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Crucified tree form - the agony

Crucified tree form - the agony
Theyre Lee-Elliott (1903-1988)

Tempera and gouache

1959

Methodist Collection of Modern Christian Art, No.21

Commentary by Francis Hoyland

Lee Elliott was the son of an Anglican clergyman and as such he must have been brought up as a Christian, but his sister tells us that he was '..definitely not a practising Christian, and I am pretty sure he was not a believer.'

However, Lee-Elliott falls dangerously ill and on his recovery he feels he must paint crucifixes in which the image of Christ is fused with that of a tree. For a long time he had felt that trees were like human beings and at his moment in extremis, Jesus, trees and his own sufferings fuse into a single image, together with images taken from the two world wars he had lived through - such as barbed wire and decaying flesh.

Surely these were his deepest feelings and his approach to death released a real faith - De profundis - out of the depths - though he could only express this faith as an image.

The yellow background of this piece surely records our intuitive recognition of the glory of Our Lord's divinity - though it is circled and besmirched by the shadow of death.

Though only two kinds of pigments were used in this painting, in fact we have five colours here - the yellow, the white ground, black, grey formed by black smudged over white and the greeny-blacks formed by black smudged over yellow.

A wide repertoire of black marks are deployed, the thin lines of the barbed wire crown, the smudges I have mentioned and heavy, black strokes that accrue into the blackness of Our Lord's dead face - I do not think anyone without faith could have invented the marvellous, glimmering halo around Our Lord's head which is formed by leaving glimpses of the base white free around His head. Even the black smudges radiate from it.

The more I study this piece the more passionate and inventive and surprisingly, the better drawn it becomes: the rib cage, the arms and even the loin cloth get more and more real and 'there' as I look at them. And so the devotional power of the image grows ... De profundis .

 

   
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