Earlier this year I was approached by the President and Vice President elect of the Methodist Church here in the UK to produce a series of paintings for our annual conference on the theme of “Holiness and Justice”.
I was keen to make some paintings that didn’t just attempt to illustrate a series of concepts but that tried to evoke and challenge feelings and ideas from within the viewer. Rather than attempting to tell the viewer something and persuade them to a particular way of thinking (which would just be propaganda) I seek to enable the viewer to take responsibility for their own ideas and experiences and for the way we live in the world.
For me, painting in this way is doing theology without words. So often the church drowns in words, as we try to say things about God. Words are clumsy tools as we attempt to grasp the transcendent.
So with this work the onus is on the viewer to work through their own experience of God (or absence of God) to provoke an experience deeper than the rational, wordy stuff that goes on in our heads.
For each of the seven paintings I’ve used watercolour and spray paint. There’s a tension between these two mediums. Watercolour: soft, capricious and luminous, with connotations of classical and respectable art. Spray paint: harsh and oily, dense and heavy as it resonates with the subversive and illicit nature of street art. It was certainly a challenge bringing the two together. Spending a day or so on a watercolour image as I gently coaxing it’s flow and glowing colours followed by a decisive moment: laying a stencil over the image and then one bold spray of dark, sticky paint from which there would be no going back. It was remarkable to see the meaning of each painting change in an instant as I overlaid the stencil image. And so, in each of the finished paintings these two images are in dialogue with each other, sometimes in tension, sometimes pulling in the same direction. In that dialogue the viewer can find our meanings.
The theme of holiness and justice, whilst perhaps couched in language that would not be commonly used outside the church, is a vital one. For me this is about how our internal experience (which for me I would describe as a spiritual experience of God, rooted in the life of Jesus Christ) relates to the way we live in and interact with the world. It’s all very well sitting and praying and having a heart strangely warmed by a spiritual experience but this becomes self indulgent if that moment doesn’t catapult us out into the world to live and work for justice and peace. In the other direction, if we live for justice and peace, what is it that sustains us on this hard and often lonely road? Without spaces to stop, wait and breathe we will quickly burn out. And so the two elements of holiness and justice intertwine and speak to each other. It is my hope that these paintings go a small way to enabling people to reflect on how this is played out in our own lives.
The original paintings will be on display at the Methodist Conference 30thJune-7th July in Westminster Central Hall. I will be posting one image a day on this blog with some thoughts about each piece throughout the week.
All views on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Methodist Church