The Art Diary April 2023 – Rev Jonathan Evens

Art Diary 2023

In this month’s diary, I’m mainly reconnecting with artists, collections, movements and prizes I’ve featured previously in my writing.

Mark Dean and I worked together when I was priest-in-charge at St Stephen Walbrook. We held an all-night Easter vigil as part of a larger project with St Paul’s Cathedral, in which Dean’s 14 ‘Stations of the Cross’ videos were projected onto the circular Henry Moore altar in St Stephen’s. The vigil also included a dance piece with Lizzi Kew Ross & Co that previewed a more expansive dance performance in St Paul’s.

In an exhibition entitled ‘Process/Rehearsal/Performance’, three subsequent videos by Mark Dean produced in collaboration with Lizzi Kew Ross & Co can be viewed at the Laban Theatre in London. ‘Ne me touche Pas de trois’ combines three iterations of a devising improvisation by Lizzi Kew Ross & Co, in their first gathering since lockdown, still under conditions of social distance. ‘Dance City of God’ layers footage of Lizzi Kew Ross & Co rehearsing ‘Stations of the Crossing’ in Newcastle with constituent video works drawn from Mark Dean’s ‘Stations of the Cross’. ‘Stations of the Crossing’ is a documentary video of the resulting 40-minute dance work as presented in Durham Cathedral, shot from the perspective of the altar on which the video works were projected. Combining movement, video, and sound with the magnificent architecture of the cathedral, this meditative performance incorporated works by Dean with new choreographic work devised by Lizzi Kew Ross. Five dancers explored an interpretation of the Easter moment, producing a shared journey and progression through time and space, inviting the audience to experience the relationship between the installation, the performance, and their own responses.

I first encountered The Methodist Modern Art Collection, one of Britain’s most important collections of modern religious art, at Wesley’s Chapel in London and have seen subsequent exhibitions on several occasions. The Collection has over 50 works, including some by artists such as Graham Sutherland, Elisabeth Frink, William Roberts, Patrick Heron and most recently, Maggi Hambling. Works from the Collection are currently on display in Bristol at Victoria Methodist Church, with which I have worked in my church roles and John Wesley’s New Room.

‘Where Our Paths Meet – Articles of Faith’ at Victoria Methodist Church is the first time that works from the collection are being displayed alongside artefacts from other faith traditions. Thirty paintings from the Collection are displayed, including works by Sutherland, Frink, Ceri Richards, Hambling and many other renowned artists. The exhibition is organised into eight clusters which relate to our common human spirituality; hope, suffering, hospitality, relationship and mystery, justice and peace, text and story, life and death, compassion and service. Rev Richard Sharples, minister at Victoria Methodist Church, says, “The whole project has been one long conversation on the part of the planning group, which has widened and deepened as we have been joined by people from faith traditions other than Christianity.” ‘Death to Life: Image, Expression & Symbolism’ at John Wesley’s New Room is a reflective exhibition which brings together works by Francis Souza, Roberts, Heron, and Michael Edmonds showcasing depictions of the Crucifixion. The exhibition aims to evoke a sense of discovery through meaning, expression and symbolism.

Also in Bristol is Garry Fabian Miller, one of the most inventive and original photographers of his time, with his third major exhibition at the Arnolfini entitled ‘ADORE’, which celebrates a lifetime of his work. The exhibition begins with images from ‘Sections of England: The Sea Horizon’ (1976 to 1977), originally shown at Arnolfini in 1979 in Fabian Miller’s first solo exhibition when he was 19 years old. These are images that establish his deep affinity with nature. They are followed by early examples of his pre-abstract practice, including the hawthorn tree and the plants and flowers that adorn his garden and stretch out into the surrounding hedgerows. With these works and recurring series – returning to capture the same grove of hawthorn trees throughout the seasons, year after year – Fabian Miller is revealed as an artist of incredible patience for whom the slowing of time has taken on a deep-rooted importance. ‘ADORE’ then moves into themes of light (and colour) that run throughout his practice as his work moved out of the darkroom to discover a new stage of his imagery development process. Finally, the narrative winds its way back to Dartmoor – the place in which Fabian Miller has made his home and found endless inspiration – featuring a collaborative project with photographer Nicholas J R White, and revisiting some of the places that have been the inspiration for earlier works in the exhibition.

Art Diary April 2023
Space by Anne Smith

‘ADORE’ enables us to explore his ‘camera-less’ practice that experiments with darkness and light while also weaving in work by artists, writers and thinkers that have inspired him over the years. A myriad of ‘artists and makers, gardeners and Quakers, thinkers, and writers create a homely space within the exhibition of new tapestries and rugs created with Dovecot, Edinburgh and Dash + Miller, alongside a rich array of pottery, printmaking, archive material and textiles. ‘ADORE’ also stretches beyond the galleries, with a celebratory festival of musicians, filmmakers, writers, poets, and collaborators who have contributed to Fabian Miller’s extraordinary practice, culminating in a rich programme of live events and engagement activity, welcoming Arnolfini’s communities to share the artist’s affirmation of a ‘life well lived’. It was through such extra-curricula activities that I first connected with Fabian Miller and his work; in reading about ‘The Journey’, a series of unique site-specific installations in religious and secular buildings and public spaces organised in 1990.

Also engaging with the natural world is a ground-breaking exhibition by the Fleming Collection of Scottish art, staged in Coventry Cathedral. It will focus on a group of veteran artists who were ahead of their time in responding to the threat of climate change. Until now, these artists, although known to one another, have never been perceived as a group with common artistic goals. The gifting to the collection in 2022 of James Morrison’s monumental (6 metres in length) ‘Arctic Mural’ (1995) led the director of the Fleming Collection, James Knox, to investigate whether other Scottish-based artists shared similar preoccupations around that time or earlier. His search led him to examine the work and careers of six artists; painters Frances Walker (born 1930), James Morrison (1932-2020) and Glen Onwin (born 1947); visual artist and constructivist, Will MacLean (born 1941); artist / filmmaker Elizabeth Ogilvie (born 1946); and expeditionary artist and photographer Thomas Joshua Cooper (born 1946).

Despite their varying disciplines, there are several threads that bind them together. These include a common instinct, driven by geography, to engage with the topography and ecology of the North, which they see as stretching from Scotland’s north-western coastland and archipelago to Greenland, to Canada’s High Arctic – and in Cooper’s case, to the North Pole itself. This has placed them at the frontiers of climate change, where the onset of global warming was most immediately felt. History is another thread. Much of Maclean’s work mourns the loss of age-old working communities and memorialises their links to archaic pasts. Ogilvie’s family had to leave the remote island of St Kilda in 1930, along with the rest of the population, triggering her lifelong interest in lives lived on the edge of existence and to a related preoccupation with the sea from early drawings of ‘wave-scapes’ to her recent film of kelp forests, projected onto the Cop 26 venue in Glasgow. Walker, always drawn to wild and desolate spaces, feels a similar kinship with St Kilda. Beyond Scotland, Morrison has worked alongside a community of Inuit peoples in the Canadian High Arctic who had been forcibly resettled from their traditional territories by the Canadian government. Their fortitude in the face of injustice heightened the emotional intensity of his Arctic paintings, which, devoid of people, depicted a colossal landscape sublimely indifferent to humankind. Equally, Cooper, who is of Cherokee descent, spent formative years as a boy on an American Indian reservation. This led to his understanding of the trauma of his ancestors and, by association, ‘cleared’ Highlanders “being moved from their own sense of belonging.”

These backgrounds and experiences led these artists to engage with the consequences of brutal social disruption and spiritual exile long before the effects of climate change had impacted the communities of the Arctic Circle and in other precarious environments around the globe. Following his expeditions to the High Arctic, James Morrison was left in no doubt as to what the future held: “We are hell-bent on destroying the planet.” He said in 1997: “I simply do not see homo sapiens making the decisions, the self-sacrificing decisions, to save the planet. I think the planet will run on to oblivion.” Collectively, these artists are not well known to a wide public outside Scotland. And yet they deserve to be. Their prescient response, stretching back forty years or more to the now full-blown climate crisis, has always been part of themselves and their art, resulting in works of intense feeling, meaning and beauty. At a time when the climate crisis has rightly become a central preoccupation for artists across the globe, now is the time to acknowledge those who forged the way.

Having worked with Coventry Cathedral in a range of guises since The Very Revd John Witcombe became Dean, including the organisation of an exhibition, it is good to see them highlighting issues of climate change whilst promoting the work of under-recognised artists. Whitcombe says that the exhibition: “will bring a fresh perspective on reconciliation with the earth into the heart of Coventry, casting our eyes and hearts north to the view of the planet from above, and challenging us through both beauty and peril – as artic exploration has always done – to discover our own response in this time of climate crisis.”

The Chaiya Art Awards is now in its third iteration, and I was glad to be one of the judges for the previous Awards in 2021. The exhibition has grown in size for 2023 and now covers 13 rooms at the OXO and Bargehouse galleries on London’s Southbank. The theme for the 2023 Awards is ‘Awe+Wonder’. Over 770 entries were received in a variety of mediums, including painting, drawing, sculpture, glass, textiles, photography, video and installations. The judges longlisted 200, and of these, 120 are being exhibited in a show that makes for uninhibited, magical journeying where you can immerse yourself in a multi-faceted spirituality with the unexpected and even miraculous occurring. Joining founder Katrina Moss on the judging panel this year have been Kaffe Fassett, Favour Jonathan, Alastair Adams, Dr Christo Kefalas, Marcus Lyon, Ann Clifford, and Alastair Gordon.

Moss comments: “We know that art helps us to gain a fresh perspective in times of crisis and conflict, but can also be genuinely transformative, taking the artist and the viewer on journeys of discovery. Each year’s competition is underpinned by the theme of spirituality, and we invite and engage people of all faiths to enter; those with none and everyone in between. When setting each year’s competition brief, we give artists the opportunity to explore and express their response to spirituality and to the theme through their creativity.”

Art Diary 2023
Richard Kenton Webb, Triptych Language without words 2022

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I remember visiting the Benjamin Rhodes Gallery to see work by Richard Kenton Webb, who was a pioneer in connecting art and spirituality. Kenton Webb recalls that Benjamin Rhodes first walked into his life at an exhibition at The Royal Overseas League when he was in his second year MA at the Royal College of Art in 1985. He says he “was extremely fortunate to have a London dealer, and Benjamin is amongst the best”, so he is grateful to be exhibiting with Rhodes again for ‘Richard Kenton Webb Vol.5 – Drawings from the Albers Series & Paintings from the ongoing Manifesto Series’.

The show covers ten drawings from the ‘Manifesto of Painting’ series made on his recent Albers Foundation residency, and six recent paintings – two of these are triptychs, all made in Kenton Webb’s new studio in Plymouth. In the 50 days of residency at the Albers Foundation, Kenton Webb made 72 drawings, a body of work about his teaching philosophy. He has a concern “that painting, drawing, and printmaking are misunderstood and greatly under-valued.” He views these embodied activities as being “so essential for our wellbeing, and yet they are frequently contested at the highest levels of education in favour of the digital and word-based outcomes.”

I have just reviewed ‘After Impressionism: Inventing Modern Art’ and, in doing so, focused on the extent to which spirituality influenced many developments in modern art, from the Roman Catholic influences on Émile Bernard, Paul Gauguin and the Nabis to the theosophical influences on Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondriaan. One link artist between these artists was Alexej von Jawlensky. A 2019 retrospective, ‘Alexej von Jawlensky: Expressionism and Devotion’, explored the influence of his modern spiritualism, which combined the best of different religious movements. The latest exhibition of his work focuses on a three-year period in Ascona, from 1918 to 1921, where he did his last landscape work before turning his attention almost exclusively to depicting the human face and that of Christ in a highly mystical style.

It was in Ascona that Jawlensky consolidated his personal practice: the bright hues and marked lines of Expressionism meeting the simplified forms and transparent colours of abstract art. In a wonderfully insightful essay on this period of Jawlensky’s career, the artist-musician-poet David Miller suggests that: “Jawlensky’s paintings are like no other’s. They are, at once, distinctly of their time – of the epoch shared with Kandinsky, Marc, Nolde, Schmidt-Rotluff – and extraordinarily ‘other’ in the way they affect a radical or authentic recovery of an old tradition, that of Byzantine and Russian ikonic art.” “Like the ikon painter,” Miller states, “Jawlensky is concerned with an expressly spiritual emotion”, and the effect is “of a contemplative serenity.”

‘Process/Rehearsal/Performance’, 15 March – 6 April 2023, Laban Theatre, Creekside, London.

‘Where Our Paths Meet – Articles of Faith Exhibition’, 20 February – 8 April 2023, Victoria Methodist Church, Bristol.

‘Death to Life: Image, Expression & Symbolism’, 18 February – 8 April 2023, John Wesley’s New Room, Bristol.

‘ADORE’, 18 February – 28 May 2023, Arnolfini, Bristol.

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‘This Fragile Earth: How pioneer Scottish Artists anticipated the climate crisis’, 4 April – 29 May 2023, Coventry Cathedral.

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2023 Chaiya Art Awards Exhibition, 7 – 16 April 2023, OXO and Bargehouse galleries, Southbank, London.

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‘Richard Kenton Webb Vol. 5, Drawings from the Albers Series and Paintings from the Ongoing Manifesto Series’, 14 April to 24 June 2023, Benjamin Rhodes Arts, London.

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‘Alexej von Jawlensky in Ascona ‘… The three most interesting years on my life …”, 23 April – 1 August 2023, Museo D’Arte Della Svizzera Italiana, Lugano.

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