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The feeding of the five thousand

The feeding of the five thousand
John Reilly (1928-2010)



Methodist Collection of Modern Christian Art, No.23

Commentary by Francis Hoyland

This painting is also (see No. 22) in a blue key, and again it modulates through various shifts and changes towards a yellow shirt. This time the shirt is worn by Our Lord.

The drawing is strongly, and quite openly influenced by Picasso but it is painted, or coloured, quite differently as the colour seems to slow down the linear rhythm which might otherwise have become hectic.

Largely delineated areas sweep across the picture space. The two main areas represent times before and after the miracle.

In order, perhaps to make the pattern clearer and so as not to impede the linear interactions of the piece, the various forms are reduced to signs. That is, a hand and eye, a foot, a head and so on, are abstracted sufficiently to be digested by the pictorial pressure exerted by the rest of the piece.

This reduction of forms to a language of signs with which the artist is then able to compose freely was something rejuvenated by Picasso - it is particularly apparent in Guernica - and it restates the common language of Byzantine and Romanesque art.

So if we take a long view of this idiom it goes Byzantine and Romanesque - Christian - Picasso - strongly secular and Reilly Christian again.

Shapes can in themselves be expressive. Look at the joyous, four pointed star between the central figures on the left which is almost repeated a fifth lower, as it were, in a darker blue, between the two heads on the right of the group.

Triangles and diamonds proliferate and all emphasise the joy of having enough physical and spiritual food. The geometry and colours of the 'before' hungry group are equally expressive in a different way.

The coloured patches are frequently qualified by subsequent patches - which are nearly always lower in tone. Our Lord's shirt, across which the division of the two main areas lies, has darker yellows tinged with a complimentary violet laid across its underlying yellow.

This gives the colour a slowly smouldering quality that takes us directly into the required mood.


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