Yesterday I was at the Methodist Conference in London, a large annual gathering for the church here. I had been invited to paint on the stage whilst the business proceeded. Large business meetings like this aren’t my natural environment but it was a great experience to make art so publicly and the people of the Methodist Church are a warm and friendly bunch.
I used watercolour, an unpredictable medium at the best of times and decided to simply launch into the creative journey, revelling in the process rather than fretting too much about the outcome. Images emerge from watercolour in a tentative and fragile way at first and in the early stages people commented that they couldn’t quite see what was on the paper or understand what the images were. It could have been a very public success or failure (although what failure means in these circumstances I’m not really sure) and in some ways it was a piece of performance art or even a prophetic act: something done with the intention of breaking open new possibilities of ways of being and experiencing the world. It seemed to me to be important to model processes of risk, unpredictability, ambiguity and vulnerability at the heart of the Methodist Church’s decision making body.
Here are the 5 images in the end, I’m more satisfied with some of them than others but all emerged from the experience so I won’t just show my favourites.
What attracted me when I started to paint were some of the interesting little corners and behind the scenes clutter rather than the public face of the conference. I tried to find beauty in these unseen places. As I looked back on the images the themes of light and shadow seemed to resonate through them all:
The light through an upper window like bars of a cage.
Stage lights, their brightness obscuring the light from the exit sign.
The camera silently watching, taking in the light to send it all around the world as people watched online.
Strange red shadows on the ceiling cast by the organ pipes.
The tribune where delegates made their speeches, contributions are timed with green and red lights indicating when to speak and when to stop speaking.
It was a pretty exhausting experience painting publicly all day. When we make art we are putting a piece of our soul, our core self, out for scrutiny. But I hope that in offering something of myself I modelled a vision for the way the church could be.