A few months back I was invited to contribute to an exhibition in North Wales that is being curated by my friend and fellow pioneer Gavin Mart. Here’s the link to the show, it will be well worth having a look if you can get there as Gav has gathered a stunning group of artists.
Each piece is based on an aspect of Jesus’ story running up to Easter. The part of the narrative that immediately leapt out at me was the passage where Jesus raises his friend Lazarus from the dead. It resonates with some of the things I have been exploring in my own life recently and so the painting ended up being quite a personal piece.
For me this was also a joyful return to painting in the studio. The model posed for photographs as he wrestled with removing his t-shirt. I printed some of the photos onto acetate and, overlapping the images, projected them onto the canvas to get an idea of how the painting might work. It’s such a rich, multisensory experience applying thick oil paint to canvas and I owe much to my recent visit to a Gerhard Richter show for inspiration as to technique and style.
Here is the painting and below is the commentary I’ve sent along to the exhibition.
Oil on canvas 100cmx150cm
“Lazarus, come out!” Jesus calls to his friend lying in a grave.
For me this call has a clear resonance with the experience of gay and lesbian people – that often painful, messy struggle of coming out. Thus exposing a deep and essential aspect of yourself that no one else has seen which is ultimately liberating and feels like rising to a new life. The wider call is to us all to come out and to genuinely be the person we were made to be, so much of which we keep hidden. It takes courage to face the difficulty and vulnerability of that process.
At last we have begun work on the Soul of Sheffield community art project:
At ove r 50 metres across, the size of the space seemed overwhelming. The emptiness was bewildering as me and some of the other artists wandered around. Like a blank sheet of paper or empty canvas the familiar, fearful, feeling of facing the uphill struggle to create something from nothing welled up. But this time, rather than just gazing at a white sheet, we could walk around and inhabit the space that held the creative potential.
It was only after we’d laid down the circle of string to give an idea of where the city ring road might lie that we could begin to make sense of the space. Just a simple circle 8 metres in diameter but suddenly we could begin to envision what the emerging piece of art might look like and the feeling of fear gave way to the dizzy thrill of creation. By laying this one line we had made a decision and said ‘not this’ to the infinite other possibilities in the space: the first step on the road of creation.
There are other circles on the ground here too. You can see them if you look carefully at the photograph; rows of circles worn into the office-blue carpet from the desk chairs that used to spin and roll here every working day. This is challenging my view of the building. Initially I was hesitant to use what seems like a sterile and anonymous city office. But as I look deeper then the stories begin to reveal themselves.
These circles are the daily impressions of countless people and they hold the history of the place. Here people have been bored, have laughed, have flirted, have fallen in love, have been fired, have taken the emergency phone call from the hospital with bad news or good news. All of human life is here worn into the carpet like the grooves in the stone steps at an ancient cathedral. It’s so ordinary, what could be more ordinary than a bland and stained workplace floor, but the people who have filled the space, and who will fill the space again, make it extraordinary.
Thus my mistake is revealed, this isn’t an anonymous office space that could be swapped for a thousand other similar places across the country, after all. Just as the circle of string made something specific, something here and now to distinguish from the infinite, so the lives that flow through this building give it a history, give it a story. This story takes its place amongst the million other threads that weave to make the living community of the city and it’s these stories that we hope to discover and celebrate as we embark on the creative adventure.
For more information about the this project or to get involved then please visit www.soulofsheffield.com