This was the first installation that I created and it was made for my MA in Fine Art at Aberystwyth University. The inspiration for it was the Gospel of Matthew. In his gospel, Matthew gives the history of Christ, his genealogy, birth, early years and the beginnings of his mission on earth. He goes on to The Calling of the First Disciples and then to the main tenets of Christ’s vision of how humankind should live.
I was interested in how the apostles had their own characters, as described in the gospels by Matthew and others, and also how they were all linked together by their following of and relationship with Christ. Interested, too, in how artists envision and interpret spirituality, this led me to consider how I might create an image for Christ and each apostle that could reflect their own personality and rôle as apostle of Christ.
My work, though very often figurative, has sometimes been abstract in style. These abstract works have come about due to considerations into how colour and line create mood and interpret expression, much as how a piece of music, given a certain key, can create a mood of mystery, surprise or reflective well-being. In line with my meditative practice and these reflections on how the visual power of art comes about not just through figurative imagery but through the inherent properties of colour, line and form, I decided to develop pieces for my MA exhibition as abstract works.
Seen here on exhibition in the beautiful setting of the Cloisters Gallery, St Davids Cathedral, the photograph shows how I created an abstract portrait for Christ and for each apostle within a Last Supper Setting. I feel that the women in the gospels also have an important part to play in the story of Christ and dissemination and development of Christianity, so I created panels to represent Mary of Magdala and Mary, Mother of God. With their close visual connections and meditative nature, I felt I was inviting viewers to come within the space of the pieces, so thinking about this and how Christ invites us to look to him and follow him, freely and without coercion, the title The Invitation was born.
The portraits share a common ground, painted in acrylic on calico for Christ, then inkjet printed for the disciples. This ground, which represents a contemplation on the lakeside town of Capernaum where Christ lived for a time and where He first called the disciples, is also a Capernaum of the mind, a meditation on the path taken to faith. Aspects of their lives and what we know of the characteristics of each apostle combine with the ground to to achieve the final image for each individual. A central image is based on Matthew’s booth as a tax collector and, in this reference to buildings, alludes also to houses where miracles and meetings took place within the gospel story. The booth also symbolises the upper room where all met before and after the Crucifixion.
This image also shows the blues of the sea, a significant element in the lives of Christ and of the apostles; as disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee with Christ and they travelled far and wide to tell of his message.
The image below of John and Christ shows how the cloth that was the ground for the imagery not only acted as base for the portraits but, in its nature, formed part of the portraits themselves. Cloth is malleable and, attached to the gallery wall by dressmakers’ pins, was mounted in folds to give a dynamic presence for each person. The gospel of John 13: 23-25, talks about how one of the disciples, ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ was next to Christ at table. This disciple is thought to be John, so I have portrayed him as leaning towards Christ, the cloth of his ground almost touching that of Christ.
Central figure in both the physical and metaphorical sense, Christ offers Himself as a Eucharist, not just for the companions dining with Him then but for all people everywhere through all time.
Panels for Mary, Mother of God and Mary of Magdala
The panels for Mary, Mother of God and Mary of Magdala were placed slightly forward of the apostles’ wall, welcoming visitors to the space and a bench was supplied for anyone who might want to sit and contemplate the exhibition.
Women in the New Testament era would have woven cloth for garments, so stitch forms connections with the biblical figures across the earthly centuries. It also threads through the eternal message of the spiritual, Christ’s invitation to all of us to ‘Come to me, all you who are burdened, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28). He calls us, as well, to come for inspiration, help and guidance in every aspect of our lives and to know that He is with us ‘always, even to the end of time’ (Matthew 28:20). Mary of Magdala (or Mary Magdalene) was the first to witness to the risen Christ after His crucifixion and, in light of this, I have given her the colours of dawn.
The two women are represented by long, free-standing panels, placed at either end of the group of apostles, as seen in the first image.
This detail from the panel for the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, shows how her fabrics are painted in shades of blue. This tonality follows the tradition whereby many artists have depicted her garments in tones of blue throughout the centuries. Her name is realised in Hebrew letters stitched with gold thread. I felt it was important to have different languages included in the portraits and here, the Hebrew lettering, which has beautiful shapes, refers to the Aramaic that Mary, Christ and the apostles would have spoken. Read right to left, the letters spell her name, Maryām. I thought it was important to write her name using gold thread, as gold, in substance and colour, represents something precious and it makes a rich contrast with the blue ground. Another of the titles for Mary is as Queen of Heaven, so the blues of her ground represent this heavenly connection while the gold suggests her queenly crown.
Another very important element of the installation is the music that was composed especially for it. Mirroring the embroidery and extending the installation’s colour key into sound, I composed a cadence for it in G-minor. I sang this cadence, recording it so that I could overlap the phrases, as the stitches and fabrics overlap one another in the visual images. Behind the voice, my son, professional musician Ed Harrisson, plays a sonorous tone on the double bass, creating a gentle basis behind the words and phrases which are performed in the manner of a sung mantra.
Please click on the link below to hear the sound track:-
This sound element plays alongside the exhibition’s visual elements, inviting the viewer to look, listen and to reflect.
The Invitation Book
A book called ‘The Invitation’ was made to accompany the artwork.
Below shows an example of pages from the book. The apostle here is Judas Iscariot. This is the darkest of the portraits, the blacks, greys and reds interpreting the emotional turmoil of betrayal and despair. There is, however, a glimpse, too, of the golden light that Judas shared in his initial calling as a disciple before the clutches of evil laid hold on him, a hold that led to his betraying of Christ to the authorities and his death by suicide.
First exhibited in May, 2011, at the School of Art Gallery, Aberystwyth University, the installation was then shown as part of an exhibition put on by exhibiting group, NCompass, at CARAD, Museum and Art Gallery, Rhayader, Powys, in autumn 2011. This exhibition was entitled ‘NCompass:Encounters with the Soul’.
During Passiontide 2012 ‘The Invitation’ was exhibited as a solo exhibition in The Cloisters Gallery, St Davids Cathedral, St Davids, Pembrokeshire and following this, a section of the installation was exhibited during the Easter season in Our Lady of Seven Sorrows, Dolgellau.
In July 2013 ‘The Invitation’ once again came before the public as part of the Arts and Music Festival organised by Paul Spicer and the English Choral Experience, Dore Abbey, Herefordshire.
This solo exhibition was very well received and the following are comments from the Visitors’ Book.
“Inspired and inspiring!…absolutely beautiful…meditative…stunning…. wonderfully executed and displayed…lovely music…mesmerising.”
“An inspirational collection of works, well researched and thought-provoking. A “challenge” to view together. I loved them!”
It has also been exhibited in Newman University, Birmingham, where, once again, it had a beautiful room in which to be seen and heard. I gave a poetry reading during the exhibition and a quartet of singers, in which my son, Ed, sang tenor, performed a selection of part songs which interspersed the poems. Ed is on the extreme right in the photograph (my left).
More to follow!