The Art Diary June 2023 – Rev Jonathan Evens

Peter Howson, June Art Diary 2023

The June Art Diary includes Gwen John, Marc Chagall, Louis Carreon, Peter Howson, Laura Knight, Cecilia Vicuña and Yun Hyong-keun.

Gwen John’s conversion to Catholicism in 1913 and its effect on her art has not yet been fully recognised, but ‘Gwen John: Art and Life in London and Paris’ at Pallant House represents another step along the way. John’s conversion meant that she searched for new methods to bring faith to life in her art. Art and faith were already being explored to a significant extent in Paris, and, in her catalogue foreword for her solo exhibition in London in 1926, she quoted the leading modern French religious artist, Maurice Denis, who had championed the joining of art and Catholicism in experimental ways. She also admired the work of Georges Rouault, the pre-eminent Roman Catholic artist of his time, and Paul Cezanne, who sought to explore the eternal element of the Universe, the “Pater Omnipotens Aeterna Deus”. Additionally, in Meuden, where she lived, she was a neighbour to the Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain (who regularly held study circles at his home attended by significant artists), being a close friend of his sister-in-law Véra Oumançoff.

John had also been influenced by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, who worked for a time as an assistant to Auguste Rodin. They met at Rodin’s studio in the 1900s and became friends. In his writings, Rilke “sought to restore spirit to Western materialism”, encouraging “a heightened awareness of how to live with the world as it is, of how to retain a sense of transcendence within a world of collapsed spiritual certainty.” John owned several books on Rilke, and, after his death in 1926, she continued to address him in her private notes, writing, “Rilke! Hold my hand!… Teach me, inspire me” and, in 1931, “I am calm and collected, am I not? When I think of Rilke or my work?”

Art Diary June 2023
Soojin Kang, To Be you, Whoever You Are 2023 (installation view) photo ©Grey Hutton, courtesy of the artist and Gathering

John wrote of herself as being “God’s little artist” and of entering “into art as one enters into religion”. The attention that she paid both to the subjects of her slowly evolving oil paintings and in the rapid sketches she made of local people in church seems, for her, to have been equated with prayer. She viewed herself as a sensual creature unable to pray for any length of time but, inspired by the ‘Little Way’ of Saint Therese of Lisieux, which outlines how the smallest thing can be done in the name of God, wrote that she must be a saint in her work. What she could express in her work, she wrote, was the “desire for a more interior life”. Accordingly, her art meditates quietly on the beauty of everyday existence in ways that, rather than setting her work alongside that of the artists of the French Catholic Revival, place her with Jean-Baptiste Simeon Chardin, Giorgio Morandi and Vilhelm Hammershøi.

Marc Chagall, perhaps the foremost visual interpreter of the Bible in the 20th century, was among those artists who particularly connected with Maritain. His vision of the Old Testament combines his Jewish heritage with modern art, offering a rich display of symbol and imagination. “Since my early youth, I have been fascinated by the Bible,” Chagall said: “it has always seemed to me, and it seems to me still, that it is the greatest source of poetry of all time. Since then, I have sought this reflection in life and in art. The Bible is like an echo of nature and this secret I have tried to transmit.”
‘Marc Chagall and the Bible’ contains over 55 etchings and lithographs of Chagall’s graphic works, including ten of the 105 etchings that together constitute a suite of work for Marc Chagall’s Bible (1932–39, 1952–56), a monumental project spanning 25 years. Also included are all 42 brilliantly coloured images from his 1956 and 1960 suites of Bible lithographs, printed by Mourlot and published in Paris by Tériade for Verve as special editions devoted exclusively to Chagall’s original lithographs.

Louis Carreon and Peter Howson provide us with more contemporary examples of religiously inspired artists. With a background in tagging, rapping, skateboarding and surfing, Californian-born Carreon is a street artist who is sampling art history and its religious iconography. Inspired by Hip Hop, Carreon riffs off imagery appropriated from the likes of El Greco, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Peter Paul Rubens and Michelangelo Merisi Caravaggio to disrupt and re-present images of the greats in ways to which young people can relate. He says that he loves “the idea of distressing paintings; taking paintings and painting over old thoughts with new ideas, adding language and using shapes based off of plants, shamanic vibrations, graffiti and movement.”
After doing time in federal prison for drug-related crimes, Carreon found peace through art and a cleansing of his soul and mind, leading him to overcome addiction and immerse himself in art. His first federal museum exhibition draws on his Mexican-American roots, appreciation for Mexico’s shamans, and an inspirational visit to Shambalanté in the Yucatan jungle. In the paintings displayed, he dialogues with the work of Frida Kahlo and uses stencils of natural forms, including stones, sticks, flowers and palm trees, to explore the agricultural industrialisation of indigenous land.
Howson has an apocalyptic view of the violence and conflict consistently experienced within human societies, and his retrospective at the City Art Centre in Edinburgh brings together around 100 works spanning the artist’s career, many never seen before in Scotland. His heroic portrayals of the mighty and lowly confront subjects of human conflict and destruction that offer a penetrating insight into the human condition. His own experiences of abuse—whether self-inflicted and substance-related or the traumatic events of his childhood—moulded his worldview and afforded him an affinity with individuals on the margins of society. In 1993 he was appointed Official War Artist in Bosnia by the Imperial War Museum, sponsored by The Times, and a section of the exhibition is devoted to this traumatic and harrowing experience.

These experiences of trauma led him into the depths of despair, and with his life at a very low ebb, Howson reached out to God, experiencing a life-changing moment. Many of the works exhibited on the second floor of the gallery are inspired by his ongoing faith journey, including his ‘Stations of the Cross’ series. His faith has compelled Howson to continue to respond to contemporary events in his own unique way. The Covid-19 Pandemic and the ongoing war in Ukraine are themes he explores in recent paintings and works on paper. The exhibition’s top floor includes seminal major works from the last decade, such as ‘Prophecy’ and ‘Babylon’, as well as a new series of apocalyptic ink paintings crammed with fearsome beasts and grotesque figures.
The Ben Uri Gallery in St John’s Wood, London, is also showing a major work by Howson as part of two short, focused exhibitions with a common theme – ‘A Brush with Evil’ – that explore the trauma of the Second World War and its consequences. ‘Holocaust Crowd Scene II’ is a monumental canvas offering a visceral and haunting representation of the horror and brutality of the Nazi concentration camps by depicting Jewish prisoners in various attitudes of grief, suffering and lamentation. Its structure and composition reference classical and Christian imagery, such as Rubens’ ‘Massacre of the Innocents’ and representations of the dead Christ (or pietà), powerfully underlining the prisoners’ martyrdom.
Its display will be followed by the showing of Dame Laura Knight’s two powerful and insightful preparatory works for the painting ‘Prisoners in the Dock at the Nuremberg Trial’, which is on permanent display at the Imperial War Museum and was created at and during one of the most important trials in modern history. Knight, one of the most distinguished artists of the 20th century, was the second woman to be elected to full membership of the Royal Academy, the first woman to be honoured with a full retrospective at the Royal Academy, and the only woman to be appointed as an official war artist in both World Wars. Celebrated for her depictions of the circus, ballet and the Romany community, Knight embraced realism and English impressionism during her long and distinguished career. At the age of 68, she was appointed as Britain’s official war artist to the trials and granted rare access to the Nuremberg courtroom. From the American press box, she captured the intense drama and emotion of the trial of 22 notorious Nazi criminals.

Works by Knight can also be seen in ‘Essence of Nature’ at Newcastle’s Laing Gallery, which presents an opportunity to see around 100 oil and watercolours by leading artists from the Pre-Raphaelite, Rural Naturalist and British Impressionist schools together. As such, it complements ‘The Rossettis: Radical Romantics’ at Tate Britain. The exhibition begins with the Pre-Raphaelites’ ideal of ‘truth to nature’ – represented by such artists as William Holman Hunt, John Ruskin and William Dyce. Ruskin famously proposed that artists should aim to record nature, “rejecting nothing, selecting nothing, and scorning nothing”. He believed that the “greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something and tell what it saw in a plain way”. “To see clearly”, he said, “is poetry, prophecy, and religion — all in one.” Art, then, is an expression of “the love and the will of God”, to which we gain access primarily by looking closely at the splendour of nature. The exhibition includes Ruskin’s study of ‘Spray of Dead Oak Leaves’ and his on-the-spot mountain view at Mer de Glace, Chamonix, France, of 1860. Other key Pre-Raphaelite works include Holman Hunt’s watercolours ‘View of Nazareth and The Plain of Rephaim from Zion, Jerusalem’ and ‘Cornfield at Ewell’, as well as Dyce’s ‘Henry VI at Towton’ and ‘George Herbert’, and William Inchbold’s ‘The Lake of Lucerne: Mont Pilatus in the Distance’.

Art Diary June 2023
Nicola Clarke, Arcangel Uriel, Lightbringer, Ammerdown Centre

From ephemeral enclosures to delicate floral installations, ‘[SHELTER]’ by Anna Masters at Museo Spazio Pubblico, Bologna, brings together a new body of works spanning two sites – the museum gallery and an adjacent vacant plot. Adopting the motif of endemic flora, ‘[SHELTER]’ presents questions of how we inhabit place: the relationships we have with the land, the dichotomy between public and private spaces, and the performativity of place. Inside the gallery, Masters presents wall-based and suspended installations of the leaves and petals of native plants, a poetic and sensitive ode to the natural landscape. Alongside these are sculptural interventions – miniature ecosystems – constructed using refuse collected from the local neighbourhood, envisioning a more symbiotic relationship with the natural world. Outside, the audience is invited into intimate enclosures, translucent fabric floral shelters made with natural materials and dyes. Within these exhibits, we see a collapsing of the accepted norms of place, as the outside offers private sanctuary while the gallery becomes increasingly filled with flora in a ‘growing’ installation.
‘Sonoran Quipu’ is a sprawling sculpture composed of natural and human debris collected by individuals and organisations across Tucson, gathered from kitchens, gutters, artists’ studios, gardens, and streets. Transforming the museum into a studio, artist and poet Cecilia Vicuña alchemised these fragments—things deemed no longer useful—into a living installation. The exhibition also includes elements that offer a small window into the breadth of Vicuña’s practice: three videos, a sound piece, a little library, and the vapours of performances, rituals, and relationships Vicuña created while in Tucson. ‘Sonoran Quipu’ senses the fragility of our world as climate change tilts us towards mass extinction. Weaving plant and industrial materials together, the artist invites viewers to consider the beauty and precarity of our world and our interconnected relationship to the environment and each other.
The ‘Sonoran Quipu’ combines the artist’s signature sculpture forms—the monumental quipu and the precario. A quipu (‘knot’ in Quechua) is an ancient Andean communication technology that uses knotted strings to record information and was banned by the Spanish during the colonisation of South America. Vicuña reimagines the ancient quipu system, incorporating contemporary materials to highlight its capacity to connect worlds and people. The artist’s sculptural precarios are described by the artist as simultaneously “about to happen” and in a constant state of dissolution. The ephemeral precario and the delicate universe of the quipu are composed of materials perceived as disposable, reclaiming meaning from waste. This new commission expands on the ecological and cosmic themes at the centre of Vicuña’s life practice.

Hastings Contemporary is hosting the UK’s first-ever public gallery exhibition of works by Yun Hyong-keun, one of the leading figures of Korean art. Yun explained that: “The thesis of my painting is the gate of heaven and earth. Blue is the colour of heaven, while umber is the colour of earth. Thus, I call them ‘heaven and earth’, with the gate serving as the composition.” The show explores the genesis of ‘the gate of heaven and earth’ in his work, with several works displaying its gradual widening until it almost disappears with the closing work – from the year of Yun’s death in 2007 – realised in ‘Burnt Umber and Ultramarine Blue’ (1999 and 2007), in which ‘heaven’ is almost completely suppressed by ‘earth’.
The combination of performative, rhythmic strokes, meditative qualities, and monochromatic aspects in Yun’s paintings represent a contrast to Western Minimalism and works by artists such as Agnes Martin or Rothko’s Abstract Expressionism. The show demonstrates this point with Yun’s paintings reflecting his own culture while sparking comparisons with key artists in the canon of 20th-century American and European abstraction. The concept of silence created by Yun’s work, particularly through the interpretation of gates or portals as voids, also turns the gallery space into a chapel or temple. The window onto the Old Town has been veiled, as with the skylights, to enhance the meditative power of the individual paintings. This allows the viewer to be absorbed by the subtle range of tones, which on closer examination, reveal the mix of ultramarine and umber through the blending of the two colours.
Using the ritualistic actions of weaving, knotting, winding and unwinding to explore the sculptural possibilities of textiles, Korean artist Soojin Kang transubstantiates raw materials into structures that retain unmistakable traces of their biotic origins. In her hands, textiles act as capillaries generating the vital force of the strange organisms she brings into being using hand-dyed linen, jute and silk. Constructed from fabric wrapped, woven, bound and draped around steel armatures, her sculptures of emergent forms, echoing totems and busts, appear as relics from a horde of offerings to forgotten gods. Some resemble truncated body parts; others distended abstractions of organic matter; all stand on plinths that foreshadow the proportions of the bodies below in their scale. In the artist’s own words, the work “looks as if it’s been there forever,” eliding artefact and organism-like fragments of ancient statuary. With her woven bodies, fibrous growths cling to torsos, unravelled thread streams from a drooping head; here, the demarcation between inside and outside is messy and fragile, and emotions are embodied before they are expressed.

‘Disability and the Divine’ at Peterborough Cathedral shows work from new artist Marc Bratcher, who seeks to reimagine the Virgin Mary, exploring how physical disability relates to theology, history, art, parenthood and other issues in the 21st century. ‘Disability and the Divine’ is part of a project to start a new conversation about the past and the future and to get such images of disability and the Virgin Mary into as many churches and cathedrals as possible. Bratcher explains: “For many centuries, there has been a tradition of representing key figures from Christianity in ways that reflect different cultural perspectives. Indeed, the entire history of Western art is part of this, presenting a very Europeanised vision. Disability, however, has been largely absent from the historic and artistic record. I hope to offer some new perspectives.” As a severely disabled artist with cerebral palsy, Bratcher combines available technologies in a continual experiment to push at the barriers of creativity. His practice involves a wide variety of disciplines, including digital painting, photography and state-of-the-art Artificial Intelligence.
Maureen Paley is presenting a new exhibition by the Reverend Joyce McDonald, the first solo exhibition the artist has had with the gallery. McDonald, a multi-disciplinary artist and activist, began working with clay in the 1990s and was ordained as a minister in 2009. In her sculptural works, she enshrines her own personal narratives: living with HIV since 1985 and wider cultural experiences of family, love, loss, illness, healing, transformation, and transcendence. McDonald is a long-standing Visual AIDS artist member. McDonald works with both glazed ceramics and air-dry clay, often detailing her figurative sculptures with materials at hand, including acrylic paint, wite-out, markers, glitter, fabric, false eyelashes, and beads. Made at an intimate handmade scale, the works in the exhibition take the form of busts, vessel-like ceramic sculptures, grouped and individual figures, and wall-based reliefs. Often memorialising events in McDonald’s own life as well as the world more broadly, recent sculptures are shown alongside others made during the 1990s. Together, they mark both personal and collective paths, honouring the pursuit of social justice and commemorating lives lost to systemic racism and police violence.

Finally, ‘Hospitality, Peace and Reconciliation’ is an exhibition in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Ammerdown Centre in Somerset. Artists inspired by the Peace and Reconciliation theme present paintings, collages, and 3D work, from ‘nest boxes’ to ceramics, as well as digital art and music. They share a wish to communicate about the plight of creation and refugees and a desire to build peace and communication within an increasingly fractured world. The exhibition seeks to reflect Ammerdown’s values and to communicate these in a host of different ways, approaches and media. Contributing artists include Nicola Clarke, Jane Eaton, Paul Fine, Viv Meadows, Lilith Piper, Tracey Quinn, Rev Jane Sheppard, LizBeth Spurgeon, Lorna Thomas, Jo Waterworth, Simone Woolerton, and Suzanne Woodward. Martin Clark, Director of Camden Arts Centre, has written of Piper that her works “draw on a rich history of folkloric, magical and mythological imagery” and “operate as powerful, poetic images and objects, flowing and flickering into existence like the formless, fluid sounds of a song – reclaimed from a repressive patriarchy to which they were both subject and object, a journey out of Eden retold by a new Eve.”

Gwen John: Art and Life in London and Paris’, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, 13 May – 8 October 2023 Visit Here
‘Marc Chagall and the Bible’, Wycliffe College, Toronto, 16 May – 15 October 2023 Visit Here

‘Louis Carreon: Redención’, Teatro Peon Contreras, Yucatán, Mexico, 4 May – 4 August 2023 Visit Here
‘When the Apple Ripens: Peter Howson at 65: A Retrospective’, City Art Centre, Edinburgh, 27 May – 1 October 2023 Visit Here
‘A Brush With Evil’, Ben Uri Gallery – Peter Howson, 14 June – 14 July 2023; Laura Knight, 26 July – 1 September 2023 Visit Here
‘Essence of Nature: Pre-Raphaelites to British Impressionists’, Laing Gallery, Newcastle, 27 May – 14 October 2023 Visit Here
‘[SHELTER]’, Museo Spazio Pubblico, Bologna, 29 June – 29 July 2023 Visit Here
‘Cecilia Vicuña: Sonoran Quipu’, Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson, Arizona, 27 January – 10 September 2023 Visit  Here
‘Yun Hyong-keun’, Hastings Contemporary, 10 June – 1 October 2023 Visit Here
‘Soojin Kang: To Be You, Whoever You Are’, Gathering, London, 11 May – 17 June 2023 Visit Here
‘Disability and the Divine’, Peterborough Cathedral, 16 May – 7 July 2023. Visit Here
‘Reverend Joyce McDonald’, Maureen Paley, Studio M, London, 1 June – 30 July 2023 Visit Here
‘Hospitality, Peace and Reconciliation’, The Ammerdown Centre, 1 June – 16 July 2023 Visit Here

Words by Rev Jonathan Evens ©Artlyst 2023

Read More


, , , ,