Wednesday, 4 November 2009

commission4mission exhibition

Dropped into Chelmsford Cathedral this morning to see the commission4mission exhibition. Commission4mission aims to encourage the commissioning and placing of contemporary Christian Art in churches, as a mission opportunity and as a means of fundraising for charities. The exhibition runs from 2nd – 7th November ‘09 in the cathedral and ends on Saturday 7th with a Study Day entitled ‘Perspectives on commissioning Christian Art’.


There is a wide variety of art on display including: pottery, painting in watercolour, oils and acrylics, embroidery, wall hangings, prints, sculpture, panel reliefs, mosaics, drawings, glass work and jewellery. The cathedral also contains many examples of contemporary art and one of the most striking features is a 20 foot painting situated in the North Transept and unveiled in January 2004 to celebrate the 1,350th anniversary of St. Cedd's arrival at Bradwell. It is of a "Tree of Life" painted by Mark Cazalet. It is a Gospel Oak which evokes different levels of response from the viewer with many symbols that give their own messages. The environmental and ecological themes are obvious. but it is also a celebration, which exults in the sheer splendour of this great tree, and is a call to worship the God who creates.

tree of life

Jonathan Evens, one of the key people behind commission4mission, posted a guest blog which explains more about the vision here.


Jonathan Evens said...

Thanks Philip. Grateful for your support.

Philip Ritchie said...

Hi Jonathan, I enjoyed the exhibition, good to see the wide variety of art mediums being used. I guess there are quite a few larger items that couldn’t be exhibited because of the logistics. My one comment would be that most of what I saw was what I would term fairly mainstream Christian imagery and I wondered if there was some more challenging material. I assume that if the work is being commissioned by churches they are less likely to go for something more controversial.

Jonathan Evens said...

I agree that most of what has been included in the exhibition is fairly mainstream Christian imagery. Our exhibitions, and this one in particular, are aiming to showcase work which our artists think could be commissioned by churches and that tends to lead them towards traditional icongraphy. As a result, at least one artist who has tended to produce more rigorously abstract work in the past produced figurative work for this exhibition, which I thought was a shame. We were also unable to incorporate, because of their size, two mosaics of graffiti-style words which were less traditional. We had asked for mainly small works for this show because of the numbers exhibiting and the space restrictions but still ended up trying to fit in alot of larger pieces, which probably didn't help the overall look and feel of the show.

However, I think that the show does include some very original pieces and surprising pieces. Peter Webb's 'Architect's arguing over the Tower of Babel' is a wonderfully detailed and witty take on a rarely depicted or imagined aspect of the story which was included in an RA Summer Exhibition some years ago. Colin Burns' oils are entirely devoid of recognisable Biblical or Christian imagery but evoke a sense of calm and reflection that would befit a church or prayer room. Caroline Richardson's glass work 'Broken-Hearted' is, I think, a strong statement which works well with popular rather than explicitly Christian imagery. 'The Leader' by Joy Rousell Stone and Henry Shelton's two 'Stations of the Cross' pieces by the energy of their brushwork and their semi-abstract nature evoke a powerful sense of the violence of the Passion.

Our Study Day today also included further debate on the issue of traditional vs challenging imagery. For commissions, we are led to some extent by the commissioning church in terms of their vision for the space but that doesn't always mean that they will go with the safest option. The 'Stations of the Cross' that Henry Shelton is creating for St Pauls Goodmayes are the most abstract and minimal in terms of imagery that he has produced, with Christ represented throughout only by the crown of thorns.