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Cain and Abel

Cain and Abel
John Reilly (1928-2010)



Methodist Collection of Modern Christian Art, No.22

Commentary by Francis Hoyland

Cain glowers at Abel from his patch - the patch is fenced in order to prevent Abel's sheep from eating the crops but also to symbolise the self restricting action of jealousy.

The four seasons, so important to a farmer are symbolised within this patch by daffodils for spring, a sunflower for summer, the rejected sheaf of corn and red leaves for autumn and a pile of dead twigs and a bare tree for winter.

The contour of the patch is related rhythmically to the hallowed areas inhabited by Abel and his flocks. The patterning is very strong and, by a paradox, it sweeps us into the distance while making flat shapes on the surface of the canvas.

Blue marks on the green grass and practically everywhere else, evoke atmosphere and space while reiterating and underlining the strong movement that flows through the piece.

Abel is, of course, a type of Christ and he is shown as being a good shepherd - that marvellous image taken up by Our Lord from the teaching of Ezekiel. A stalwart ram stands beside him as if to defend him from his brother's wrath

The pictorial language is basically linear for a free-flowing line gives rise to shapes which are filled with glowing colour. The colour has a home key of blue from which it modulates, via dull reds, towards the fanfare of yellow.

The picture is divided into definite zones and then subdivided, especially in the case of Cain's patch where each seasonal area is haloed by coloured lines.

It is interesting to note that Cain is digging in autumn when the sheaf would have been harvested. Soon however, he will leave and become a 'fugitive and a wanderer over the earth.'


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