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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).
This installation consists of a hanging which is viewed from both sides, a ‘falling book’ the name of which is Of Silence and Butterflies and a poem which is sung to a musical cadence. The work expresses my concern for ecology and the planet and it was inspired by observing the garden one afternoon in early summer. It was in 2012 and I was sitting by our decking but, as I looked at grass and bushes, I could hear no buzzing of insects and see no butterfly flit through the leaves.
Silent Polyphonies showing hanging Side A and ‘falling book’, Of Silence and Butterflies.
The hanging is made of opaque fabrics and also semi-transparent organza painted with silk paints in a ‘wet-on-wet’ technique or inkjet printed.
The work during set-up in the Willow Gallery, Oswestry.
Another view of the work, this time in an exhibition with Disability Arts Cymru in Plas Glyn y Weddw Gallery, Llanbedrog, Gwynedd.
There is a column in paper featuring various words about the subject on Side A. This side tends towards light tones in its colouration while Side B is darker and more sombre.
Detail on Side A showing column with words.
Three willow wands also arc across Side B.
Side B (detail) showing the willow wands.
Of Silence and Butterflies
The images above feature the hanging and the falling book. It comes with its own box which is covered in inkjet printed fabric.
The book showing its box and the first page.
Both watercolour paper and fabrics make up the pages of the book and the words are those of a poem written specifically for the piece.
Some pages of the book.
These appear to float across the gallery wall using a mix of some pages pinned to the wall itself and others attached to or on small clear acrylic shelves.
In the wording of the poem, I speak about the lack of butterflies, how so many seemed to be missing from the garden. In reading about the problem of the missing butterflies, I came across the plight of one species whose home is not far from where I live, the little Silver Studded Blue. A delicate and very pretty creature, the good news is that this particular butterfly has been making something of a recovery by Llandudno, on the Great Orme of North Wales and also in the South-West of England. This is because people living in these regions worked to ensure that the heathland habitat especially liked by these butterflies could be preserved and increased if possible.
Hanging, detail top Side A.
The plight and recovery of the little butterfly is just one instance that shows how important it is to take care of our countryside, for ourselves, for the animal kingdom and for all that grows on the earth. The health of our environment depends on a delicate balance between humanity, the animal kingdom and the earth itself. Frightening aspects of climate change have already impacted people in various parts of the planet so it is vital for the good health of our present time and for those as yet to be born that we work to be good stewards of our fragile and beautiful planet.
The following are the words of the poem:
A day in summer,
quiet, dripping with
where is the buzz of
insects and where have
the butterflies gone? –
pale ghosts in the
silence of memory.
Tides flow, birds cry,
mimic one another:
‘God so loved the world’,
a love in which we share,
in which we act to
care for one another,
work together to hear
listen for voices
crying of solutions,
calling, waiting in the
womb of silence.
Tides flow, birds cry,
silently brush the sky.
I also set the poem to music which I wrote and then made into a soundtrack to form part of the installation. On the soundtrack, I read the poem, sing short phrases and play the piano. An atmospheric ambience is created by a recording of the sea plashing to the shore and this is heightened by the gentle drone of a double bass played softly in the background by my son, professional musician Ed Harrisson.
This soundtrack can be heard on SoundCloud via the link below:
The image here shows myself by the installation at the Opening of the exhibition in Plas Glyn y Weddw.
The installation has been exhibited both with and without the soundtrack, although I feel it is not complete without the sound.
The installation in my solo exhibition Fragile Dramas in the Cloisters (or the Refectory) Gallery, St Davids Cathedral, Pembrokeshire
This image shows the work from a different angle, this time with Side B facing the camera. When placing the ‘falling book’, rather than having it drift across a gallery wall as it would usually do, it rests instead on the stones of the cathedral.
The picture also includes the speakers used for emanating the soundtrack that played in a loop during the exhibition. Not usually seen, it was thought that their presence here was discreet and would neither be in the way of visitors to the exhibition nor would they distract from it.
I have exhibited a couple of times in the cathedral, a beautiful and, of course, spiritual place. The refectory, or cloister, has high soaring windows that give a softly flowing light to the space. I hope to return one day.