Cristo in luoghi ordinari

(tr. Christ in ordinary places)

A couple of months ago I was In Florence where I had been invited by the Methodist Church to go and make some art. It was a real privilege, but a daunting prospect.  

The city itself is astounding, with world class art and architecture to be seen at every turn. I spent the first couple of days wandering around bewildered at the beauty. Overwhelmed by the creative exuberance and skill of the Renaissance I was left stuck with a sense that it was impossible for me to make art here.

Nevertheless, I’m becoming more tuned into the dynamics of the creative process and waited for the creative spark to come. A waiting which, I guess, is an act of faith. As I waited It began to feel like the intense beauty was beating me over the head; after all, much, if not all of the art and architecure on display was made as symbols of power, wealth and control. So I turned away from the Cathedrals, statues and Renassance frescoes and started to look at the dirty little corners and the strange little cracks in the city. And I started to look downwards at the gutters with their fag ends and away from the crowds at the crumbling plaster walls down back alleyways.

It seems to me that the Jesus I experience would be more at home in the grimy forgotten corner than in the Uffizi or the Duomo.

I fall short of Michaelangelo, Da Vinci et al by a million miles but these photographs of my image of Christ on discarded cardboard that I made whilst I was over there are my fumbling attempts to begin to explore what it might mean to find him in the ordinary places. In many of the photos if I had moved my camera by a few degrees you could have seen one of the many great sites and wonders of Florence. That’s where everyone elses cameras were pointing and I hope they found what they were looking for; I chose to look elsewhere.




I have a painting on display at the ADVENTurous exhibition at Leftbank in Leeds at the moment. It’s an amazing space, worth a visit in itself, and the show has some great artists involved.

The piece I’ve submitted is this painting of Gabriel I’ve been working on during my sabbatical:


I’m intrigued by the story of Gabriel’s visit to Mary: she’s a virgin and he tells her that she will become pregnant. In his retelling of the gospel stories “The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ” Phillip Pullman plays with the ambiguity of this moment. Is it two adolescents meeting for their first sexual experience or a visit from a spiritual being announcing a miraculous pregnancy?

I was pleased when the artist from the studio next to mine saw the painting I was working on and said “oh he looks like an angel” whereas other people have just seen a near naked guy. I hope there is an ambiguity in the image because I find a deeper truth in the tension between the two versions of the story rather than coming down on one side or the other. Although I can’t really improve on the comment from a little boy to his mum when he saw the painting on the opening night and said to her “Some angels wear pants and others just stay in the nude”.

More and more I am seeing the process of painting as an act of prayer and meditation, an exploration beyond words of deep truths. In this painting I see the (angelic) figure as beautiful and sensuous and it certainly felt like an intimate process to create the image. Whether we see the encounter with Gabriel as a first sexual experience or a miraculous visit from a heavenly being both versions of the story are beautiful and both have a life giving intimacy about them.

 As it happens I have another of my paintings on display in an advent exhibition at the Holy Biscuit in Newcastle. This one of Mary that I painted a few years ago:


I wonder if the two will ever meet.