Holiness & Justice 5: Mechanisms of injustice

This is the fifth in a series of 7 paintings I have made for Methodist Conference 2016, an introduction to the series can be found here.

Of all the themes I was invited to explore for this series of paintings this is the one I approached with the most trepidation. I was asked to make a painting exploring the experience of asylum seekers in the world today.

H&J 5 High Res

 

Some issues feel too big and are so overwhelming that my temptation is to turn away and do anything to distract myself from the responsibility we all share in the way our increasingly interconnected world crushes those least able to speak out.  We live at a time where 1 in every 122 people in the world is a refugee or is internally displaced and more than 3,700 refugees are thought to have died crossing the Mediterranean in 2015.

I don’t even know where to begin with this abhorrent story of our planet. This is why I’m grateful for the likes of Rachel Lampard, Vice President of the Methodist Church and her call to engage not in the sentimental manner of a hand wringing do-gooder, but with a strong, focussed and informed approach that respects all human beings as people to work alongside and not objects for us to do things to. I commend her speech to the Methodist Conference this year that you can read here.

There are cogwheels in this image, the mechanisms of injustice that I am a part of. In the way I live, in the products I buy, in my silence and inaction I am complicit in systems that oppress the poorest in our world, that lead to the displacement of humanity from their homes. I am complicit in racist systems and systems that discriminate against those who are disabled. The complex web of interconnections in the world mean that my actions and your actions have consequences that ripple across continents.

When faced with the enormity of our responsibility if we don’t succumb to the temptation to disengage and look the other way and have the courage to face the grief and pain of this world how can we avoid being overwhelmed by hopelessness? It’s too big for us.

I’ve come away from making these paintings realising that I know less than I thought I knew when I started; art is at its best when it opens up a journey into not-knowing. This is one more question I don’t know the answer to. But I suspect the answer does lie somewhere in the interplay between holiness and justice. When we find for ourselves a spirituality that sustains us and calls us to a deep embracing of the world’s grief then I sense that this gives us the wisdom, energy and (above all) love to enable us to live in such a way that the ripples we send out through the international web of interrelationships result in liberation rather than oppression.

In this image the wheels are cogs that crush and consume, we need wisdom and courage to live in such a way that we are not simply one more cog in the mechanisms of injustice but become the wedge, even the small piece of grit, which disrupts the whole machine.

 

 

PRINTS FOR SALE

A limited edition series of A3 size high quality art prints of these are available for purchase signed by the artist. All profits from the sale of prints will go towards funding the creative at 35 Chapel Walk, Sheffield.

Prices: £30 per print or £200 for the full set of 7. This is a strictly limited edition of 25 prints for each painting.

If you are interested in purchasing prints then please email me: rjstott@hotmail.co.uk

In addition the framed original paintings are for sale at £425 each.

All views on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Methodist Church

 

 

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Holiness & Justice 4: A gift transformed in the giving

This is the fourth in a series of 7 paintings I have made for Methodist Conference 2016, an introduction to the series can be found here.

Colour plays an important role in the way that this series of paintings work together. Viewed together the colours progress from cool blues in the outside images through progressively warmer browns and greys to this central image that blossoms with red/orange.

H&J 4 High res

As a painter it’s a useful discipline to work with a limited palette, often one I find hard to keep to. As a painting progresses and I get carried away I reach for tubes of colour from across the spectrum and my initial resolve to be restrained evaporates. But, if I can keep my nerve and stick tightly to three or four initial pigments then this unifies an image and helps to convey a particular mood. You can see this in my painting Slab (2015) where I restricted my palette to Titanium white and Paynes grey, towards the end I had to grit my teeth to resist the urge of adding a few strokes of a bright colour and now I think the painting is stronger for it.

For this central image I wanted to portray Jesus, which is always tricky. The works that I have done in the past for which I have received the most challenge and criticism have been paintings where I have attempted to express my experience of Christ. Our experiences differ; that is to be expected and celebrated. In my view the Methodist Church is at her strongest when we can uphold a broad spectrum of theologies and approaches to Christ whilst also standing together; knowing that we all see and experience in part and can learn from each other as we tell our stories together.

This image, at the apex of the series of paintings, blooms with warmth and light. The gentle and playful breath of a child at once destroys the dandelion clock but in so doing the seedhead achieves its purpose. Light and nimble in the breeze, the seeds find their way at the mercy of unseen currents in the air and eventually some come to rest on fertile ground. Where they fall they grow as weeds unbidden, pushing strong through the cracks in concrete or besmirching a pristine lawn with a bright yellow circle. This is a plant that acts as a mischievous trickster it is uncontrollable and irritating and yet beautiful when seen with the right eyes.

Over the painting I lay a stencil taken from a detail of an icon of the sacred heart of Christ. A heart offered with open hands that bleeds and suffers whilst radiating love.

Painting is for me a way to pray and the work that emerges is a sacrament* of my time in that quiet, sacred place. As I step back from the finished piece I realise that I set out to create a picture of Jesus and I do see Christ here: in the child, in the breath, in the disintegrating seedhead, and in the open hands offering a wounded heart.

 

*A sacrament is a physical outward sign of an inner, intangible experience.

 

PRINTS FOR SALE

A limited edition series of A3 size high quality art prints of these are available for purchase signed by the artist. All profits from the sale of prints will go towards funding the creative at 35 Chapel Walk, Sheffield.

Prices: £30 per print or £200 for the full set of 7. This is a strictly limited edition of 25 prints for each painting.

If you are interested in purchasing prints then please email me: rjstott@hotmail.co.uk

In addition the framed original paintings are for sale at £425 each.

All views on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Methodist Church

 

 

Holiness & Justice 3: Holy Ground?

This is the third in a series of 7 paintings I have made for Methodist Conference 2016, an introduction to the series can be found here.

The ideas within many paintings grow and develop over time, the process is so often key to working out where this journey of pigment on paper will lead. But just occasionally an image appears fully formed in my mind. Sometimes in the half awake moments at dawn as the imagination roams free from constraints a picture rises up fully formed from wherever these things come from. This is one such image:

H&J 3 High Res

I was asked to make this piece on the theme ‘Holy Ground’ and from there the image of a burning car came to mind. Then, over that I wanted to put a picture of Moses at the burning bush. I’m still not sure what this means. Oftentimes it’s only in retrospect after a few weeks or months the meaning of an image starts to become clearer to me. Conversations with other people reacting to the painting help that process.

A burning car always stands in the wake of a moment of destruction: a drone strike, a hidden bomb or an act of vandalism. There is nothing positive in this, it is a symbol of the will to death and chaos.

Years ago, one bonfire night, I awoke at 3am to a bang and a strange orange light pulsing through the bedroom curtains. Looking out I saw a car aflame on the road outside. Shocked wide awake I ran out, half naked into the November night. The brakes of the car had burnt through and it had rolled in flames slowly down the road to touch my neighbour’s car. I hammered on his door, urgent and alive, shouting to move his vehicle before the fire spread. The fire brigade were called as neighbours congregated on the street in dressing gowns and pyjamas, drawn by the macabre fascination of gazing upon wanton destruction. Glowing warm on our faces, it was a beautiful anarchy.

And Moses shields his eyes from the bush that is ablaze but not consumed by fire. His sandals cast aside because he is on holy ground, a most sacred moment as he hears the voice of God.

A car on fire: is Holy Ground possible in the midst of destruction? I don’t know, I really don’t.

 

PRINTS FOR SALE

A limited edition series of A3 size high quality art prints of these are available for purchase signed by the artist. All profits from the sale of prints will go towards funding the creative at 35 Chapel Walk, Sheffield.

Prices: £30 per print or £200 for the full set of 7. This is a strictly limited edition of 25 prints for each painting.

If you are interested in purchasing prints then please email me: rjstott@hotmail.co.uk

In addition the framed original paintings are for sale at £425 each.

All views on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Methodist Church

 

 

 

Holiness & Justice 2: The beyond brought close, the mundane made strange

This is the second in a series of 7 paintings I have made for Methodist Conference 2016, an introduction to the series can be found here.

Most of the paintings in this series were hard to make. Either because of their weighty subject matter or technical issues in making the images work together but this piece was a genuine joy to create. In all painting there needs to be room for playfulness and I had fun with this one: painting an astronaut would rank alongside dinosaurs as one of the most popular subjects of children’s drawings I’m sure.

H&J 2 High res

I love the red lifeline, looping like an umbilical cord through the vacuum and the manner in which the paint drips and flows. There is a balancing act in the process between allowing the paint the freedom to work its own little wonders whilst keeping control of the image as a whole. And when it works there are few things more joyous for me than seeing bright pigments bloom and mingle on the white. Each colour has its own character, not only in the feeling that it evokes but also in the manner in which it interacts with the water and the paper. Some pigments granulate and settle into the texture of the paper, forming lakes, ponds and whole landscapes in a microcosm others feel lighter and bleed with tiny tendrils across the damp substrate. In time we can learn to navigate and negotiate the different ways the paint behaves but still it maintains the capacity to surprise or frustrate.

In this image I sought to explore an experience of awe. Floating high in the expanse of the universe, so small, is perhaps an obvious choice to evoke wonder but well worth it for a chance to paint an astronaut. Then I wanted to overlay another image that worked in tension with the inconceivably large. The symbols, at first glance seem like an alien language but look for a moment and we find they are much closer to home. A small thing, the most mundane and routine thing.

Every painting is an experiment and in this experiment I wanted to see what happens when these two extremes are brought together. And as I contemplate the image that emerges I wonder whether awe can be found in the utterly ordinary.

H&J 3 High Res detail

PRINTS FOR SALE

A limited edition series of A3 size high quality art prints of these are available for purchase signed by the artist. All profits from the sale of prints will go towards funding the creative at 35 Chapel Walk, Sheffield.

Prices: £30 per print or £200 for the full set of 7. This is a strictly limited edition of 25 prints for each painting.

If you are interested in purchasing prints then please email me: rjstott@hotmail.co.uk

In addition the framed original paintings are for sale at £425 each.

All views on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Methodist Church

 

 

 

Holiness & Justice 1: Called to make a difference

This is the first of a series of 7 paintings I have made for Methodist Conference 2016, an introduction to the series can be found here.

H&J 1 High Res

Before I began in my first station as a Methodist minister I travelled to the Northernmost tip of Europe. I sat in the endless summer sun, way above the Arctic Circle amidst the tundra and looked out North across the Barents Sea. The air was still and pure as midnight approached and the sun drifted gently down to touch the horizon before rising again in the same instant.

From the top of the cliff I realised that all there was in front of me was the smooth, cold sea, then ice, then the North Pole, then oblivion. It was a moment of peace and clarity. Behind me lay the whole wide world, almost every other soul on Earth, with their noise, pain and clamouring need. As I thought of all that going home entailed my prayer was simple: “Why can’t I just stay here?”

And yet, strong as that desire was, I felt the call back. Back into the complex and wonderful world behind me where joy and sorrow intertwine. Back to a world that was far from pristine, a world who’s dirt made it real. I was called from the place of stillness to re-engage, in a deeper way.

In recent months it feels as if the pain of the world has never been more real. Here in the UK there is an increase in racially motivated attacks by a far right emboldened by the recent referendum result, a bomb explodes at Istanbul airport, latinx and other members of the LGBT community are targeted and gunned down in a night club in Orlando, and on and on. These days I can feel the hope drain from my bones. As a white cis-man living in a western country my privilege shields me from the worst (although as a gay person the news of homophobic attacks provoke fear as well as sorrow), but for some reading this the horrors may well be much more immanent. There is a strong temptation to run back to that pristine tundra, to disengage because the sum of the pain is too much to bear.

This painting is based on an image of Sophie Scholl, a political activist in Nazi Germany. In 1943 her work of non-violent resistance against the government led to her execution by guillotine at the age of 21. Here she is: still, strong and resolute.

I wonder what happens when you find a place of stillness. What cries do you hear from outside or within? Do you ignore them and try to drown them out with all the noisy media so easily at hand or do you turn to face them?

For me when I’m in that still quiet place, I find that choice. And even as hope ebbs away there is still an incessant call that is gentle and truthful that beckons me to re-engage once more. There is no romantic heroism here and the costs may be very high indeed. But each day, in our waiting or going, in our action or inaction; we choose.

H&J 2 High res detail

 

PRINTS FOR SALE

A limited edition series of A3 size high quality art prints of these are available for purchase signed by the artist. All profits from the sale of prints will go towards funding the creative at 35 Chapel Walk, Sheffield.

Prices: £30 per print or £200 for the full set of 7. This is a strictly limited edition of 25 prints for each painting.

If you are interested in purchasing prints then please email me: rjstott@hotmail.co.uk

In addition the framed original paintings are for sale at £425 each.

All views on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Methodist

 

Holiness & Justice: A series of 7 paintings for the Methodist Conference 2016

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”.

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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.

H&J 7 High Res detail

 

All views on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Methodist Church

 

Paintings and prayers have a life of their own

Sending a painting out is an act of faith. From the sanctuary of the studio where I pour creative energy into a piece of work I feel the gut wrench of releasing something precious and personal to the vagaries of the world. But when I find the courage to do this the work takes on a life of its own, it is no longer mine to control and as a painting travels through the world they often leave a wake behind them, things churned up for good or ill, spreading out to the horizon.

mary

These two images were made a couple of years ago when I shared in a day event with an organisation called Changing Attitude. CA is a group in the Church of England who seek the wellbeing and liberation of LGBTI people. Rarely have I met a more open, loving and vibrant group of Christians. We gathered in a beautiful Anglican Church and I worked throughout the day as an artist in residence. These two pieces, one taken from a drawing I made of a statue of Mary with her child and one of a drawing of a crucifix in the church, were for me the embodiment of the faith, prayers and worship I experienced on that day. They emerged from that amazing community of people.

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Over the last few days the Anglican Church has been in turmoil over questions about the inclusion of LGBTI people in its life and ministry. As an outsider looking in it isn’t for me to pontificate on Anglican machinations but I do see and hear of the deep pain that the Church is causing to LGBTI people across the world because of its current way of being. And so it seemed right to offer these images again as a sacrament of the prayers of faithful LGBTI people, a prayer that offers solidarity with those who suffer and also hope that the world can one day be different, a longing for a time of liberation and justice.

I never know what’s going to happen when I send an image out into the world and I never know what’s going to happen when I send a prayer out into the world. Both have an energy, both make a change, both leave that churned up wake in their path. And now I find that these images have been tweeted around the world to hundreds of people and my friend Sally has taken one down to Canterbury to enable conversation with people around the primates meeting.

Sally says of one person she encountered ‘They looked at my poster and said “well Sally, we do agree on your biblical quote” but were speechless in response to Richard’s crucified Christ.’ I’m happy for my work to render them speechless.

It’s a tiny thing, the tiniest fragment in the face of overwhelming injustice. But offered in faith in the Creator God and offered as a gift that is not for us to control or dictate an outcome then I believe that tiny things like prayers and paintings can spread out and change the world.

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