to an idea of what it means to be human.' (Will Hutton)

'Other than a tiny proportion of sociopaths, our species is naturally empathetic. It is only when we strip the humanity from people – when we stop imagining them as being quite human like us – that our empathetic nature is eroded. That allows us either to accept the misery of others, or even to inflict it on them. Rightwing newspapers hunt down extreme and unsympathetic stories of refugees, and we fight back with statistics. Instead, we need to show the reality of refugees: their names, their faces, their ambitions and their fears, their loves, what they fled.' (Owen Jones)

'What do the following people have in common: Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England; the former England cricketer Kevin Pietersen; Nigel Farage’s wife, Kirsten; Chelsea’s new striker, Pedro; and Sir Bradley Wiggins?

Yes, they are all migrants – or, if you prefer, immigrants. Having moved to the UK to further their careers, some of them might perhaps be described as “economic migrants”. Except that this term is reserved exclusively by politicians and the media to describe people who – unlike bankers or sports stars – they don’t like: people who, in the words of our foreign secretary, are “marauding” across Europe.

People from the UK moving abroad to pursue their career or financial interests, meanwhile, are “expats”, never emigrants or migrants.

The language we hear in what passes for a national conversation on migration has become as debased as most of the arguments, until the very word “migrants” is toxic, used to frighten us by conjuring up images of a “swarm” (as David Cameron put it) massing at our borders, threatening our way of life.

As Prof Alexander Betts, director of the refugee studies centre at Oxford University, says: “Words that convey an exaggerated sense of threat can fuel anti-immigration sentiment and a climate of intolerance and xenophobia.”'

'Another journalist says: “They are people – men, women and children, fathers and mothers, teachers and engineers, just like us – except they come from Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Why not just call them ‘people’, then list any other information we know that is relevant?”'

'Politically charged expressions such as “economic migrants”, “genuine refugees” or “illegal asylum seekers” should have no part in our coverage. This is a story about humanity. Reporting it should be humane as well as accurate. Sadly, most of what we hear and read about “migrants” is neither.' (Dave Marsh)


Michael Kiwanuka - I Need Your Company.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Windows on the world (355)

Paphos, 2014


Bear's Den - Agape.

Update: Sophia Hub Redbridge

Ros Southern writes:

'To see about the new enterprise club programme and what's on this Tuesday lunchtime - click here for info. We're looking for speakers for the Autumn if you can help.

It was interesting to visit the hearing/deaf community cafe and this is a space open to ideas evenings and weekends. click here for info

See our Timebank swap of the week and the amazing list of offers from Claudia Ungereanu! click here for info

We've two guest bloggers this week! Boris Johnson to invite you to join the energy business challenge open to small business... and Ruth Musgrave on an interesting course she attended on sacred economics and it's relevance to Redbridge.

There's an ECHO Timebank business panel and social at the Google campus in Stratford which is free - it doesn't even cost you Timebank hours! Very interesting. Click here for info.

Also I am delighted that Peter Musgrave is able to co-facilitate a Sophia Course in October - please register your interest!

Ros Southern
Coordinator, Sophia Hubs Seven Kings'


Lifehouse - Whatever It Takes.

Friday, 28 August 2015

The way to unity is through diversity

Here is my sermon from yesterday's lunchtime Eucharist at St Stephen Walbrook (the sermon can be heard at the London Internet Church website):

In the culture of Jesus’ day, those with disabilities were often excluded from their community because of their disability. We see this in the Gospels in references to disabled people living outside villages and towns and being beggars on the streets. Those who were Jews, were excluded from worship at the Temple because of their disability. Jesus’ acts of healing were, therefore, acts of inclusion because, as a result, those healed were reintegrated into their community. For those who were Jews, we often read of these people being sent to authorities after their healing in other that they can return to their communities.

Despite this, as the theologian John Hull has noted, many disabled people rightly ‘claim the Bible and Christian faith are not so much part of the answer but part of the problem.’ He notes that ‘many Christians still persist with a literal concept of miracle, and the imitation of Christ is sometimes thought to involve healing miracles for disabled people.’ In addition, ‘the Bible itself depicts many disabilities in a negative way.’ ‘He gives blindness as one example, due to his personal experience of this condition, which ‘is frequently used as a metaphor for sin and unbelief.’ This is a metaphor taken from the world of sighted people and used to marginalise and demean the world of blind people. The result of these negative features of the [Christian] tradition’, John Hull says, ‘is that disabled people usually find better things to do on a Sunday morning than go to church’.

That situation is the reverse of Jesus’ intent when he healed. He intended to include disabled people in the community, culture and worship of his day but some aspects of the Christian tradition which he began have resulted in disabled people experiencing exclusion. As John Hull has said, ‘The true miracle … is when disabled people are fully integrated into Church life and accepted exactly as they are’.

At St Stephen Walbrook we inhabit a space which is a visual treasure chest. We rightly value Wren’s masterpiece as ‘the pride of English architecture’ (John Summerson) and because the sensitive mirroring of Wren’s dome with Henry Moore’s altar and Patrick Heron’s kneelers creates harmonious space. However, those who are blind cannot see what we see in this space and those with mobility impairments cannot access the space in order to see. All the while that those of us who can access and see the glories of this space, accept that others cannot, we are actually a space and community of exclusion. As a community whose mission statement says we seek to provide, without prejudice or expectation, a safe and welcoming place, we need to creatively imagine how we can include those who are currently excluded.

Jesus, in order to communicate with the man in our Gospel story (Mark 7. 31 - 37), uses touch and gesture. There are several different theories as to why Jesus acts in ways that seem very strange to us; putting his fingers in the man’s ears, spitting before putting his fingers on the man’s tongue and looking up to heaven. The simplest explanation would seem to be that touch and gesture were the ways in which communication could take place. The starting point for inclusion for us, as for Jesus, is to enter to some extent the world of the other person, in this case the man who was deaf and who had a speech impediment.

It can only be as we connect with the different world that others inhabit that understanding can come from which inclusion can develop. John Hull says: ‘The major disabilities create a distinctive world of experience, so different from the world in which the majority live as to constitute different human worlds. The powerful majority often create a world which is assumed to be the only world. Those who do not share this world are regarded as being without a world and are pitied or patronised. This idea of multiple worlds is of great political and social significance. If you do not understand my world, how can we relate to each other with mutual respect? If we rush too soon to a single world, we create an exclusive domination. The only way to create a unity of the human species is to go through multiplicity. The way to unity is through diversity … We must also include the different human worlds of experience, such as the disabled worlds we have been thinking about. Just as the Church can’t be holy or catholic without the equal ministry of women with men, so it cannot be holy or catholic without the equal prophetic and sacramental ministry of disabled people with the able-bodied.’


Stevie Wonder - Visions.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Stolen Lives: Private viewing

Tonight I was at the St Bride Foundation for a private viewing of Stolen Lives, a new web based project which looks at issues of historical and contemporary slavery through music, songs, words, images, film and animation.

Stolen Lives is a collection of 17 freely dowloadable multi-media animations which will be of use to schoolteachers, especially those teaching at Key Stage 3 (ages 11 - 14) and Key Stage 4 (ages 14 – 16), but also to youth groups, museums, music and dance groups, and churches and faith groups. The project is also interactive with the website enabling users to post their own performances or interpretations of the material, allowing for a much broader sharing of ideas and practice.

Stolen Lives is a collaborative, open-educational project, bringing together academics (The Wilberforce Institute - Hull University), musicians (Paul Field and others), artists (Peter S. Smith) and educationalists (Sue James).

Paul Field is composer & Creative Director for the project. He has worked as a Songwriter, Composer, Producer and Performer in the UK and around the world. From the release of his first album 'In your eyes' (with Nutshell) he has written around 800 songs over four decades. He has received an Ivor Novello Award from the British Academy of Songwriters and Composers and a Dove Award (and two nominations) from GMA in Nashville along with numerous other awards from ASCAP in the USA. He has had #1 chart success with his songs in the UK, USA, Holland, South Africa and Germany. He has received many Platinum and Gold records for his work.

Peter S Smith, who created the visuals for the project, is a Painter/Printmaker with a studio at the St Bride Foundation in London. He studied Fine Art at Birmingham Polytechnic and Art Education at Manchester. In 1992 he gained an MA (Printmaking) at Wimbledon School of Art. Examples of his work can be found in private and public collections including Tate Britain and the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. His book 'The Way See It' (Piquant Press) is a visual monograph of contemporary work by a professional artist who is a Christian, which provides an illustrated introduction to the art of engraving.


Stolen Lives - Midnight Rain.

Exhibitions: The Connection's artists and Quaker artists

There are currently two interesting and engaging exhibitions at St Martin-in-the-Fields.

Artwork 2015 is a vibrant exhibition displaying a wide range of talented artwork and photographs by people who use The Connection’s creative groups. The workshops unlock people’s potential and are therapeutic, increasing people’s confidence and well being. Some of the art is available for sale and proceeds will support The Connection’s artists.

Margaret, who uses the art room says: “I was suffering from depression because I lost several members of my family all in the same month, and art is a leeway. Instead of taking tablets, I thought find something to work on, and then my mind is not focused on that fact. It’s focused on what I’m doing. I don’t take any tablets because of art.”

Inside Out / Outside in is a thought-provoking exhibition by three Quaker female artists (Anne McNeill-Pulati, Isa Lousie Levy and Caroline Jariwala). Featuring human landscapes, the exhibition provides an opportunity to depict, show and open dialogue around shared spiritual journeys.

Isa Louise Levy says: "Our creative practice uses the figure as a vehicle both metaphorically and pictorially, and as reflections of human experience and spirituality. The figure is the bridge where inner and outer worlds connect the physical and metaphysical landscapes. Our collaborative exhibition celebrates human integrity and diversity as we come from multi-faith backgrounds namely Jewish, Hindu and Christian. Our faith journeys also share a common ground as we are all Quakers."

Friends House in Euston is also currently hosting an exhibition by Quaker artists. Climb up to the moor is an exhibition of works by Judith Bromley Nicholls and Robert Nicholls which focuses on "moorland, its importance for carbon-capture, the fragility of this amazing landscape, and our relationship with the natural world." The exhibition is a collection of paintings, texts and an ever expanding installation 'Groundcover'. It runs 11 – 16:00 each day until Saturday 29 August and is free.


Jon Watts - The Kabarak Call.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Start:Stop - The Sacrament of the Present Moment

Bible reading

"… as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, as on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors put me to the test, though they had seen my works for forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation, and I said, ‘They always go astray in their hearts, and they have not known my ways.’ As in my anger I swore, ‘They will not enter my rest.’”

Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you may have an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end. As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” (Hebrews 3. 7 – 15)


In Deuteronomy 30 we read of Moses saying to the Israelites, “today … I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses” and exhorting them to “choose life.” Similarly, in our reading from Hebrews we have heard that, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts …” Later on in Hebrews we read that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” but the emphasis here is on today.

One reason for this emphasis is that, as Simon Small has written, “There is always only now. It is the only place that God can be found.” Each moment we are alive is unique and unrepeatable. As songwriter, VictoriaWilliams, has put it: “This moment will never come again / I know it because it has never been before.” We live in the present. Therefore, we can only encounter God in this moment, in the here and now, today.

Jean Pierre de Caussade was a French Jesuit priest and writer known for his work Abandonment to Divine Providence and his work with Nuns of the Visitation in Nancy, France. De Caussade coined a phrase to describe what we have just been talking about. He called it ‘The Sacrament of the Present Moment,' which “refers to God's coming to us at each moment, as really and truly as God is present in the Sacraments of the Church ... In other words, in each moment of our lives God is present under the signs of what is ordinary and mundane. Only those who are spiritually aware and alert discover God's presence in what can seem like nothing at all. This keeps us from thinking and behaving as if only grand deeds and high flown sentiments are 'Godly'. Rather, God is equally present in the small things of life as in the great. God is there in life's daily routine, in dull moments, in dry prayers ... There is nothing that happens to us in which God cannot be found. What we need are the eyes of faith to discern God as God comes at each moment - truly present, truly living, truly attentive to the needs of each one.” (Elizabeth Ruth Obbard, Life in God's NOW, New City, 2012)

Simon Small has noted, however, that “Our minds find paying full attention to now very difficult. This is because our minds live in time. Our thoughts are preoccupied with past and future, and the present moment is missed.” He goes on to say that, ‘To pay profound attention to reality is prayer, because to enter the depths of this moment is to encounter God ... Contemplative prayer is the art of paying attention to what is’ (Simon Small, 'From the Bottom of the Pond', O Books, 2007). In saying this, he echoes de Caussade’s idea of the sacrament of the present moment and the thinking of SimoneWeil who said that, ‘absolute unmixed attention is prayer.’ All these confirm the thought in Hebrews that today is the moment for encounter with God.


Lord God, our thoughts are often preoccupied with past and future, meaning that we miss the present moment. Enable us to realise the uniqueness of each passing moment which is unrepeatable. Enable us to live in the sacrament of the present moment by giving absolute unmixed attention to the reality of what is in the here and now. Today, may we hear your voice in the sacrament of the present moment.

Lord God, give us the eyes of faith to discern you as you come at each moment - truly present, truly living, truly attentive to the needs of each one. May we discern you in what is ordinary and mundane, in the small things of life as in the great, in life's daily routine, in dull moments, and in dry prayers. Today, may we hear your voice in the sacrament of the present moment.

Lord God, keep us from thinking and behaving as if only grand deeds and high flown sentiments are 'Godly'. Teach us to value the doing of small, mundane actions recognising that you are equally present in the small things of life as in the great. Enable us to show your love through our actions as we do our common business wholly for the love of you.  Today, may we hear your voice in the sacrament of the present moment.


Realising the uniqueness of each passing moment, hearing God’s voice today, living in the present moment, discovering God’s presence in the here and now. May those blessings of God almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, rest upon you and remain with you always. Amen. 


The Velvet Underground - Sunday Morning.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

The religious art of the Pope of Pop

"Andy was a Catholic
The ethic ran through his bones
He lived alone with his mother
Collecting gossip and toys

Every Sunday when he went to Church
He'd kneel in his pew and he'd say
It's work, all that matters is work"

('Work' from 'Songs for Drella' by Lou Reed & John Cale)

"To believe the envious Truman Capote, Andy was a Sphinx without a secret. In fact, he did have a secret, one that the kept dark from all but his closest friends: he was exceedingly devout - so much so that he made daily visits to the church of Saint Vincent Ferrer on the Upper East Side of Manhattan... Although famously thrifty, he was also secretly charitable. Besides giving financial support, he often spent evenings working in a shelter for the homeless run by the Church of the Heavenly Rest. It was not soppy social consciousness or guilt that prompted Andy's good works; it was atavism as personified by his adored and adoring mother, the pious Julia." John Richardson [from "Warhol at Home" in Sacred Monsters, Sacred Masters (London: Pimlico, 2001), p. 247-8]

"What was Warhol's religious affiliation?

His family was from the Ukraine, and his mother spoke Czech only. She was extremely pious. It was a form of Catholicism, sort of between Catholicism and the Byzantine Rite church. Warhol concealed it from people, but he never left home without saying prayers with his mother.

Often, he went to the church that was near his home. I interviewed the prior there, and he told me how Warhol would come in every evening and sit in the back pew, in the shadows. He didn't want to be recognized as Andy Warhol. He just prayed and sat there. Sometimes he would come to Sunday services, too.

How did his religious practice influence his art, do you think?

Mostly it seems to have influenced his work in the last two years of life. That's when he painted many, many different versions of "The Last Supper," some of which were ravishingly beautiful. The way he manipulates the medium, the application of the paint on the silk screen so that it isn't flat but has contours to it. It's really lovely."

(Berkeley art historian Jane Dillenberger on creativity, prayer and the spirituality of Andy Warhol)

"Two images of Andy Warhol exist in the popular press: the Pope of Pop of the Sixties, and the partying, fright-wigged Andy of the Seventies. In the two years before he died, however, Warhol made over 100 paintings, drawings, and prints based on Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper. The dramatic story of these works is told in this book [The Religious Art of Andy Warhol] for the first time. Revealed here is the part of Andy Warhol that he kept very secret: his lifelong church attendance and his personal piety. Art historian and curator Jane Daggett Dillenberger explores the sources and manifestations of Warhol's spiritual side, the manifestations of which are to be found in the celebrated paintings of the last decade of Warhol's life: his Skull paintings, the prints based on Renaissance religious artwork, the Cross paintings, and the large series based on The Last Supper."

To what extent will these perspectives feature or inform BBC Four Goes Pop: A week-long celebration of Pop Art across BBC Four, Radio and Online?


Lou Reed - Dime Store Mystery.

David Jones: Vision and Memory

David Jones: Vision and Memory will be on show at the Pallant House Gallery from 24 October 2015 - 21 February 2016. A concurrent exhibition The Animals of David Jones will be on show at Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft from 24 October 2015 – 6 March 2016.

'David Jones (1895-1974) was a painter, engraver, poet and maker of inscriptions. A lyrical draughtsman, he responded with delight to the visual world, yet his vision was informed by memory reaching back into the depths of time and history. This major exhibition, taking place during the centenary of the First World War, will display some 80 works from throughout Jones's life in a timely reassessment of one of the most imaginative artists of his era.'

Rowan Williams wrote in 'Grace and Necessity' that: 'Jones’ exposure to [Jacques] Maritain came through his participation in [Eric] Gill’s project. After demobilization in 1919, Jones studied first at the Westminster School of Art, where it appears that a catholic friend introduced him to Fr. John O’Connor. He became a Roman Catholic in 1921 and, prompted by O’Connor, joined Gill at Ditchling later that year … Thus, he was alongside Gill and Gill’s colleagues … during the crucial period during which they were all reading Maritain; and it is very clear that for Jones … this made sense of what he had assimilated at the Westminster School of Art.'

As Rene Hague later wrote, ‘the Post-Impressionist attitude to the arts fitted in very well with Maritain and Thomism’. Jonathan Miles and Derek Shiel write in 'The Maker Unmade' that: 'The philosophy of Maritain explored two related questions that are of importance for David Jones: signification and epiphany. By rigorous habit, the artist would not only be able to reveal this or that object under the form of paint but also make an epiphany, make the universal shine out from the particular. Thus, what is re-presented also becomes a sign of something else and if that something else is significant of something divine, then the art can claim to have a sacred character or function, a sacramental vitality.'

Similarly, Williams argues that what preoccupies Jones from the beginning is 'precisely what so concerns Maritain, the showing of the excess that pervades appearances.' As his work develops, Jones comes to see that you paint ‘excess’ by: 'the delicate superimposing of nets of visual material in a way that teases constantly by simultaneously refusing a third dimension and insisting that there is no way of reading the one surface at once. As in the Byzantine icon, visual depth gives way to the time taken to ‘read’ a surface: you cannot construct a single consistent illusion of depth as you look, and so you are obliged to trace and re-trace the intersecting linear patterns.'

Jones said that he regarded his poem, The Anathemata: "as a series of fragments, fragmented bits, chance scraps really, of records of things, vestiges of sorts and kinds of disciplinae, that have come my way by this channel or that influence. Pieces of stuffs that happen to mean something to me and which I see as perhaps making a kind of coat of many colours, such as belonged to 'that dreamer' in the Hebrew myth."

Jones believed that objects, images and words accrue meanings over the years that are more than the object as object or image as image. Therefore all things are signs re-presenting something else in another form. Recessive signs which re-present multiple signification are what Jones aims to create in works such as The Anathemata and Aphrodite in AulisJacques Maritain suggested that such multiple signification is what creates joy or delight in a work of art as “the more the work of art is laden with significance … the vaster and the richer and the higher will be the possibility of joy and beauty”.

Aphrodite in Aulis
 is full of Jones’ preoccupations: “the Grail, the Lamb, the soldiers (Greek and Roman, Tommy and Jerry), Doric, Ionic and Corinthian architecture, the moon, the stars and the dove.” These disparate ideas and images are held together firstly by Jones’ composition with the whole painting revolving around the central figure of Aphrodite and secondly by his line which meanders over the whole composition literally linking every image. By holding these images and what they signify together in this way, Jones is able to create an image that both laments the way in which love is sacrificed by the violence and aggression of macho civilisations and also, through his crucifixion imagery, to hold out the hope that love may overcome that same violence and aggression.

For Jones such signification is the essence of a Christianity, which has, at its heart, the re-presenting of Christ under the form of bread and wine. When the sign is the thing signified what you have is incarnation, the union of the natural and the supernatural.

Williams notes that in several respects Jones takes Maritain a stage further. Firstly, in that 'the half-apprehended consonances of impressions out of which an artwork grows has to be realized in the process of actually creating significant forms which, in the process of their embodiment, in stone, words, or pigment, uncover other resonances, so that what finally emerges is more than just a setting down of what was first grasped.'

Secondly, in 'the way in which a life may become a significant form – as, decisively and uniquely; in the life of Christ.' He: 'illustrates a point Maritain does not quite get to. Jones implies that the life of ‘prudence’, a life lived in a consciously moral context, however exactly understood, is itself an act of gratuitous sign-making; moral behavior is the construction of a life that can be ‘read’, that reveals something in the world and uncovers mystery.'

Both are exemplified by Jones’ life and practice as he turns away 'from one mode of representation in which he excelled in order to include more and more of the interwoven simultaneous lines of signification and allusion' in 'an attempt to embody a more radical love in what he produces, a love that attends to all the boundary-crossing echoes that characterize the real, which is also the good.'


Nick Cave - Brompton Oratory.

Gallery and exhibition update

In addition to visiting Fabrica and the Otter Gallery during the past week, I was also able to see exhibitions and collections at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery and at Pallant House Gallery.

'Brighton Museum & Art Gallery is located in the Royal Pavilion garden, at the heart of the city’s cultural quarter. Its diverse collections bring together the arts and history to tell stories about the city and the world we live in.'

'Royal Pavilion and Museums’ Fine Art collection ranges from late 15th century woodcuts, through old masters of all the major European schools, to key 20th century works informed by New York’s abstract expressionists. This remarkable collection contains nearly 1,500 oil paintings, 4,000 watercolours and drawings, and well over 10,000 prints. It also includes topographical material on the history of Brighton & Hove, and prized Chinese export watercolours and oil paintings.

This collection ranges from works influenced by post impressionism to major late 20th century works from across the Atlantic. Other highlights include one of the finest public collections of Glyn Philpot, and works by Walter Sickert, Vanessa Bell, Paul Nash, Graham Sutherland, Jacob Epstein, Eric Gill and Stanley Spencer.'

'Brighton Museum & Art Gallery displays many objects with an LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer) connection. However, their histories are often hidden; as a result they have a Trail giving a brief guided tour of pieces on display, exploring and revealing additional LGBTQ stories.

Glyn Philpot was homosexual and a practising Christian, who became celebrated for his society portraits in the early 20th century. While serving in World War I he met Vivian Forbes who became his student and companion, sharing a home and studio in London. A silver loving cup, engraved with their names and given to the couple as a gift, can also be seen in the 20th Century Art & Design gallery. A sculpture and more of his paintings are also displayed there.'

Pallant House Gallery's Collection of British Modern art is frequently described as one of the best in the UK. with important works by Gino Severini , Ivon Hitchens, Henry Moore, John Piper, Graham Sutherland, Patrick Caulfield, Michael Andrews, Peter Blake and Richard Hamilton. Alongside the Collection, there is a rolling programme of first-class exhibitions and displays incorporating national, international and contemporary art.

Currently these include:

'Nek Chand: The Rock Garden Sculptures is an installation of sculptures by internationally renowned Outsider artist Nek Chand (b. 1924), creator of the famous sculpture park The Rock Garden of Chandigarh, in India. Over forty figurative concrete and mosaic works created from found objects and on loan from the Nek Chand Foundation are on display in the Courtyard Garden and Garden Gallery. A self-taught Indian artist Nek Chand’s sculptures reflect his intuitive approach to creating.'

'St Ives and British Modernism is an exhibition exploring one of the Gallery's most significant donations, the George and Ann Dannatt Gift, which includes a largely unseen and newly conserved group of paintings, drawings, sculptures and prints by key figures associated with the St Ives Group of Artists in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, including Terry Frost, Roger Hilton, Peter Lanyon, Ben Nicholson, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham and John Tunnard.'

'Sickert in Dieppe' which demonstrates the artist's vivid interest in everyday life in Dieppe, to which he was a regular visitor for over four decades and a permanent resident from 1898-1905. Over 80 paintings, prints, preparatory drawings and etchings show Sickert's breadth of subject matter - the town's architecture, harbour and fishing quarter, shops, café culture and inhabitants - whilst charting the development of his pictorial technique during this period. It shows the importance of the personal and professional relationships he made in Dieppe, including European artists such as Degas, Whistler and the Impressionists.

In addition to much mentioned above, I particularly appreciated seeing work by Cecil CollinsJohn Craxton, Dora Holzhandler, Albert Houthuesen, David Jones, R.B. Kitaj, Albert LoudenWinifred Nicholson, Ceri Richards and Keith Vaughan. The following quote from Winifred Nicholson seemed relevant to much that I saw: 'The nature of abstract colour is utter purity - but colours wish to fly, to merge, to change each other by their juxtapositions, to radiate, to shine, to withdraw deep into themselves.'


Hiss Golden Messenger - Blue Country Mystic.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Airbrushed from Art History: Ben Shahn and American Expressionism

In Common Man Mythic Vision Stephen Polcari compares and contrasts the work of Ben Shahn with his postwar American art peers:

'During and after World War II, whether one was a Social realist like Ben Shahn and the WPA artists, a Regionalist like Thomas Hart Benson, an Expressionist like Rico Lebrun, Hyman Bloom, or Abraham Rattner, or an Abstract Expressionist like Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Willem de Kooning, most American artists engaged the principal crisis of their time: the survival of the nation and of humane civilisation.'

'Shahn ... reshaped his style with new subject matter, a more universal outlook, and a new artistic language of symbolic emotion ... his adoption of a new mythic and allegorical language was only one of the ways he contributed to a new American approach to art; particular expressive themes were another ... With works such as Sound in the Mulberry Tree, 1948, with its Hebrew lettering and biblical verse, Maimonides, 1954, which evoked the medieval Jewish sage, Third Allegory, 1955, with its shofar and prayer shawl, and The Parable, 1958, with its drowning or emerging patriarch, Shahn sought to express universal truths. Yet, these works undoubtedly reflect Shahn's new appreciation for the heritage that he had restrained in his early work. The Holocaust brought forth a renewed identification with, and need for reaffirmation of, Shahn's Jewishness ...

fellow radical painter Philip Evergood was also moved to depict the effects of the war in mythic and symbolic language. Evergood's The New Lazarus, 1927 - 54, conflates his typical Social Realist edginess with a mythic biblical image of the evils of war and death, and the hope that these horrors will be redeemed by resurrection ...

Benton Murdoch ... Spruance's Souvenir of Lidice ... depicts three men nailed to crosses - in other words, a modern Calvary. This contemporary crucifixion was inspired by the Nazi slaughter slaughter of the citizens of Lidice, Czechoslovakia ... Spruance followed his war work with a further use of this symbolic language. it is reflected in works of 1943 such as Riders of the Apocalypse with its air war; Pietà - From the Sea showing Christ as a dead seaman; and Epiphany, in which the stars of social reconstruction imagery ... appear in a new context ...

With America's entry into the war, Benton altered his approach, now using biblical imagery to address America's political needs. In 1942, he produced a suite of paintings called the Year of Peril ... the series narrated the war in terms of biblical images and themes ...

The expressionist Abraham Rattner ... painted the subject of lamentation several times. In his Lamentation, 1944, and Pietàs, 1945 and 1949, Rattner created a compact emblem of sorrow ... Although the war is not explicitly represented, it was implicitly understood in the frequent depictions of the crucifixion by Rattner and other artists ...

Lamentation was the formative idea of the Entombment paintings, the largest series in the early work of the Abstract Expressionist Mark Rothko ...

Rico Lebrun employed bestial imagery when he represented the dumb soldiers surrounding Christ as horned and armored animals in The Crucifixion, 1950 ...

Although a Jew from the Baltic like Shahn, the expressionist Bloom was a Boston artist and much more devoted than Shahn to visionary, nightmarish imagery, born of the study of Dürer's allegories, and to the work of Rouault (like Rattner and Spruance), Bresdin and Soutine ...

During the 1940s and 1950s, many artists were engaged in representing their personal responses to history ... Shahn joined these artists in coming to terms with history through allegory, myth and tradition.'


Joanne Hogg -  I Heard The Voice Of Jesus Say.

Selsey East Beach

"The East Beach at Selsey in West Sussex is a pebble beach on either side of the RNLI lifeboat station.

Selsey is situated on a peninsula jutting out into the English Channel about eight miles south of Chichester. A small town that retains its history, the unique Selsey community spirit and the Selsey fishing fleet.

Local beaches are all pebble but there are many things to do including: walks along the sea wall; Cycle routes, Selsey Lifeboat Station and Museum; windsurfing and a diving and snorkelling centre; golf and Tennis."


The Drifters - Under The Boardwalk.

Christian Arts renaissance: Major or minor?

In 1983 former pupil of C.S. Lewis, the literary historian, Harry Blamires, wrote:

'Lewis began writing just at the point when this minor Christian renaissance in literature was taking off. His Pilgrim's Regress came out in 1933. And the 1930s were a remarkable decade in this respect. Eliot's Ash Wednesday came out in 1930, The Rock in 1934, Murder in the Cathedral in 1935 and Burnt Norton in 1936. Charles Williams's War in Heaven was published in 1930, The Place of the Lion in 1931, The Greater Trumps in 1932, and his play Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury in 1936. Helen Waddell's Peter Abelard came out in 1933. Meanwhile on the stage James Bridie had great popular successes with his biblical plays Tobias and the Angel (1930) and Jonah and the Whale (1932). Then by 1937 Christopher Fry was launched with The Boy with a Cart. That same year saw Dorothy Sayers's The Zeal of Thy House performed, and David Jones's In Parenthesis and Tolkien's The Hobbit published. Lewis's Out of the Silent Planet followed in 1938, along with Williams's Taliessin Through Logres and Greene's Brighton Rock. Eliot's Family Reunion followed in 1939, Greene's The Power and the Glory in 1940. During the same decade Evelyn Waugh was getting known and Rose Macauley was in spate. Edwin Muir, Andrew Young and Francis Berry appeared in print.

So when the literary historian looks back at the English literary scene in the 1930s and 1940s he is going to see C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams, not as freakish throwbacks, but as initial contributors to what I have called a Christian literary renaissance, if a minor one.'

This summary, which is accurate as far as it goes, illustrates some of the reasons why a Christian renaissance in the Arts during the twentieth century and into the present is not more widely recognised and acknowledged.

Blamires, like many whose writings touch on this renaissance, reaches his conclusion regarding a minor Christian literary renaissance as part of a different focus i.e. his interest in C.S. Lewis, Lewis' circle and its influence. In other words, he didn't write about this Christian renaissance per se and, therefore, did not explore it in depth. We still await an Arts historian willing and able to do.

As a result, there is much that Blamires misses, as well as much that he includes. He neglects to mention that Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were primarily responsible for the entry of modern fantasy fiction into the mainstream of publishing or that Lewis made a significant contribution to the development of science fiction or that many of the writers and works he lists formed the core of the Verse Drama movement. Awareness of this latter movement also brings writers such as Gordon Bottomley, Ronald Duncan, Norman Nicholson and Anne Ridler onto the stage. This movement was partly facilitated by George Bell's founding of the Canterbury Festival, when Dean of Canterbury Cathedral, which led to the formation of the Religious Drama Society of Great Britain under the directorship of E. Martin Browne.

Bell was also active in the visual arts, particularly in the Diocese of Chichester, where his commissioning and appointments, such as Walter Hussey to be Dean of Chichester Cathedral, resulted in significant commissions at Berwick Parish Church, Chichester Cathedral and the Chapel of the Ascension at Bishop Otter College. These commissions essentially began an engagement with the visual arts that continues into the present and which has resulted in artist residencies, exhibitions, installations and commissions, both temporary and permanent, in churches and cathedrals throughout the UK.

So, by his focus on literary works alone, Blamires also misses the bigger picture of the wider renaissance. Again, this is a common shortcoming in those who touch on this renaissance because of the other agendas they are primarily pursuing.

Similarly, Blamires neglects an international dimension. From a literary perspective, had he explored the international dimension the minor renaissance he notes might, again, have appeared more significant. In this respect he could have noted the emergence of the Modern Catholic Novel as part of the French Catholic Revival. Theodore P. Fraser writes, in The Modern Catholic Novel In Europe, that:

"The Catholic novel in Europe as we know it today originated in French literature of the nineteenth century. Originally part of the neo-romantic reaction against Enlightenment philosophy and the anti-religious doctrines of the Revolution, the Catholic novel attained fruition and became an accomplished literary form spearheading the renouveau catholique, or Catholic literary revival. This literary movement contained in its ranks a number of brilliant writers (Bloy, Péguy, Huysmans, Bernanos, Mauriac, Claudel, Jacques Maritain, and Jacques Rivière, to name the most important) who reached maturity at the century's end or during the decade of World War I, and it essentially took the form of a strong, even violent, reaction of these French Catholic writers against the doctrine of positivism that had gained preeminence in French political and cultural circles in the last third at least of the nineteenth century."

Marian E. Crowe noted in 2007, in Aiming At Heaven, Getting The Earth, that "the past eighty years have seen high-quality Catholic novels by Maurice Baring, A. J. Cronin, Compton Mackenzie, Antonia White, J. R. R. Tolkien, John Braine, Rumer Godden, and Anne Redmon" and that "... Alice Thomas Ellis, David Lodge, Sara Maitland, and Piers Paul Read ... do not hesitate to include the "craggy" and "paradoxical" parts of Catholicism."

Citing over two decades of experience publishing a who’s who of what he calls “believing writers” (Annie Dillard, Marilynne Robinson, Elie Wiesel, Mark Helprin, and Mary Karr (a Catholic convert), Gregory Wolfe has asserted: "The myth of secularism triumphant in the literary arts is just that—a myth. Yet making lists of counterexamples does not get at a deeper matter. It has to do with the way that faith takes on different tones and dimensions depending on the culture surrounding it."

So, from a literary perspective, writers such as W.H. Auden, Wendell Berry, John BerrymanRhidian Brook, Jack ClemoShusaku Endo, U.E. FanthorpeWilliam Golding, Geoffrey HillP.D. James, Elizabeth JenningsDavid Lodge, Sara Maitland, Czesław Miłosz, Nicholas Mosley, Les MurrayFlannery O'ConnorWalker PercyJames Robertson, R.S. ThomasSalley Vickers, Niall Williams and Tim Winton, can all be cited, among others, as of relevance to the wider ongoing renaissance. In 'popular' fiction, John Grisham, Susan Howatch, Mary Doria Russell, Piers Paul Read, Ann Rice and Morris West, among others, can be noted. Theological themes and practices of faith also continue to be explored in contemporary fiction. The work of Douglas Coupland or novels such as Patrick Gale's A Perfectly Good Man and Rachel Joyce's The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry being a few examples. Additionally, novelists have been re-examining the life of Christ and his followers through novels such as: Jim Crace's Quarantine, Norman Mailer's The Gospel According to the Son, Philip Pullman's The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, Ann Rice's Christ the Lord series, Colm Tóibín's The Testament of Mary, and Niall Williams' John, among others.
Joseph Pearce suggests in Literary Converts that: "[G. K.] Chesterton's 'coming out' as a Christian had a profound effect, similar in its influence to Newman's equally candid confession of othodoxy more than fifty years earlier. In many ways it heralded a Christian literary revival which, throughout the twentieth century, represented an evocative artistic and intellectual response to the prevailing agnosticism of the age. Dr Barbara Reynolds, the Dante scholar and friend and biographer of Dorothy L. Sayers, described this literary revival as 'a network of minds energizing each other'. Besides Chesterton, its leading protagonists included T. S. Eliot, C. S. LewisSiegfried Sassoon, J. R. R. Tolkien, Hilaire Belloc, Charles Williams, R. H. Benson, Ronald Knox, Edith Sitwell, Roy Campbell, Maurice Baring, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, Muriel Spark, Dorothy L. Sayers, Alfred Noyes, Compton Mackenzie, David Jones, Christopher Dawson, Malcolm Muggeridge, R. S. Thomas and George Mackay Brown. Its influence spread beyond the sphere of literature. Alec Guinness, Ernest Milton and Robert Speaight were among the thespians whose lives were interwoven with those of their Christian literary contemporaries."

All this reflects primarily Western literature and does not touch the visual arts which in both Western and non-Western forms saw and see significant engagement between Christianity and modern art. I have sought to document much of this engagement in my series of posts entitled 'Airbrushed from Art History' and 'Sabbatical Art Pilgrimage'.

It may well be that all this engagement between the Arts and Christianity is still judged to be a minor renaissance. My point, however, is that the significance of this ongoing renaissance cannot be properly assessed and judged until it is considered and documented historically as a whole. While our record of it remains fragmentary, its significance cannot be fully or fairly evaluated.


T.S. Eliot - Ash Wednesday.

Portsmouth Cathedral

'Portsmouth Cathedral, the Cathedral of the Sea, is a distinctively spiritual and prayerful space into which everyone is welcome to come; a Christian community committed to promoting social justice, equality and compassion. For centuries it has watched, listened and helped the people of Portsmouth navigate the passage of time. It has witnessed wars and peace, famous marriages, been bombed and rebuilt and remains a building of greatness and simple enduring beauty. It is also a vibrant and lively community which has a positive impact on the lives of people in its own parish, the City and the Diocese of Portsmouth.'

Among other works, the Cathedral features an organ casing designed by Patrick Caulfield, a Christus, saints and bishops by Peter Eugene Ball, and an icon by Sergei Fedorov


The Harbour Lights - Another Rainbow.

Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva: Fragility

"Fragility is a site-specific work commissioned by Fabrica from Macedonian born and now Brighton resident, Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva.

A series of delicate veils fill the central atrium of Fabrica’s building, a former church: rising from floor to ceiling, diffusing the light, obscuring the way forward. Two narrow passages, carefully pierced through the veined walls, invite us in. At the centre of the work one clear viewpoint toward the filtered light from the main window is revealed, an experience the artist compares to the flash of light reportedly observed when close to death.

Fragility, like much of the artist’s work over the past decade, re-appropriates animal viscera. In this instance caul fat, a membrane that holds the vital organs together, is transformed from a perishable waste product of the pork industry into a sublimely beautiful translucent material via a lengthy chemical process akin to embalming.

Beyond its sensory impact, much of the pleasure in the work lies in understanding its inherent contradictions: the disconnect between the initial state of the material and its aesthetically pleasing result; the artist’s need to witness decay and her effort to halt it, and her desire to bury the viewer in a corporeal labyrinth whilst all the time suggesting a dimension beyond the physical."

"Hadzi-Vasileva works site-specifically across sculpture, installation, video and sound, photography and architectural intervention. Central to her practice is a response to the particularities of place: its history, locale, environment and communities and the materials she chooses to work with are determined by the particularities of the commission she is undertaking."

"She has exhibited extensively and realised numerous commissions nationally and internationally, in gallery spaces, museums and within the public realm. Past sites and commissions include Pied à Terre London, Gloucester Cathedral Gloucester, Towner Gallery Eastbourne, Southgate Bath, L’H du Siège France, Kilmainham Gaol Museum Ireland, 51st Venice Biennale and Public Room Skopje."

She has exhibited previously at Fabrica when for re/sort, she "devised a delicate ‘altar screen’ of fish bones as a new site specific installation for Fabrica’s church interior." In addition, she "re-created epidermis, a whirlpool of salmon skins suspended on shimmering threads."

Her major new work Haruspex is currently presented at the Pavilion of the Holy See at the 56th Venice Biennale, until 22 November 2015. Haruspex is a site specific installation responding to the theme In the Beginning … the Word became flesh and further inspired by Van Eyck's The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. This "monumental architectural installation, whose “fabric” is almost a skin, a mantle, welcomes visitors both in a physical and symbolic dimension at the same time. Realized with organic waste materials in a way which leads from the ready-made to the re-made, the artist creates a cloth that is both an embroidery and surface skin, physical presence and transparency, an instrument of suggestion and surprise."

"Fragility generates many questions concerning our attitudes to decay and finitude. It is the second of three artist works connected to the theme of death and dying that Fabrica is producing until 2017 as part of the Into That Good Night exhibition and events programme. Each of these commissions explores an aspect of mortality or morbidity via the artist’s work and through discussions and other events in the gallery programme. Visit the blog for more information."


Duke Special - Last Night I Nearly Died.