Wednesday 29 February 2012

'Condemned': Lent/Easter Series - Week 2

commission4mission has created a Lenten and Easter journey for 2012 using images by our artists combined with passages from Isaiah 53. Throughout Lent and for the first two weeks of Easter, we will post images and words from 'Condemned' here on a weekly basis.

Peter Webb, who contributes the second image in our series, is a Fine Artist and former Art Teacher. His commissions include paintings of St George and the Supper at Emmaus. His painting of the The Betrayal can be viewed at St Marys Woodford. Peter is the chairperson of commission4mission and a member of both Faith & Image and the National Society of Painters, Sculptors & Printmakers.

Other artists contributing images to the series are Mark Lewis, Robert Enoch, Christopher Clack, Rosalind Hore, Nadiya Pavliv Tokarska, and Jim Insole. 'Condemned' has been compiled by Helen Gheorghiu Gould.

In addition to the weekly posts, 'Condemed' is also available as either a powerpoint or pdf file on request from Jonathan Evens at

Monday 27 February 2012

Exploring the nature of Christian Art

Jonathan Evens gave the following talk about commission4mission and the nature of Christian Art at West Mersea Parish Church yesterday, as part of their Learning Supper:

commission4mission was launched in March 2009 by our Patron, the Bishop of Barking, to encourage the commissioning and placing of contemporary Christian Art in churches, as a means of fundraising for charities and as a mission opportunity for churches.
We aim to:
·          provide opportunities for churches to obtain and commission contemporary Christian Art for church buildings;
·          provide information, ideas and examples of contemporary Christian Art and its use/display within church settings; and
·          raise funds for charities through commissions and sales of contemporary Christian Art. 
In the short time that commission4mission has been in existence we have:
·          built up a pool of over 30 artists available for Church commissions;
·          completed 7 commissions;
·          organised 12 exhibitions, two Study Days and several networking events for members;
·          created an Art Trail for the Barking Episcopal Area;
·          worked in partnership with CANA and Veritasse to create an Olympic-themed art project – Run With The Fire; and
·          developed a blog profiling our artists and giving up-to-date news of our activities.
Why do we do what we do? I would want to say that there is a Trinitarian underpinning to what we do.

Firstly, that we are creative because we are made in the image of our Creator. On this topic Michael Hampel has written that:

"Theologians have chewed over the question about what it means to be made in the image of God for some 3,000 years, and it took a writer – a detective novelist indeed – to come up with the most useful answer. Dorothy L Sayers, never shy of cutting through the brambles of theology to talk realistically about God, took a close look at the verse in the Book of Genesis that claims God created humankind in his image (Genesis 1: 27). She spotted that all we know of God up to that point in the Bible is that he was somehow responsible for creation, and so she concluded that to be made in the image of God means that we are most like God when we are being creative. She set about working out how to apply this theory to the creative impulse in her most significant piece of popular theology The Mind of the Maker (1941), a book that still today has a lot to say to us about how we resist the culture of instant gratification that has been more destructive of humankind and its environment than any world war.”

Secondly, the Spirit gives skill to craftspeople (Exodus 35. 30 – 35). Mark Driscoll has said:

Perhaps the finest artist to have lived was Bezalel, a godly man who made sacred art (Exodus 31-40). The first Spirit-filled man in the Bible, he was chosen by God to be skilled, knowledgeable and able to teach in all kinds of craftsmanship. Since God did not want to be worshipped outdoors like the pagan/pantheistic gods, God assigned Bezalel to build the tabernacle. Repeatedly we are told of the result of the Spirit's leading in his life, "he made…" To be biblically inspired is to make. Aristotle defined art as the capacity to make. Art is the making of anything, from a meal to a symphony.

Bezalel's art was where man met God since the very presence of God dwelt with his art.”

Similarly, Calvin Seerveld urges young artists to: “Make your paintings, poetry, sculptures, songs, photography, stories, theatre pieces, music, or whatever artistry: craft it as a psalm before the face and ear of the Lord and let your neighbour listen in. Join the progeny of David, Asaph, Bezalel and Oholiab (Exodus 31:1-11), even the descendents of Korah (Psalms 42-49), and make merry before the LORD God, God's people, and even one's antagonists (Psalm 23:5).”

Thirdly, God the Son was seen/made visible/re-presented in human flesh in Jesus (John 1. 1 – 18). The doctrine of the Incarnation - the belief that, in Jesus, God himself became a human being and lived in a particular culture and time – is a key reason why visual art has featured so strongly in Christianity right from the early stages of its existence. If God had chosen to be seen in human form, so the argument goes, then the representation of God in human form is surely sanctioned by that choice. This can be clearly seen in the iconoclastic controversy of the eighth century which led to the destruction of many images, as successive emperors in Constantinople tried to stamp out their veneration.

Rowan Williams has summarised the arguments of those who were the defenders of images. Their argument was firstly that “God became truly human in Jesus … And [that] if Jesus was indeed truly human, we can represent his human nature as with any other member of the human race.” Secondly, they argued that, “If we paint a picture of Jesus, we’re not trying to show a humanity apart from divine life, but a humanity soaked through with divine life … We don’t depict just a slice of history when we depict Jesus; we show a life radiating the life and force of God.”
Next, I would want to say that the Arts are in many ways foundational to all that occurs in Church. Very briefly, we can say that:
     the Architecture of our churches provides a designed context and stage for the worship that occurs within them;
     we re-enact Biblical narratives through the poetry of the liturgy;
     music in church provides composed expressions of emotions and stories in and through song; and
     images in churches re-tell Biblical narratives and open windows into the divine.
Finally, I would also say that the Arts contribute to the mission of the Church by:
    speaking eloquently of the faith;
    providing a reason to visit a church – something we have tapped with our Art Trail for the Barking Episcopal Area;
    making links between churches and local arts organisations/ initiatives; and
    providing a focus for people to come together for a shared activity.
These then are key reasons why, in commission4mission, we seek to encourage the commissioning and placing of contemporary Christian Art in churches. This then leads on to an obvious and controversial question, ‘What is contemporary Christian Art?’ or even is there such a thing as ‘Christian Art’?
Some people answer this question by saying that ‘Christian Art’ is art made by Christians but, if that is the answer to the question, then there is much that we are ruling out. Fernand Léger’s mural at Assy, Henri Matisse’s Chapel at Vence, and Le Corbusier’s Church at Ronchamp are some of the most interesting art works and architecture created for churches during the twentieth century and all were by artists who made no claim to be Christians. In fact, all these commissions came about because of an approach to commissioning art for churches which argued that Christian art could be revived by appealing to the independent masters of the time with churches commissioning the very best artists available, and not quibbling over the artists' beliefs. If all ‘Christian Art’ is art made by Christians then we rule all this out.
So, maybe, ‘Christian Art’ is art commissioned by the Church? Again, this seems too limiting a definition. For instance, Mark C. Taylor has noted that "From the beginning of modern art in Europe, its practitioners have relentlessly probed religious issues. Though not always immediately obvious, the questions religion raises lurk on or near the surface of even the most abstract canvases produced during the modern era.” “All of the major abstract expressionists,” he says, “were deeply interested in religion and actively incorporated spiritual concerns in their work.” He concludes that, “One of the most puzzling paradoxes of twentieth-century cultural interpretation is that, while theologians, philosophers of religion, and art critics deny or surpress the religious significance of the visual arts, many of the leading modern artists insist that their work cannot be understood apart from religious questions and spiritual issues."
Re-thinking again, is it art which uses Biblical/Church images, stories or themes? Once again, this is too narrow a definition which would not capture, for example, the images that the deeply Catholic Georges Rouault produced of prostitutes, which William Dryness has described as “painted as penetrating types of the misery of human existence” but with grace also seen as “divine meaning is given to human life by the continuing passion of Jesus Christ.” Nor would we capture the semi-abstractions created by the Evangelical Christian Makoto Fujimura who uses semi-precious minerals in the Nihonga style to create paintings that tend to only hint at recognizable subjects.

As a result of these difficulties in definition, some argue that ‘Christian Art’ is a meaningless category. From this perspective, and following the ideas of the art critic Clement Greenberg, it is argued that the artwork is what it is and everything else (including any element of Christianity) is interpretation. But if this is the case then the ideas and influences of the artist, the relationship that the artwork has with its historical and art historical context, and our own response to the artwork are all ruled out of the frame. The artwork is something entirely separate from these and yet each in different ways has interacted with and affected the artwork itself. Without these the artwork does not exist or is not seen.
To add to the complexity, here’s a poem in translation by the German kinetic sculptor Heinz Mack who has had much experience of trying to work in and with Catholic chapels in Germany:

“Church art is not always art.
Art that happens to be placed in church, is art in the church,
But not Church art.
Church art that is shown in museums, remains church art in museums.
Art for the Church is not always regarded as art by the Church.
The Church does not always want art.
Art is art without the Church.
Great Church art is art in the church and for the church.”
In seeking to encourage the commissioning and placing of contemporary Christian Art in churches, commission4mission is aiming to be about “art in the church and for the church.”
Why does it matter one way or the other? James Elkins has accurately described the current relationship between the art world and religion:
"Sooner or later, if you love art, you will come across a strange fact: there is almost no modern religious art in museums or in books of art history. It is a state of affairs that is at once obvious and odd, known to everyone and yet hardly whispered about ... a certain kind of academic art historical writing treats religion as an interloper, something that just has no place in serious scholarship ... Straightforward talk about religion is rare in art departments and art schools, and wholly absent from art journals unless the work in question is transgressive. Sincere, exploratory religious and spiritual work goes unremarked. Students who make works that are infused with spiritual or religious meanings must normally be content with analysis of their works' formal properties, technique, or mode of presentation. Working artists concerned with themes of spirituality (again, excepting work that is critical or ironic about religion) normally will not attract the attention of people who write for art magazines ... An observer of the art world might well come to the conclusion that religious practice and religious ideas are not relevant to the art world unless they are treated with scepticism. And that's odd, because there is a tremendous amount of religious art ..."
Essentially, if you are a Christian and an artist, the mainstream art world provides no points of reference, no role models for you to follow. Yet, as we heard Mark C. Taylor saying earlier, "From the beginning of modern art in Europe, its practitioners have relentlessly probed religious issues.” Timothy Potts has noted that “... the pervasiveness of broadly religious and spiritual themes in twentieth-century Western art may at first seem to stand in contradiction to the secularization of so many aspects of life and culture during our times.” But, when we catch a glimpse of the true extent to which the practitioners of modern art have relentlessly probed religious issues, we will not be surprised at this pervasiveness.
What is needed, as Daniel A. Siedell has suggested, is “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.” When we have this young and emerging Christian artists will have role models and all of us can be nourished and haunted by the religious issues probed by modern and contemporary art.
The four facets of any artwork that I mentioned earlier can be used to explore the way in which modern and contemporary art probes religious issues. To see how this can work look, for example, at Andres Serrano's Piss Christ and think about your responses to each of the four facets of this artwork.
First, the nature of the artwork is that it is a 60x40 inch Cibachrome photograph of a small plastic crucifix submerged in urine. How do you respond to it? Responses often include comments on its beauty and the traditional nature of the image in addition to questioning whether the work is intended satirically.
Second, the ideas and influences of the artist in creating this piece included it being one in a series of classical statuettes submerged in fluids and a comment on the commercialisation of religion. How do you respond to it now? Responses often include questions about other statuettes in the series and about the artist's motivation in attacking the commercialisation of religion.
Third, in thinking about the artwork’s relationship with its historical and art historical context, we can see that the crucifix has an art historical lineage but is also a contemporary commercial religious product, so the work contributes to a debate regarding traditional and contemporary expressions of Christianity. How do you respond to it now? Responses often include a sense of agreeing that the work raises issues about the nature of images in religion.
Fourth, the response of viewer’s to this artwork has been twofold. There have been death threats to the artist, vandalism of the artwork and attempts to ban it from those who view it as an attack on Christianity. Alternatively, there are Christians who see it as a depiction of incarnation; of Christ coming into the detritus of life. How do you respond to it now? Responses often include the acknowledgement that the work stimulates a depth of debate because it works on several different levels.  
The work comes alive to us through the different layers of response we make to each facet of our consideration of the artwork and the debate this engenders. Each facet that we have considered involved an real engagement with aspects of Christianity, so we could therefore conclude that, however we responded personally, this is actually a deeply Christian work. Sustained reflection on artworks is what will lead us to a recognition of the spirituality and religious engagement inherent in much modern and contemporary art.

Wednesday 22 February 2012

Latest hang @ All Saints West Ham

Our permanent display of work by c4m artists at All Saints West Ham has been refreshed today with new works being hung. Artists currently showing work in this space are: Harvey Bradley, Colin Burns, Elizabeth Duncan Meyer, Jonathan Evens, Mark Lewis, Henry Shelton, and Joy Rousell Stone. The exhibition can be viewed during church opening hours.

'Condemned': Lent/Easter Series - Week 1

commission4mission has created a Lenten and Easter journey for 2012 using images by our artists combined with passages from Isaiah 53. Throughout Lent and for the first two weeks of Easter, we will post images and words from 'Condemned' here on a weekly basis.

Our first image is the work of artist, silversmith, Fine Arts lecturer, and Chair of Faith & Image (a forum for all who have an interest in art as a medium of spiritual expression), Mark Lewis. Mark has undertaken a range of drawing and painting initiatives in a Christian context and has designed and made Church plate. In addition to his lecturing, Mark has delivered workshops for the Big Draw as part of its national launch and run other community drawing events. He has set up a consultancy, Drawing First, to develop drawing skills and creative thinking in a variety of exciting learning contexts.

Other artists contributing images to the series are Peter Webb, Robert Enoch, Christopher Clack, Rosalind Hore, Nadiya Pavliv Tokarska, and Jim Insole. 'Condemned' has been compiled by Helen Gheorghiu Gould.

In addition to the weekly posts, 'Condemed' is also available as either a powerpoint or pdf file on request from Jonathan Evens at

Thursday 16 February 2012

Members update

Valerie Dean has recently completed the set of Stations of the Cross on which she has been working. They have a very clear and intense focus on details which are evocative of the whole, as can be seen from the photographs she has taken of the set which can be viewed here. Valerie is keen to discuss ways of making these Stations available for any church that would be interested in having them. 

Nadiya Pavliv Tokarska has sent information about the next exhibition at the Tokarska Gallery. Mythology in London by Anna Alcock runs from 15th - 31st March. The Private View is on 15th March from 6 - 9pm. Anna Alcock uses Greek and Roman mythological images and populates them with modern day narratives that are of significance to her living in London now. The exhibition will also include an exclusive bound suite of 15 etchings, which will be exhibited alongside etching collages and tabloids of myths with personal modern day stories that she imbues with her unique style and bold colours.

The Tokarska Gallery are also publicising their annual 'Drawing the Culture' competition for children and young people (see This is a juried open exhibition of children's drawings.
The next exhibition by the National Society of Painters, Sculptors and Printmakers, of which c4m artists Michael Creasey and Peter Webb are members, will be held at Launderdale House from 13th - 25th March.

Andrew Vessey has set up a website for his art and poetry. He writes that the website offers:

"the chance for making sensible and clear witness to my own Christian values, which have always determined how one paints as much as what I have been trying to achieve. To do theology on line in a website and give voice to the motivation which lies behind many of my ideas is a new challenge. I hope you'll be able to discern more than passing reference to having been a parish priest, or an art teacher for that matter, as the connections I am looking for, and the aspiration for thinking and then developing them as avenues of prayer and reflection, is one I welcome as a very exciting new form of ministry. I trust that my art will help move people on from the very tired language and inadequate symbolism that constitutes so much church art, to one that is rooted in the incarnation within us and divine glory around us."

Andrew will be exhibiting from 29th May - 17th June at Gallery Two, Wingfield Barns, Wingfield, Suffolk. This solo show of 60+ works will have new oil paintings "Looking into Glory" as the major focus, constituting a series of Stations on the Post-Resurrection as described in St John 21.

Jonathan Evens will be speaking on commission4mission and understandings of Christian Art at the February Learning Supper for West Mersea Parish Church (6.30pm, Sunday 26th February). Learning Suppers on Mersea Island include a time of worship, teaching, prayer and a convivial supper of soup, cheese and wine on the 4th Sunday in the month. Jonathan will also be using his Mark of the Cross and Seven Words from the Cross meditations in the three hour devotional which he will be leading at St Margaret's Barking on Good Friday from 12 noon to 3.00pm.

Monday 13 February 2012

Condemned: A Lenten Journey

commission4mission has created a Lenten and Easter journey for 2012 using images by our artists combined with passages from Isaiah 53. Throughout Lent and for the first two weeks of Easter, we will post images and words from 'Condemned' here on a weekly basis.

Artists contributing images to the series are Mark Lewis, Peter Webb, Robert Enoch, Christopher Clack, Rosalind Hore, Nadiya Pavliv Tokarska, and Jim Insole. 'Condemned' has been compiled by Helen Gheorghiu Gould.

In addition to the weekly posts, 'Condemed' is also available as either a powerpoint or pdf file on request from Jonathan Evens at

Sunday 12 February 2012

Pentecost Festival: 'Run with the Fire' exhibition

Our next exhibition will be at the Pentecost Festival in which the Run with the Fire digital exhibition will be shown alongside original artworks from commission4mission artists and invited guest artists.

The Run with the Fire exhibition will take place at the Strand Gallery (32 John Adam Street, London WC2N 6BP) from 22nd - 27th May, 11.00am - 6.00pm.

Including an eclectic mix of styles and media, this will be a stimulating and exciting show exploring the broad theme of running life's race with passion and spirit. Featured artists include Harvey Bradley, Colin Burns, Christopher Clack, Elizabeth Duncan Meyer, Robert Enoch, Jonathan Evens, Christine Garwood, Jim Insole, Ken James, Miriam Kendrick, Mark Lewis, Glenn Lowcock, Tracy Mcculloch, Henry Shelton, Sergiy Shkanov, Esther Tidy, Mike Thomas, Andrew Vessey, Rachel Watson and Peter Webb.

On Saturday 26th May there will be an additional programme of art talks and painting demonstrations.

A Launch Night on Monday 21st May, 6.00 - 8.00pm, will provide the first opportunity to see the exhibition and will also include music and poetry exploring the exhibition theme. Those performing include singer-songwriter and poet Malcolm Guite, artist-musician Colin Burns, artist-poets Andrew Vessey and Jonathan Evens, and performance poet Tamsin Kendrick. Refreshments will be available. Cost - £2.00, pay on the door.

The Run with the Fire DVD pack contains a high quality video of the digital exhibition and an event planning support pack. It is available for purchase, to provide creative content at Olympic-themed events in 2012 and beyond, from or by contacting Sue Newham on 01686 626228.

Saturday 4 February 2012

Death is certain - Nothing dies (2)

The digital graphics tryptich Death is certain - Nothing dies formed the centrepiece to the small retrospective of Christopher Clack's work at Modern Religious Art which ended today.

Juxtapositions are Clack’s stock-in-trade. Tyrannasaurus rex and crucifix, cemetery and prism, head formed by the moon, pieta with astronaut - these are just some of the disparate images brought together in his work and this show. Such juxtapositions position us at a point of paradox, a liminal place where there are more questions than answers, as in Death is certain - Nothing dies.

Clack has written that:

"In much contemporary art practice we are not given answers, we are given images and word games. Contemporary art attempts to move us away from the everyday, to break down our ideas and preconceptions ... artists in someway expect us to be able to live with their inexplicable contents, to live with the inexplicable. 'What does it mean' is not the appropriate question in relation to contemporary art, but how does it alter my perceptions, does it open things up."

Similarly, in a interview with Living South, Clack said: 

"People ask what I am trying to express, but I can't say I set out to express anything. In the process of working you find things, and show what you find.

"The process of making art can seem a messy business, chaotic at times; what the rules are is never very clear, and when we find rules we then break them as the situation calls, yet out of this comes an order, a sense of meaning. Many artists will say their best work seems is if it made itself."

Contact for details or 020 86131944 / 07942099500.

Thursday 2 February 2012

Newsletter No. 10 – January 2012

Peter Webb speaking at the Tokarska Gallery Private View

Christmas exhibition at the Tokarska Gallery

Our Christmas exhibition at the Tokarska Gallery featured a variety of c4m artists working in a variety of media (ceramics, concept drawings, fused glass, paintings, painted wooden reliefs), styles (abstract, conceptual, figurative, semi-abstract) and content (biblical scenes, landscapes, portraits, still life, symbolic scenes).

Contributing artists included Harvey Bradley, Colin Burns, Christopher Clack, Ally Clarke, Valerie Dean, Jonathan Evens, Mark Lewis, Nadiya Pavliv-Tokarska, Janet Roberts, Caroline Richardson, Henry Shelton, Joy Rousell Stone, Andrew Vessey and Peter Webb.

As part of the Private View Colin Burns performed guitar instrumentals from his forthcoming CD. Andrew Vessey read three poems that, like several of the paintings he exhibited, explore encounters and travels in well-known biblical stories but set into the context of contemporary landscapes of Suffolk and Gower. Peter Webb spoke about creativity as the essence of God in his introductory remarks and Jonathan Evens read his poem on the creative process entitled 'The Mark'.

Marisa Martin, writer of the 'True Colors' column on WorldNetDaily, featured c4m and the Tokarska exhibition in a piece entitled 'Anglicans invite artists back to church' (see In her article, Martin noted that c4m works to keep alive the Anglican Church tradition of inspiring, commissioning and installing new art but "uses contemporary and decidedly non-traditional art" to do so. She highlighted particularly the work of Peter Webb and Christopher Clack, describing Webb's Supper at Emmaus as "something like a cross between Jack Levine's and Franz Hals' group scenes" and Clack's Descent II as "visually riveting, although spiritually neutral." The question that c4m poses, she suggested, is whether "new and contemporary symbols be found for the traditional images and doctrines of the Christian faith?"

Run With The Fire

A promotional presentation for 'Run with the Fire' is now available to be viewed on YouTube. The presentation outlines the project, shows examples of work included and gives information for ordering copies of the 'Run with the Fire' pack. Each pack includes: a digital exhibition on DVD with a 2 year licence for use in the purchasing church; an electronic book and planning aid produced by three experienced Christian event organisers, with samples and templates to save you time and effort; telephone, skype or e-mail support to help you use the pack effectively; access to a large pool of Christian artists who you may wish to involve in your project.

Each 'Run with the Fire' pack costs £50.00 (any profits, go to Oxfam) and can be bought from or by contacting Sue Newham on 01686 626228.

Member profile: Robert Enoch

Robert Enoch's art is an exciting exploration of colour, form, movement and meaning. He makes artistic interpretations of the Bible in a visionary form and has made installations for the church that visually explore and interpret the Gospels. His films blend social documentary and corporate video. In his photographs he searches the environment for images of piercing meaning among the everyday.

Dedication of etched windows

The second set of etched windows, etched by Richard Paton to designs by Henry Shelton at All Saint's Hutton, were dedicated on Sunday 4th December 2011 by Revd. Bob Wallace, Rector of the parish. The windows feature symbols of the four Evangelists complementing the earlier set of windows in the opposite screen which features symbols of seven Saints.

2012 plans:

Our plans for 2012 include: work on three current commissions; a Central London exhibition as part of the Pentecost Festival; and our partnership project, 'Run with the Fire', with CANA and Veritasse for the Olympics.