Becoming Easter 2019

Wednesday 06 March - Sunday 21 April 2019

Striving for Righteousness

This image arrived in my mind when I had a studio in the organ loft of Oxford’s Ark T centre in 1998. I began it then and I took until 2012 to complete it.  The title probably arrived at the same time as the image.

So many people work so hard to see inside themselves to find God, to find a way to be righteous.  We struggle with scriptures.  We struggle with church messages, varying as they do from one denomination to another and from one theological perspective to another.  This man is looking so intensely at himself and taking so much so literally, that he has indeed cut off his hand as it had caused him to sin.  He seems to have cut off the pain at the same time as he stares again in the mirror.  And that same mirror blocks the light streaming through the window.

How often in our striving, we miss the grace which is ready to flood us.

That you may have life

Rainbows are huge for me. I love them because I have to find the dark to see them. Placing my back to the light, pursuing the search in the dark clouds, there they are – all the colours in the universe arching in one (or two) shining bows, reminding the dark that it is only vapour.

I tried so often to paint rainbows, finding twee results. This just catches a moment. It is hard to see on this photo, but the painting is mounted on glass, of which you can just see the faint outside edge. The glass mount is just that, glass. See through to whatever, reflecting whatever. The rainbow is the light, the glass almost water.

The title is from the gospel of John, my favourite theologian, who has Jesus say, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”.

I wrote about rainbows:

You have to know where the light is

To see the promise

In the dark.

You can catch glimpses,

Without knowing.

If you stare at the dark on those caught times,

You’ll see the coloured promise.

Stare.

Study.

Wonder.

Know the light behind you.

Study its source.

Then,

each time you see the dark,

Drenched in dour and damp gloom,

Look.

With the light behind you.

Courage.

To meet the dark.

“I promise.”

“No more destruction.”

Life.

Light.

From Which You Were Hewn

Oil on canvas, mounted on slate

This canvas began life in the early 1980s when I was painting in Milton Keynes.  It moved, unpainted, to North Oxford and then to Cowley.  Something of its journey spoke to me of the journey to life itself.  In this calm, which reminds me of my loved Lake District, I see Creator God.  The title comes from Isaiah 51, a plea for the created to remember their creator.  From that creator rises life, hinting to what may be seen in the shape of the rocks in this work.  Mounting on slate, found by Stef, finished the journey of this canvas while emphasising the rock supporting all creations and journeys.

Wisdom Dove Speaks

This is a combination of Jim Hansford’s shed window frame, Steph’s raw oak outside frame, fine woven cotton and rough canvas, variously tied and streched.

It was painted in 1992 when I was Artist in Residence for the United Reformed Church Forum conference. Themed ‘Roots and Branches’ the conference was planned to look at the roots of the URC; I couldn’t help but go back to the roots of our faith altogether. To me, the right side is rather like the knowledge of God as shared before Jesus Christ and the left, that knowledge as made human in the world. The Spirit (Wisdom Dove) is everywhere.

It hangs in this exhibition as a statement of that which I have always felt held me and a statement of what I always believed.

I Don't Know Yet

Darkness is as Light to you

This painting touches the deeply personal. It is a triptych, the panels created for a commission which never quite happened, but about which I am delighted to have the panels. I had no idea what would be here.

I painted the centre first, catching my shadow against the panel as I stood in my studio which is a conservatory. The left hand panel came next, with the little girl sheltering herself not from the night, but from the darkness heaped upon her. She found her occupations and her source of light.

The right hand panel was the last, evoking the faith message of harvest from grains. Gold glows all around.

The title is from Psalm 139, always my companion: “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me, even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.”

My poem, Breathing Light, gives an indication of the movement from the left to the right of this painting: 

Breathing Light

Of course it’s hard work.
Of course.
It’s terrifying.

It’s immense,
Doing the monumental task of lifting;
Of lifting the grave stones;
Of heaving the box covers;
Of prising open the trunk lids;
Of sweeping heavy damask wrapping out of the way;
Of wrenching off swaddling clothes in unwilling lengths at a time;
Of course it’s hard work –
lifting the heavy settled weights of my history.

The weighted covers had their purpose.
They protected any thought of re-living.
They protected from moments (and swathes) of history that no one would want to remember.

And they were beautiful!

The covers were so wonderful.
So effectively sheltered and archived all that held pain.
Stunning colourful, classical - stones, covers, lids, wrapping … swaddling.
You might have been one who commented!
You might have been one to compliment,
To positively critique,
To say how magnificent they were, how well they worked and how truly beautiful all crafted coverings were.

Profoundly and creatively, the murky dark effluent locked into dark, unlit spaces.

Of course it’s hard work.
Moving everything which held a life of its own,
Well beyond the reason for its creation (and keeping in place).

But on a day when I could not speak, and the lids began to move themselves, I had no choice.

Take a breath. Take enormous lungful, steel muscles and heave.
Move.
From darkness to light.
In this light I breathe.
The light of all life flutters and shudders in my lungs.
The stones cry out.
The covers rattle.
The lids lift themselves.
The wrapping, swaddling slithers its own direction.
Off.

Off.

Lift, move, heave, shift, reveal.

Breathing light,
The monumental task gains wings.
Light as a feather,
Kingfisher brilliant.

Suddenly, in a flash of shocking brightness, all hidden becomes revealed.

And there is light!
And life.
And liberation.

Breathing.
In the Light.
Breathing of the light.
Breathing.
Light.

Witness

Witness began on a textured canvas, painting out my brushes from another painting in my usual style. I was enjoying the size of the canvas, testing out budding previous forays into letting my paint run and bleed, so that new colours – unplanned by me – emerged. As ever, I saw people in the blobs. The people seemed to want to crowd, but I’m not happy in crowds, so I kept trying to paint them apart from each other. No way, they seemed to say to me. So I painted them in groups, and as I did, I realised that I was painting them from the back. The groups themselves joined. I was standing my observer distance away from them and watched the crowd grow. I began to wonder what they saw. Then I saw light. Lots of it. My brushes rushed in with golden glows. As I stood back, I realised that they were witnessing an event of some description, something momentous, but by their relaxed poses, not frightening. A grand bonfire? The presence of God?

Holy Saturday

This was the beginning of so much. The canvas started as fabric stretched across a frame with a soldier facing horrors – a Remembrance Sunday image, still seen if you look at the back. Not needed for worship any longer, it became a mount for something else. Compelled by a dear friend in 1991, I painted what I felt angry about. The hand, out-stretched and touching a rainbow of fabric could not be painted closed in to the body, no matter how much I tried. The sheer process of trying to close it in while it tried to reach the light was hard work indeed. So I gave up and it does what it wanted – touches the rainbow.

The name indicates the time between the death and resurrection of Jesus. Death is known and life is not quite there yet, but there is a hint somewhere. This is my version of that in-between time.

Before I painted the painting, I wrote about this time:

This is my waiting time.

You know the time, the day;
that fateful Saturday
between ghoulish, ghastly, deadly Friday
and
exuberant, exhilarating, life-full Sunday.

The waiting day.

(the day when most thought death ruled
and few waited for promise truth)

The waiting day.
The in-between day.

This is my time.
Much of me has died
(cut out,
exorcised,
laid to rest).

Doctors say the waiting time goes on
(but healing is there).
Creator/Flesh/Spirit says the waiting time goes on
(but the promise will come).

As him who died (and lived)
was still (somehow) life;
I am dead/alive
in my waiting time.

22.7.91

 

The stone Was Rolled Away

I woke one morning with this picture on my brain. I could see the vaulted ceiling of a huge cathedral and I could see a small person – minimised and apparently ignored by the immensity of the institution of the church. But as I painted, I couldn’t manage the person in the bottom right hand corner and realised that s/he shouldn’t be there.

Suddenly fabric burst forth with colour and movement and shape. What appears as a fuzzy mass at the bottom right of the painting is white gauze and ribbons; the bursting forth. As I watched this grow, it became a statement of my distance from, yet attachment to, the institutional church. The church and its core creeds have told me of love when I wished particular people might have. I have been ordained and upheld by the church, even with my own deep critique of it. I both belong to it and fly out of it.



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