Re-thinking religious art

Canterbury Museums & Galleries volunteer, Catherine Digman takes a closer look at The Beaney’s latest exhibition ‘Picturing Faith’

Over the past forty years, the Methodist Church has build up an amazing collection of modern art, supporting artists to create genuinely ground breaking pieces of modern art which experiment with form and materials.

Picturing Faith includes many familiar motifs, such as crucifixion scenes, pietas, and images of the Madonna and child, but interpreted through the eyes of modern practitioners.

Juxtaposing traditional crosses with polyester and metal mosaics, using abstract figures to depict scenes and emotions from The Bible, and using raw shape and colour to express spiritual experience, the artists have created truly mesmerising and surprising works.

The exhibition features work by many acclaimed contemporary artists, including Maggi Hambling, Peter Howson, and Graham Sutherland so it’s a valuable trip for anyone interested in the history and development of Modern art.

Many of the pieces have an obvious narrative quality, such as John Reilly’s paintings which depict scenes from the life of Christ, while other artists such as Peter Rogers and Jacques Iselin use very abstract blocks of colour and highly textured impasto oil paint to describe emotions such ecstasy, fear and pain, which are found within the Biblical stories.

Sometimes the most memorable images are the simplest, Theyre Lee-Elliott’s ‘Crucified tree form’ shows the agony of the crucifixion using just a hint of a human form and a line which looks like barbed wire, while Susie Hamilton’s ‘Ecce Homo’ in white acrylic is a haunting ghostly image just emerging from the black background. Dennis Hawkins reinterprets Pentecost as a white oil orb on an old wooden school desk.

The use of materials is very innovative in many of the works, for example Michael Edmond’s ‘The cross over the city’ uses polyester and bronze to create a streetmap, and if you are interested in painting, the works which use the more traditional mediums of oil and gouache are executed with a great amount of passion and individualism, so you can really feel the personality of each artist coming through the works. The exhibition is a great resource and inspiration for students and practicing artists.

The main exhibition is supported by the Methodist Modern Art Trail (50p) which allows younger visitors to explore the works on show and the themes and ideas behind them.

While the works in ‘Picturing Faith’ are all inspired by the Bible and the Christian tradition, you don’t need to have a particular faith or be a scholar to enjoy this exhibition. The pieces are so expressive and well executed that they are well worth a visit for anyone who is interested in painting and art, regardless of background. It’s also worth noting that like their renaissance forerunners, many of these religious works are very impressive in size, so you have to stand in front of them to really appreciate the detail, you simply don’t get the same impact from a JPEG or a postcard.

Picturing Faith continues at The Beaney until Sunday 23rd April 2017 in the Special Exhibitions Room.

Image: The raising of Lazarus by John Reilly from the Methodist Modern Art Collection, © TMCP, used with permission

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Artefacts in exhibition case The Beaney Museum

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