Saturday, 26 May 2012

'Run with the Fire' art talks and demonstration

The programme of art talks throughout the day at the 'Run with the Fire' exhibition today provided a broad exploration of approaches to the expression of spirituality in and through the visual arts, while Harvey Bradley provided a practical expression of the same with the painting demonstration.
Mark Lewis quoted Rudolf Steiner, who said that "art is the daughter of the divine," as he began his exploration of 'The Spiritual Image in Art'. He defined spiritual as the "depth dimension in life" as he outlined the way in which the development of abstract art built on the sense of mystery being probed outside of traditional representational Christian iconography by nineteenth century Romantics such as Caspar David Friedrich and J.M.W. Turner. Early abstractionists such as Mondrian, Kandinsky and Malevich had a sense that the spiritual world was governed by laws which mirrored natural laws and which could be expressed in visual form. Their works imply that there is a hidden logic in nature; a religious symmetry underpinning the material universe. As Plato stated, "God geometrizes." Similarly Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko were attempting to dig into metaphysical secrets by means of non objective art which equated to the 'Via Negativa'. He ended by highlighting the colour field paintings of Michael Finn with their sense of the sublime, density of experience and wonder of light.
Steve Scott quoted Rowan Williams as saying that the one thing he longed for was a "Christianity in this country able again to capture the imagination of our culture." Scott went on to outline the genesis of the 'Run with the Fire' project which provided the basis for this exhibition and which he hoped, in line with the butterfly effect, might be a small action leading to big effects. He explained how involvement in an arts conference held in Bali had kickstarted the idea of a DVD for the Olympics, initially intended for the Beijing Games and on the theme of guns into ploughshares. When this proved unfeasible for Beijing, other contacts led to Veritasse and commission4mission and the idea of a juried project on the Olympic/Pentecost imagery of fire. The 'Run with the Fire' project attracted 25 international artists and the DVD produced contained both a digital exhibition and a guide to setting up arts events. The DVD was slowly but surely generating new arts projects/exhibitions in various parts of the UK and abroad. The aim was to stay connected as the butterfly effect came into play.

In 'Stanley Spencer: A Visionary for our Time', Mark Lewis described Spencer as a unique non-conformist whose work does not conform to any movement but is a glorious celebration of the sacred in the everyday. Lewis used specific paintings by Spencer to outline his main themes and the development of his work. The two great influences on his work were the Bible and Cookham. He explored with sensual wonder a personal vision of Christianity in which redemption, resurrection and heaven are all now as everyone is embraced and elevated by a love which brings humanity back to God. His experiences during the First World War as a medical orderly brought him into contact with broken, shattered humanity and his work subsequently tried to recover a paradise lost.

In 'Praying with our eyes open' Glenn Lowcock began with the yearning of the Psalmist to see the face of the hidden God. God's invisibility could be associated with displeasure and doubt but also with renewal (Elijah on Mount Carmel) and searching (the Shekinah story of the presence of God being like scattered sparks buried deep in the world). John Berger wrote in Ways of Seeing that visibility is simply to do with seeing but also of being seen. God's seeing of us is part of his active creating. The hidden God became visible in Christ meaning that sight and images become a new way of approaching God. In the Eastern Church this leads to Church Art becoming one of the five sources of Church Tradition. Pavel Florensky writes of icons as a window through which the divine is seen in prayer. The conversion of St Francis began with scripture and was confirmed through sight of a crucifix in the Church of St Damiano. Christ's eyes are open on the crucifix which captivated Francis. He is looking into our world, our space. In response, St Francis and St Clare open their eyes wide to gaze on God and on his world. St Clare encourages us to study our face in him.

In 'Emotional Tourist', Steve Scott described his journey from modernism, through post-modernity to a meta-modernity that combines ideas and media, working across mediums through relational processes. The visual depiction of Trinitarian relationality contained in Rublev's icon of the Trinity served as his thesis statement. His 1989 trip to Bali (where shadow play stories from John's Gospel had informed the Eucharist) and his 2011 trip to Isenheim (where Grunewald's altarpiece depicts Christ as co-sufferer with those celebrating ther Eucharist) were the personal bookends to this journey. Within this he had also drawn on relational aesthetics and social applications of open systems processes. His 'Crossing the Boundaries' open systems project with Gaylen Stewart was one result from this thinking and Lilias Trotter had become a role model for his thinking on process, relationship and dialogue. He shared spoken word performances and images on these themes to a backing of sound loops.

Finally, Jonathan Evens pointed to the pervasiveness of religious and spiritual themes in twentieth century and contemporary Western art by giving a whistlestop and inevitably partial tour of these religious themes and some of those artists that have used them. He began with the catalytic encounter of Émile Bernard and Paul Gauguin in Brittany in 1888 which resulted in Post Impressionist paintings exploring the Catholic soul of Breton peasants. Bernard and Gauguin shared their new style with Paul Sérusier who, together with fellow art students including Maurice Denis, formed the Nabis. Denis became one of the most significant artists in the French Catholic Revival, being prominent in the Nabis, as a Symbolist, and, through his Studios of Sacred Art, contributing to a revival of French Sacred Art. Denis’ influence was felt among Symbolists and Sacred Artists in Belgium, Italy, Russia and Switzerland, in particular.

A second circle of influence within the French Catholic Revival gathered around the philosopher Jacques Maritain. His book Art and Scholasticism was influential and he organised study circles for artists and others including the Expressionist Georges Rouault, the Surrealist Jean Cocteau, the Futurist Gino Severini, the Dadaist Otto van Rees and abstract art promoter Michel SeupherHis writings were also significant for the community of artists which formed around the sculptor Eric Gill at Ditchling, which included the artist and poet David Jones. Jones further developed Maritain’s ideas of images as signs in his paintings, poetry and critical writings. A third circle of influence gathered around cubist pioneer Albert Gleizes, including Mainie Jellett and Evie Hone (who played significant roles in the development of Modern Art in Ireland) and Australian potter Anne Dangar. Like Eric Gill at Ditchling, Gleizes formed a Catholic arts colony to further his ideas which embraced both painting and society seeking to identify natural rhythms for both.
A final circle of influence developed around the Dominican Friars, Marie-Alan Couturier and Pie Régamey, who insisted that the Roman Catholic Church call for the great artists and architects of their day to design and decorate its churches. The involvement of artists such as Marc Chagall, Férnand Leger, Le Corbusier, and Henri Matisse in churches such as Assy, Ronchamp and Vence was proof of the effectiveness of their approach and ministry. A similar approach was taken in the UK by George Bell and Walter Hussey which saw artists such as Henry Moore, Graham Sutherland, John Piper, Hans Feibusch and Cecil Collins decorating churches.

Expressionist artists such as Emil Nolde, Christian Rohlfs and Albert Servaes painted biblical scenes with an emotional intensity that was often more than the institutional churches at the time could accept. Georges Rouault added to this expressionist intensity with a compassionate Christian critique of contemporary society. Italian Divisionism and Futurism also included a strong strand of sacred art through artists such as Gaetano Previati, Gerardo Dottori, and Fillia.

Wassily Kandinsky created abstract art by abstracting from apocalyptic biblical images and felt that abstraction was the best means available to artists for depicting an unseen realm. Kasimir Malevich was not only influenced by the tradition of Russian icon painting but also by the underlying principle of icons – the presence of an Absolute in the world – to develop the Suprematist aim of self-transcendence.

Daniel Siedell writes that “for these and many other avant-garde painters well into the twentieth century, including Russian immigrants John Graham and Mark Rothko, modern painting functioned like an icon, creating a deeply spiritual, contemplative relationship between the object and viewer.” The influence also went the other way too, as Abstract Expressionist William Congdon converted to Roman Catholicism and used this style to create deeply expressive crucifixions.

Iconographer, Aidan Hart, notes that a revival of traditional iconography occurred in the twentieth century; led in Greece by Photius Kontoglou, in Russia by Maria Sakalova and Archimandrite Zenon, and in Europe by Leonid Ouspensky and Fr. Gregory Kroug. More surprisingly, a Lutheran tradition of iconography has also developed in Scandanavia led by Erland Forsberg.

Evangelicalism found artistic expression through the folk art of the American South with artists such as Howard Finster and Sister Gertrude Morgan gaining significant reputations. Such artists have often been both naive and visionary in their style, an approach that also characterised the work of New Zealand artist Colin MacCahon and British artist, Albert Herbert. Other significant visionary artists using Christian themes and imagery have included Stanley Spencer, F.N. Souza, Betty Swanwick, Norman Adams, Roger Wagner and Mark Cazalet.

In response to the growth of Christian Art on the Asian continent, the Asian Christian Art Association was founded in 1978 to encourage the visual arts in Asian churches. Australia encouraged contemporary religious art through the establishment of the Blake Prize in1951. From that date until the present, its judges have chosen as prize winners artists and works which reflect the movement in Modern Art from the figurative to the abstract. Wojciech Wlodarczyk notes that one special aspect of Polish Art in the 1980s was its links with the Roman Catholic Church. Martial law forced the entire artistic community to boycott official exhibition spaces and instead places of worship hosted exhibitions. This period was marked by a profound interest in the whole question of the sacrum in art and was characterised by the work of Jerzy Nowosielski with its thoughts on the nature of religious art.

There has been extensive use of Christian imagery by BritArt artists such as Damien Hirst, Chris Ofili, Mark Wallinger, and Sam Taylor-Wood. In their work, Christian iconography and narrative is often used as a frame for the artist’s critique of contemporary life including politics and culture. Finally, on this whistle-stop tour, the work of Lynn Aldrich, Betty Spackman, Peter Howson and Makoto Fujimura provide examples of artists expressing aspects of their Christian faith through work accepted and understood within the mainstream world of contemporary art.

As issues of religion have been largely overlooked in the social and cultural history of twentieth-century art, we need, as curator and author Daniel Siedell has argued, "an alternative history and theory of the development of modern art, revealing that Christianity has always been present with modern art, nourishing as well as haunting it, and that modern art cannot be understood without understanding its religious and spiritual components and aspirations." 

Thursday, 24 May 2012

c4m members update

Ceramics by Richard Baxter can be seen at the Contemporary Designer-Makers Fair this weekend at Highgate Literary and Scientific Institute. The Private View is on Friday 25th May, 6.00 - 8.30pm (no ticket needed). This is an inspirational selling show of work by designer-makers, at the border of art and craft. Up to 20 exhibitors, working with as wide a variety of materials as possible, will be displaying their work: jewellery, ceramics, quilts, fabrics, furniture, glass, book-binding, textiles, sculpture.

Harvey Bradley will give a painting demonstration and Mark Lewis and Jonathan Evens are giving art talks on Saturday 26th May at the Run with the Fire exhibition in the Strand Gallery (32 John Adam Street, London WC2N 6BP), as part of the Pentecost Festival. The full programme is:
  • Painting demonstration – Harvey Bradley, ongoing throughout the day. See Harvey work on a painting and discuss his approach with him.
  • The Spiritual Image in Modern Art - Mark Lewis, 11.30am. A broad overview of the spiritual impulse in the art forms of the modern world and their potential to turn our minds to higher things.
  • Run with the FireSteve Scott, 12.30pm. A talk about the ‘Run with the Fire’ project and DVD.
  • Stanley Spencer – A Visionary of our Time – Mark Lewis, 2.00pm. A talk which examines the life and work of one of Britain’s most renowned and eccentric 20th Century painters. The main themes include Spencer’s time as a war artist, and his extraordinary paintings which envision the Christian Gospels played out by the people in his beloved home town of Cookham.
  • Praying with our eyes openGlenn Lowcock, 3.00pm. A talk on using images as an aid to prayer.
  • Emotional Tourist – Steve Scott, 4.00pm. What I am learning about art, life, spirituality, Trinity, and relational aesthetics from my travels in Bali and elsewhere.
  • Christian influences on modern & contemporary art – Jonathan Evens, 5.00pm. A broad overview of modern and contemporary art and artists which engage with Christianity.
Colin Burns has an excellent new album out called Emerald & Gold with guitar pieces and songs. He can be heard playing at Caffe Nero, High Street, Southend, 6.00 - 8.00pm, Sunday 27th May.

“LOOKING INTO GLORY” is an exhibition of paintings, drawings and poems by Andrew Vessey from 30th May – 17th June, 2012 at Gallery Two, Wingfield Barns, Church Road, Wingfield, IP21 5RA (Tuesday – Saturday 10.00 am 5.00 pm, Sunday 10.00 am 4.00 pm). This solo exhibition includes an illustrated lecture by Andrew, a retired priest who previously trained in and taught fine art and art history. Entitled “Art, Imagination and God”, the Lecture will take place in the Gallery on Thursday 31st May starting at 7.30pm.

Fade In Fade Out is the current exhibition at the Tokarska Gallery (until 9 June). Artist and painter, Kathleen Mullaniff, has a second obsession. An obsession which is at once attached to and envelope her small studio. The visitor is invited into the garden, and eventually through a garland of soft winter hues that surround the entrance to her studio. The borders are dormant now. But cross the threshold into the studio and these same sleeping winter colours are revealed through line and mark, in a series of pristine canvases. Marianne North would recognize the samples of seedpods, branches, twigs, dried petals and leaves imported into the studio from the garden, the salvaged fragments that form the still life source for this series of immaculate paintings. The local girl, intrepid explorer and botanist and the inspiration for Kathleen’s new body of work, collected her specimens from the furthest reaches of the natural world. Her expansive travel and analytical account of the exotic, compliments Kathleen’s newest work where stepping into the garden, has re-envigorated and affirmed the notion of place, the local close up, an intimate commune with the melancholy of change, the micro into the macro, William Blake’s ‘world in a grain of sand’.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Pentecost Festival interview

Jonathan Evens was interviewed by the Pentecost Festival team prior to the Run with the Fire exhibition. This is what he said:

Can you tell us about yourself and a little bit about the work you do?  

I am a minister, writer and visual artist located in East London.  I’ve been writing poetry and short stories from a young age.  I was ordained in 2003 and from that point onwars have been blending ministry and art.  Before I was ordained, I was doing both separately. One of the great things about being ordained has been to explore art and ministry together.  In the two churches I’ve ministered in so far, there have been many opportunities to initiate arts-related ministry in a parish setting. 

What scriptures or what technique do you use to help people connect the dots with God & art? 

I think it’s helpful to think in terms of the different persons within the Trinity.  The Father (Creator) - we are all made in the image of God and this implies that we will all have creative abilities to express in some way.  The Son (Jesus) - the incarnation of God becoming a human being is important for the visual arts because, while in Judaism and Islam artists don’t depict God, within Christianity we can because God appeared as a human being as Jesus. On the basis of that, we can depict God.  Finally, the Holy Spirit comes on human beings in relation to our arts and crafts abilities.  A good example are the people who created the tabernacle by means of the Spirit’s inspiration.  It is, therefore, a gift of the Spirit to be an artist.

Who is your favourite visual artist and why? 

My favourite visual artist is Mark Chagall; a Russian Jew who lived in France for a large part of his life.  His paintings were based on his imaginative and emotional life.  Some images were taken from the bible and others from his personal experience and childhood.  There is a whole mix that goes on in his canvas that he brings together and reconciles in his paintings.

Tell us about a time that you’ve seen God’s working through your art? 

One particular way is through a serious of mediations that I’ve written on Christ’s passion.  These have been used in a number of arts projects during Holy Week.  People have taken the meditations with them as they have seen the artworks, so that people can stop and reflect on the meaning of the passion.  This helped people understand what Jesus went through during the Holy Week.  Through the combination of these meditations and artworks, each person had their own unique experience of the Passion.

You are connected with international artists.  How important is collaboration to you? 

Collaboration is very important, especially in visual arts.  It’s easy for artists to feel isolated.  There can often be misunderstandings within the Church of what they do and what they are about, leading artists to feel not valued.  I am part of an organization called commission4mission that exists to bring artist of Christian faith together, to promote their work to churches, and to encourage the commissioning new pieces of contemporary art for church buildings.  We also exist for networking and sharing thoughts and ideas.  Such groups are vital for the support and encouragement of artists in the Church. 

What are you doing in the Pentecost Festival this year? 

I am organizing an exhibition with commission4mission at the Strand Gallery which has the theme of Run With the Fire.  It is a collaborative project with two other arts organizations (CANA and Veritasse) and is based on Pentecost and 2012 Games themes.  The central image of Run With the Fire comes from the Olympic torch and the exhibition as a whole explores running life’s race with passion and spirit.  The launch night is May 21st at 6pm and the exhibition is May 22nd – 27th from 11am - 6pm.

Are you excited about the 2012 Games? 


What impact do you think the 2012 Games will have on the City of London? 

I think it will have a big impact!  It will create a large level of interest and engagement for a lot of people visiting the City of London.  The churches will create outreach events around the Games and ultimately, there will be a tangible legacy in East London from having had the 2012 Games here.  Run with the Fire is a resource for the kind of community and outreach events that churches will organise.  It is a digital art exhibition on DVD including work from twenty five different international artists which can be projected or shown on monitors at Olympics-themed events.  The Run With the Fire DVD is on sale via Veritasse at

Monday, 21 May 2012

'Run with the Fire' Launch Night

The Launch Night for the 'Run with the Fire' exhibition was a packed event with some memorable performances in the context of a stimulating and eclectic show.

The Launch Night  provided the first opportunity to see the exhibition which includes ceramics, paintings and sculptures, together with a digital exhibition on Olympic/Pentecost themes. Performances by singer-songwriter and poet Malcolm Guite, artist-musician Colin Burns, artist-poet Jonathan Evens, musician-poet Steve Scott and performance poet Tamsin Kendrick added to the exploration of the exhibition's theme - running life's race with passion and spirit.

Tamsin Kendrick performed vibrant, earthy poems based on the parable of the Prodigal Son and Psalm 139, Steve Scott shared work in progress based on incidents from John's Gospel, Colin Burns played three pieces from his debut CD Emerald&Gold, Jonathan Evens read his Run with the Fire poem and a Mark of the Cross meditation, while Malcolm Guite made a great job of linking themes from the artworks and other performances with poems from his sonnet sequence for the Church Year and from his CD Dancing through the fire.

'Run with the Fire' exhibition

 The Run with the Fire exhibition opened today at the Strand Gallery (32 John Adam Street, London WC2N 6BP) and can be seen from 22nd - 27th May (11.00am - 6.00pm, Sunday 11.00am - 2.00pm), as part of the Pentecost Festival.

Original work by commission4mission and invited artists complements the Run with the Fire digital exhibition (featuring the work of 25 international artists) to create a stimulating and exciting show with an eclectic mix of styles and media and exploring the broad theme of running life's race with passion and spirit.

Run with the Fire is an arts project for churches in the 2012 Olympics year organized by CANA, commission4mission and Veritasse based on the image of fire which links the Church’s Pentecost celebration with that of the Olympic runner. Run with the Fire aims to celebrate creativity, cultural exchange and hope for the future by providing a virtual exhibition of international artwork for use in Olympics-themed events organised by churches in 2012.

Run with the Fire provides a virtual exhibition of international artwork available on DVD, for display on large scale HD TV or monitor, or for projection using a digital projector. This digital exhibition can be presented as part of Olympics-themed events organised by churches in 2012 plus arts events or exhibitions organized by local churches. Copies of the Run with the Fire DVD can be purchased via or at the exhibition. A preview of the Run with the Fire digital exhibition can be seen at, while for up-to-date news of the project see

On Saturday 26th May there will be an additional programme of art talks and painting demonstrations:
  • Painting demonstration – Harvey Bradley, ongoing throughout the day. See Harvey work on a painting and discuss his approach with him.
  • The Spiritual Image in Modern Art - Mark Lewis, 11.30am. A broad overview of the spiritual impulse in the art forms of the modern world and their potential to turn our minds to higher things.
  • Run with the Fire – Steve Scott, 12.30pm. A talk about the ‘Run with the Fire’ project and DVD.
  • Stanley Spencer – A Visionary of our Time – Mark Lewis, 2.00pm. A talk which examines the life and work of one of Britain’s most renowned and eccentric 20th Century painters. The main themes include Spencer’s time as a war artist, and his extraordinary paintings which envision the Christian Gospels played out by the people in his beloved home town of Cookham.
  • Praying with our eyes open – Glenn Lowcock, 3.00pm. A talk on using images as an aid to prayer.
  • Emotional Tourist – Steve Scott, 4.00pm. What I am learning about art, life, spirituality, Trinity, and relational aesthetics from my travels in Bali and elsewhere.
  • Christian influences on modern & contemporary art – Jonathan Evens, 5.00pm. A broad overview of modern and contemporary art and artists which engage with Christianity.
The event listing for the exhibition and launch night can be found at: Directions to the gallery are at: