Coventry Central Hall

Coventry Central Hall, Warwick Lane, Coventry, CV1 2HA
centralhall.info

Opening times
Fridays and Saturdays 11am-4pm
Sundays 1pm-4pm

Central Hall is usually open for viewings 10-4 during the week but it is advisable to ring the bookings team in advance on 07895 241501 if you want entry Monday - Thursday.

Events at Coventry Central Hall  

Artist in residence

Encountering God through Scripture and through Art
led by Reverend Kathryn Darby
Friday 24 September 2021 / 10 – 12 noon
Friday 1 October 2021 / 10 – 12 noon
Methodist Central Hall, Warwick Lane, Coventry CV1 2HA

The wonderful paintings in the Methodist Modern Art Collection are with us so let’s take this opportunity to deepen our love for and response to God. During these two sessions, we will explore two different ways of praying: with scripture (lectio divina or sacred reading of the Bible) and with art to draw us closer to God. You don’t have to be familiar with this kind of prayer or know anything about art to come and share. And you won’t be required to say anything! Just come along on the days and you will be welcomed. No need to book.

 

Hope, Faith and Love – the Story of the Methodist Modern Art Collection in the context of Post War British Religious Painting - A LECTURE
Join us as Professor Ann Sumner, Chair Methodist Modern Art Collection Management Committee, holds a lecture as part of the Stories of Change: Hope, Faith and Love Art Trail. 
Wednesday 29 September
7-8pm

Stories of Change: Hope, Faith and Love

Introduction
The Methodist Modern Art Collection is one of the Methodist Church’s greatest treasures. This outstanding collection of Christian art has particular strengths in British 20th-century Modern artists including works by Edward Burra, Elisabeth Frink, Patrick Heron, Ceri Richards, Graham Sutherland and William Roberts. The Collection has continued to grow, since its foundation in the 1960s, with innovative acquisitions from the 1990s onwards.

Just as John Wesley, who inspired the Methodist Movement, travelled around the country preaching, so the Methodist Modern Art Collection is not rooted in one place. From the beginning it was conceived as a travelling collection with strong educational links, and has been touring for many years to chapels, churches, cathedrals, museums, galleries and educational establishments, where it has inspired worship, enthused Mission, amazed visitors, and encouraged many supporters and enthusiasts. This unique Collection has recently undergone a programme of conservation and re-framing, to ensure it is preserved for future generations. This is the first time it has been seen by the public in over two years.

Re-launching the Collection during the City of Culture year in Coventry, and opening the Art Trail Stories of Change: Hope, Faith and Love with works on display in the Cathedral itself, set among outstanding masterpieces of 20th-century religious art, is particularly appropriate, as the Collection was begun in 1962, the year that the Cathedral was consecrated. Four works are hung at the Cathedral, all creating new dynamic dialogues between these paintings and the outstanding interior of the Cathedral with its related artworks. This is followed by a trail across the city, and beyond, enabling the exploration of the Collection in depth within the context of the communities who are hosting the trail, along with their responses to the works, at a time of recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

An innovative Art Trail for CoventryStories of Change: Hope, Faith and Love
The Church of England’s post-war response to church artistic commissioning is well known; epitomised by the brilliant architecture and art commissioned by the architect Sir Basil Spence at Coventry Cathedral. The Methodist Church’s engagement with post-war British religious art is less well known and, historically, art commissioning has not been at the forefront of non-conformist church activities. The unique story of the formation of the Methodist Modern Art Collection, from its foundation in 1962, is told in this trail, demonstrating how it has grown to include more artists from other parts of the world, to reflect multicultural Britain. Today it also plays a role in post-Covid recovery, offering moments of contemplation and healing.

For nearly 60 years these works have surprised, delighted and enthused many hundreds of thousands of people who have seen and appreciated them in churches, cathedrals and art galleries across the UK. We hope, here in Coventry, visitors will take the opportunity to engage with these works anew and follow the trail from the Cathedral, to Methodist Central Hall and onwards to Earlsdon Methodist Church, Balsall Common Methodist Church and Saint Mary and All Saints Church at Fillongley (a longstanding and successful example of a Local Ecumenical Partnership between the local Anglican and the Methodist churches). In all of these venues we hope they discover more about these significant paintings and their message of hope, faith and love.

This Art Trail provides information about the works that can be found at each location and how the local community responded to these, as well as explaining how to navigate the trail from the city centre out into the delightful villages nearby. A printed leaflet will be available at each of the venues.

The artists represented in the Collection may have been war artists like Graham Sutherland, or refugees like Ralph Beyer, or brought up during World War 2 on the Home Front like Elisabeth Frink. For those artists who experienced war directly, whether serving or on the Home Front, many found solace in representing Christian themes in the post-war recovery years.

During our time of recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, we can draw parallels with the post-war years of recovery and re-building, for which Coventry is so well known. The impacts of the pandemic are felt in many different ways and the Collection has real potential to provide space for moments of healing and contemplation this autumn.

All the venues will have a naturally 'hushed' atmosphere to allow visitors space to reflect quietly on the works displayed. Some venues may also offer further support and activities, such as the Prayer Stations at Earlsdon Methodist Church. There will also be opportunities to engage with therapeutic arts-based activities responding to the works and informative lectures and talks, shedding new light on, and interpretations of, key paintings.

For further information on these activities please visit: www.methodist.org.uk/cityofculture

Each time the Collection is loaned, the different communities who host it develop new dialogues with the artworks. Prior to borrowing paintings for this Art Trail, local churches around Coventry and Nuneaton encouraged congregations and their leaders to contemplate these works in imaginative ways, often during lockdowns. They had detailed discussions, using them to inspire prayer. This Art Trail now includes their many of their dynamic responses, creating new dialogues for the City of Culture.

Artists in residence at Methodist Central Hall: poet Emilie Lauren Jones, community artist Nikki Bovis-Coulter and digital artist Emily Tyler have all responded to the Collection and their work is also on view at Central Hall. Emilie’s poems are included in this Art Trail information.

The Revd Stephen Willey, Minister at Central Hall commented: “It is exciting to see our mission to nurture and celebrate faith, hope and love coming to life in Coventry this year through these artists.”

History of the Collection
This unique Collection began in the early 1960s as the inspired initiative of Dr John Morel Gibbs (1912–96). Gibbs was a Methodist layman who came from a wealthy Penarth shipping family in south Wales. His father, Major John Angel Gibbs, died in action in World War 1. John Morel Gibbs was very much raised in the shadow of war and, after taking a law degree at Cambridge, followed by a PhD in child psychology, became a conscientious objector in World War 2. He went on to become Vice President of the Methodist Church in 1959. By the 1960s Gibbs had concluded that the Methodist Church had failed to engage with contemporary high-quality religious art, which could make a genuine contribution to the life of the Church. He determined to rectify the situation.

Working with the local Methodist minister in Penarth, the Revd Douglas Wollen (1909-1998), who wrote as an art critic for publications including The Times and The Methodist Recorder, Gibbs acquired some outstanding examples of British 20th-century art. These were all chosen to illustrate aspects of the Gospel narrative, from the Nativity to Pentecost.

Some acquisitions were by established artists, such as William Roberts or Graham Sutherland, others were by relatively unknown artists just at the beginning of their careers. Wollen and Gibbs visited Bond Street galleries when they were in London for Methodist meetings to view potential acquisitions, and sometimes bought directly from artists after studio visits, occasionally commissioning works, or buying at auction. The 1960s were a time of energy and optimism, as well as recovery from World War 2, and the initial purchases echo the social and creative developments of the decade. There is a strong Welsh flavour to a number of early acquisitions, reflecting the fact that the original founders were based in south Wales, with works by Ceri Richards, Euryl Stevens and Michael Edmonds (based in Penarth at the time). From the outset there was a genuine desire to reflect innovative approaches to subjects and to look beyond European traditions. One of the first paintings to be acquired was by Francis Newton Souza, an Indian artist of international fame, living in London at the time.

The first works were purchased in 1962, ahead of a hugely ambitious touring exhibition which ran from July 1963-September 1965 and was entitled The Church and the Artist, with new works joining as they were acquired. It was shown across the country including at major galleries such as Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, the Walker in Liverpool, Manchester City Art Gallery, the Laing in Newcastle, the Graves in Sheffield, and Turner House in Penarth, part of the National Museum of Wales at the time. The tour included one school, Kingswood in Bath, one college, Southlands in London and just one cathedral, in Portsmouth. Overall 107,000 people saw the Collection at 30 venues. The exhibition was received enthusiastically by the public, and local and religious press, but barely picked up by the art press. There were just seven mentions in national newspapers, and while there was brief coverage by the BBC with a programme Seeing and Believing, aired in January 1964, overall the reception was muted in contrast to the more controversial response to the opening of Coventry Cathedral.

After the first exhibition tour, the Collection was housed at Kingswood School in Bath, where it was administered by the then Methodist Education Committee. From the early 1970s, it was distributed between a number of Methodist schools, before being reunited again at Southlands Teacher Training College in the late 1970s. Eventually, after a conservation programme, the Collection was relaunched in the 1990s as a touring exhibition once more. Appropriately, the first exhibition was at the Turner House Gallery in Penarth. Exhibitions then continued from 1992, when it was shown at St Giles in Oxford, and in 1993 at The Maltings in Farnham, Surrey and Winchester Cathedral. The Collection began to grow once more with the commission of the Adams watercolour Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, in 1991, currently on display at Earlsdon Methodist Church.

There was a general revival of interest in British 20th-century art in the 1990s, when a national poll elected Coventry Cathedral as the nation’s favourite 20th-century building, embraced by the public as a symbol of reconciliation and peace. Works such as Patrick Heron’s Crucifix and Candles: Night 1950 were acquired and, in 1997, a new working group was set up by the Methodist Church to manage the Collection, chaired by John Newton Gibbs, son of the original founder. He recognised the potential power of the Collection to support Mission and provided inspired leadership for the next 20 years. This group oversaw further expansion of the Collection in the 2000s, particularly with works by women artists such as Susie Hamilton, Ghislaine Howard and Maggi Hambling, as well as more works by international artists.

The resulting Collection of over 50 works continues to grow and still, on occasion, reflects its Welsh roots. In 2011 a work was commissioned by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, who was born in Newport in 1951. Work is also still donated, for example, Crucifixion, a watercolour by Michael Edmonds, was acquired in 2015. During the period 2016-2018, the Collection was seen by nearly 80 thousand visitors.

The Management Committee is committed to curating exhibitions which are relevant and contemporary for our audiences. Exhibitions which address issues such as peace and reconciliation; the current refugee crisis and the affirmation of Dalit people, embracing equality, diversity and inclusion whenever possible. In this trail the artworks also reflect the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and ensure a role in the healing process.

Taking the Art Trail:
We suggest that you park at Memorial Park in Coventry, then walk to the city centre or use the Park and Ride bus to the Cathedral. Coventry train station is close to the city centre.

Start by visiting Coventry Cathedral itself, it is then a short walk to Central Hall. Earlsdon Methodist Church is also within walking distance.

To continue the trail you will need to drive or take the train to Balsall Common (alight at Berkswell Station, and walk west for 500 yards to the church).

Fillongley can be reached either by car, or by bus from Pool Meadow Bus Station in Coventry City Centre – the 735 operated by Coventry Minibuses runs daily.

Further reading
Sarah Middleton The Methodist Modern Art Collection in Wales https://www.methodist.org.uk/media/2529/mmac-bilingual-booklet-0315.pdf

Roger Wollen Catalogue of the Methodist Church Collection of Modern Christian Art, 1988

Roger Wollen Seeing the Spiritual – A Guide to the Methodist Modern Art Collection
with introductory contributions by Richard Cork, Graham Kent and Ann Sumner, 2018

Methodist Central Hall

At Methodist Central Hall in Coventry eleven works from the Methodist Modern Art Collection have been carefully selected to reflect the themes of Hope, Faith and Love. These range from some of the first progressive acquisitions to enter the Collection in June 1962, to paintings commissioned in the early years of the 21st century, demonstrating how the Collection has developed and grown over nearly 60 years. Some of those artists were already famous when their works were acquired, while others were just out of art school. Some artistic reputations have flourished, while others have been lost.

The selection tells the story of the Collection - beginning with a burst of acquisition as part of the original founding momentum in the early 1960s, at the same time as the Cathedral in Coventry, with its outstanding artistic commissioning, was consecrated. There was then a gap in collecting until the 1990s, when a few more key works were added, followed by an energetic drive to represent and commission contemporary artists in the early 2000s. The chosen works here also reflect the personal preferences of church members, highlighting the works that spoke to them.

They were all agreed that an early work to enter the Collection, The Cross over the City, a mixed media work by Michael Edmonds, had particular resonance for them, capturing the way they feel about the Mission of their church in Coventry. This work has been especially conserved in time for this exhibition. The most recently acquired work on display here, Bavin’s The Empty Tomb was presented in memory of a member of the Management Committee who died suddenly in 2014. This work explores the theme of Hope at a time of national mourning, loss and remembering.

Coventry Central Hall is one of 100 or so Methodist Central Halls built in British cities between 1886 and 1945. Each one was designed as a place for the community to gather, and would attract thousands of people on Saturday evenings with concerts, cinema, and meeting spaces. The Methodist Church still owns 18 of the original buildings, 27 have been completely demolished or were bombed in the war.

Built in the 1930s, Coventry Central Hall now functions as a vibrant city-centre church, embedded in the local community and fully engaged with the City of Culture 2021 programme. The eleven works from the Methodist Modern Art Collection are displayed attractively in the white-walled Aldersgate Chapel, where the selected Artists in Residence have also been responding to the works on show.

 

Francis Newton Souza The Crucifixion, oil on board, 1962

Christ hangs on the cross with two figures, probably St John and another disciple, in this arresting work. The sun or moon appears in the sky, possibly the moon imposed over the sun, indicating the eclipse mentioned in three of the Gospels. The overtly expressionistic style creates a wild and unsettling scene of a public execution.

Souza’s work in 1950s and 1960s London brought together stylistic elements drawn from classical Indian art, African tribal art and Western modernism, producing some raw expressive religious works such as this mournful depiction of The Crucifixion. Born in Goa, of Indian descent, the artist was raised a Catholic in Bombay (Mumbai) and formed the Progressive Artists’ Group in 1947. The Catholic image of crucifixion from his upbringing remained with him throughout his life.

He came to London in 1949, one of the first of the post-Independence generation of Indian artists to establish a career in Britain. He participated in a group show with Francis Bacon and Henry Moore at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in 1954 and had his first solo show in 1955. Art critics began to liken his expressionist style to both Graham Sutherland and Francis Bacon.

This was one of the earliest paintings acquired by Wollen for the Methodist Church, in June 1962. Showing remarkable far sightedness he bought directly from the artist, following a studio visit. An artist, writer and poet, Souza’s career was championed by the poet Stephen Spender. The influences of Cubism and Picasso can be seen in this 1962 painting, particularly in the head of the second disciple with its multiple eyes and strong black outlines. Souza described his meeting with Picasso as a defining moment in his career.

In Souza’s famous Crucifixion in the Tate Gallery, painted a few years earlier, Christ is shown as black, reflecting his own feelings of cultural tensions and colonised and colonising societies. His depiction of the agonised Christ here, with raw expressive energy in this work, is no less penetrating and thought-provoking in today’s society.

In 1967 Souza moved to New York, where his work became lighter and brighter in tone. He returned to India just before his death and in recent years there has been a major reassessment of his international career.

 

John Reilly The Raising of Lazarus, Ripolin enamel on board, 1962

This depiction of the miracle of the Raising of Lazarus is set by Reilly in an English churchyard at sunset, with a traditional parish church visible to the left. The depiction of the figures gathered around the grave is influenced by photographs taken with a wide-angle lens and at high speed, creating a curvilinear barrel distortion. This makes the images appear distorted, with curved lines rather than straight ones. At the centre is the red setting sun which gives a warm glow to the scene.

Lazarus was the brother of Martha and Mary and amongst Jesus’ closest friends. The elongated body of Lazarus, who has been dead for four days, is shown rising up towards Christ, who wears a white tunic and brown trousers. At the head of the grave are the figures of Martha and Thomas, shown twice, initially mourning and then standing up in awe. Other versions of this subject by Reilly are held in Tate, London and Aberdeen Art Gallery.

John Reilly is not a household name today and is best known as a ceramicist, who founded and ran the Ventor pottery on the Isle of Wight, although he ceased making pottery and re-connected with his fine art practice in his later years. Four of his works were acquired early on for the Collection by Wollen, in October 1962. Of his paintings Reilly wrote that they “were not concerned with the surface appearance of people or things, but try to express something of the fundamental spiritual reality behind this surface appearance … I try to express something of the universal and timeless truths behind the stories of the Bible”. His work epitomises the ‘Seeing the Spiritual’ strapline which the Methodist Modern Art Collection uses to summarise our Mission. He was undoubtedly influenced by the visionary William Blake in his original imaginative approach to his paintings.

As many other artists, including Miro, Kandinsky and Picasso, Reilly seems to have turned to the industrial enamel paint Ripolin for this work in the early 1960s. This reflects the 60s urge to experiment and may have also been attractive because the drying time of this industrial paint would have been a matter of hours, as opposed to the several months for oils.

  

John Reilly The Feeding of the Five Thousand, oil on board, 1958

The Feeding of the Five Thousand was painted in 1958, a few years earlier than The Raising of Lazarus (also exhibited at Central Hall) and is more typical of Reilly’s initial distinctive style. Compartmentalised sections of the canvas show a sequential narrative: from right to left the evolving miracle is told – the four doubtful people with the seven loaves and four fish (mentioned in both Matthew 15 and Mark 8), with Christ’s illuminated figure centrally. The far left group shows the same figures with the fish and loaves plentiful for everyone. There is no sense of a mass crowd here but the figures reacting to the performance of the miracle before distributing the food. The overall approach to the subject is very different to Eularia Clarke’s The Five Thousand of 1962, on display at Earlsdon Methodist Church.

The Feeding of the Five Thousand and the Raising of Lazarus are two of the paintings which have been meticulously restored and re-framed for the re-launch of the Collection in Coventry.

 

Michael Edmonds The Cross over the City, polyester, brass and mosaic, relief panel, 1962

This powerful sculptural relief consisting of geometric shapes and mosaic squares creates the strong representation of a cross hovering above the gridlines of a modern city below. It has been said that it resembles an aerial view of traffic on a major road, crossing another road or railway cutting. It reflects the artist’s training as an architect as well as his passion for mission.

Although born in Dorset, Edmonds had strong Welsh links. During World War 2 he had come to south Wales initially as a 'Bevin Boy' working in the coal mines near Caerphilly to aid the war effort. He lived in Penarth for many years, working for the National Coal Board as an architect, later practising in Kent and London, before retiring to Montgomery, Powys where he died.

He co-founded the 56 Group in Cardiff to promote radical Welsh art. His mixed media work in metal, resin and fibreglass is influenced by the constructivist tradition and examples can still be seen today in Methodist Trinity Church in Penarth (originally commissioned for International House, Penarth).

It is unsurprising that Wollen should have turned to a local artist living in Penarth for this work, which was acquired in early 1963. There is a strong Welsh flavour to a number of early acquisitions, reflecting the fact that the original founders of the Collection were based in south Wales.

Michael Edmonds’ watercolour, Crucifixion is also included in this Art Trail, on display in Earlsdon Methodist Church.

Such mixed media works are notoriously hard to preserve and this piece has recently undergone expert conservation to present it for this exhibition. It is particularly appropriate to display it at Coventry Central Hall, where members of the church, and the organising committee for the Art Trail, felt that it spoke to them as an urban city-centre church.

“As we live in a city, and it is the City of Culture year, it feels right that we should have a piece of art that reflects city life, with its built up feel. The cross shows that it is a city where God is present and in the heart of the city, wanting the best for the city and all its inhabitants and watching over us all.” Deb, Methodist Central Hall

“The Cross over the City links as we are in the middle of the city in an urban landscape.”  Elaine, Methodist Central Hall   

 

 “A symbol of our Faith.  We are a city centre church, here to share our faith with everyone who lives or comes into the city centre for whatever reason.” Christine, Methodist Central Hall

                                          

 “I was immediately drawn to this image of the cross set in the busy-ness of city life with the associated traffic noise and pollution. Christ is there in all the chaos, offering forgiveness and healing.” Christine, Balsall Common Methodist Church

It also spoke to the poet, Emilie Lauren Jones:

 

Places I’ve Seen Crosses

After Michael Edmonds’ The Cross over the City

at the A46 intersection during rush hour;
dug into the sand below Paignton Pier;
in the clanking of dropped chopsticks;
in the static crackle of a TV set;
on the lock of the nightclub’s toilet door;
in the roof of an Elizabethan schoolhouse;
staring out of a plane window, praying to land safely;
in the unfinished game of dominos on my Nan’s table.
in between mismatched containers on a cargo ship;
smashed onto the screen of a dropped iPhone;
between waves in the wreckage of a failed journey;
pointing from a compass as the fog closes in;
on purple petals by a motorway layby;
after the flames joined two charred nails;
glued to the back panel of the rental car;
gaffer taped and centre stage;
in the little rivers that run
across the palm of your hand.

 

William Roberts The Crucifixion, oil on canvas, early 1920s

The Methodist Modern Art Collection is rich in images of the Crucifixion and this is one of the larger and most powerful detailed depictions of the agony Christ suffered on the cross. It is also one of the earliest works in the Collection, possibly the earliest, as some scholars date it to 1919.

The landscape setting reveals Jerusalem in the distance, while in the foreground the hilltop outside the city walls is shown thronged with a jeering crowd. There is an unusual arrangement of the three crosses, that of Christ and the two thieves crucified at the same time. It is usual to show the figures in a straight line with Christ in the middle. Here they are grouped in a triangle, with one of the thieves set forwards. At the foot of Christ’s cross the soldiers are shown drawing lots for his clothes (as described in Mark 15:24) contrasting with the distraught figure of Mary, the mother of Christ, portrayed in a grey robe.

Roberts had been a gunner in the Royal Field Artillery and completed the painting just after World War 1. Two drawings closely related to this Crucifixion still survive (dated 1919 and 1922) in which he appears to be resolving the details of the composition. William Soothill, the WW1 Christian writer, acknowledged the preoccupation with the Crucifixion amongst soldiers who were “facing Death and they knew it”. During the war Roberts had sketched some harrowing scenes, such as Burying the Dead After a Battle (Imperial War Museum) and it is clear that the Methodist Crucifixion referenced his wartime experiences. It represented part of the healing process for him after witnessing the horror of war first hand.

Roberts was from the East End of London and came from a working class background. He was a true Modernist and a member of the Vorticist art movement, along with Wyndam Lewis and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. By the early 1960s he was an established figure in British contemporary art and was enjoying a revival of interest in his work. When Wollen acquired this work in June 1963, just a year after he had begun forming the Methodist Collection, he was buying a ‘safe’ painting from an established artist with a fine provenance. It had been owned by the Welsh artist Augustus John from 1923 until his death.

The painting was exhibited at the Chenil Gallery under the title The Scarlet Robe in 1923, where Augustus John most probably viewed it. John had a high opinion of “the gifted William Roberts” who he described as “the only incurable cubist in London”. It was sold at auction at Christie’s in 1962 by John’s Estate and purchased by the Mayor Gallery, from whom Wollen acquired it for the Collection.

 

Peter Rogers The Ascension, oil on board, 1963

Rogers’ very personal visionary work shows Christ ascending in a golden cloud of light, his head thrust back looking upwards, his feet risen from the ground, in the tradition of William Blake. To the right, unidentified spectators look up towards the ball of light in awe, while on the other side, two white figures are engulfed in flames. The work is influenced by Rogers’ own vision, which he experienced in the Royal Albert Hall. This involved seeing two women, one walking towards him and another kneeling with a glowing ball of light, similar to that which he has shown in this painting.

Rogers painted a number of Ascensions including one mural in Spain during the 1960s, of very similar composition to the Methodist picture. At the time he wrote “I hammer away at this theme for reasons that I find rather hard to explain … I have been involved with the representation of the life of Jesus Christ mainly in so far as it can be regarded as symbolising the story of the development of individual consciousness – the discovery of the Kingdom of Heaven within us”.

The work was acquired by Wollen directly from the artist in June 1963, and was included in the first tour of the Collection. Later that year Rogers married an American, emigrated to New Mexico and was subsequently viewed as an American artist. Although he is not renowned in Britain today the work has remained popular with the public ever since.

 

Euryl Stevens The Raising of Lazarus, oil on board, 1964

This unusual and luminous work shows the story of the miracle of Lazarus being raised from the dead, translated into an extraordinary 1960s setting. In the foreground the artist uses compartmentalised sections illustrating the grave, with the sequential story of Lazarus initially dead and buried for four days, gradually awakening, sitting up and rising from his grave, dressed initially like a white angel, until he is restored again to life wearing a vivid pink robe. The almost surreal scene above ground into which he emerges is a lush parkland with blue skies and a vast crowd being held back by a line of policemen.

On a larger scale than the figures in the crowd are Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary, who had sent a message to Jesus when their brother fell sick, then waited while Jesus delayed for two days before answering their plea for help. Christ is not shown directly in the composition but represented only by his hands, shown at either side of the canvas, as he calls for his friend to come out of his grave. Distributed amongst the crowd are surreal animal-headed figures who, according to Stevens, represent non-believers and free thinkers, a category into which she would place herself.

Stevens was born in Tonypandy in the Rhondda Valley and trained at Birmingham School of Art and the Royal Academy Schools. As with many of the works in the Methodist Modern Art Collection there is a link with World War 2, the young Welsh artist recalling that the face of Lazarus was based on the likeness of her own father. He had died during the war when she was only a child.

Like many women, her artistic reputation has been lost, in part because she gave up her career when she married and focused on her young family. She started painting again in the 1970s, but took more time out to care for her mother.

Wollen saw this painting at an exhibition and acquired it directly from the RA Schools in December 1964. It is one of Stevens’ earliest works, and one of two works by a woman artist on display at Central Hall. The Collection included women from the outset, such as Elisabeth Frink and Eularia Clarke, but male artists dominated, and still do, as in so many collections. The Management Committee continue to aim to acquire more works by women, and more recent acquisitions by artists such as Maggi Hambling, Susie Hamilton and Ghislaine Howard has addressed the issue.

The unique work appealed to a number of members at Methodist Central Hall when they were considering their selection and this insightful remark reflected the inclusivity of their thinking and the importance of Hope:

 “It represents Hope. We are here to give hope to all, especially coming out of the pandemic which has affected us all. We are an inclusive church – The crowd includes animal-headed figures. Stevens says these represent people with no need for religion.” Christine, Methodist Central Hall

 

John Brokenshire Untitled – Pentecost, oil on canvas, 2003

Originally this was an untitled work and the artist writes “The title Pentecost was not suggested by me, but was the highest interpretation I could hope for from any viewer”. He revealed that he had studied stuffed birds in a museum to create the work, as well as the chiaroscuro, the use of light and dark to create dramatic effect in a composition, notably used in the works of Rembrandt and Caravaggio.

Doves are widely appreciated for their peacefulness and gentleness as they can soothe and restore wellbeing. In religious art the Holy Spirit is often depicted as a dove, based on the account of the Holy Spirit descending like a dove on Jesus at his baptism. The book of Acts describes the day of Pentecost when suddenly the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles in the form of a wind and tongues of fire rested over each of them and when filled with the Holy Spirit they spoke in other languages (Acts 2:1-4).

The artist, who comes from Gloucestershire and now works in south Yorkshire, explains that he has “long believed in God: I was first drawn to the spiritual in nature and in the practice of meditation and in my reading. I have been fortunate to take part in healing circles and then have strongly felt a sense of a wonderful benign force”. He also believes that creative visualising is a useful tool in such practices as cognitive therapy, healing, meditation and prayer. The work was acquired directly from Brokenshire in 2004.

A number of members at Methodist Central Hall were drawn to this work and one comment was particularly relevant at the current time:

“I love the image of the ‘dove’ hovering over the landscape that cannot be seen in the painting. The light in the top left corner, contrasting with the darkness in the bottom right corner makes me think that, through all our lives, whether in dark times or happier, lighter times, the spirit of God is there with us, watching over us and accessible for all if we only reach out to him.” Deb, Methodist Central Hall

Emilie Lauren Jones also responded to this painting:

 

Words and Wonders

After John Brokenshire’s Untitled - Pentecost

What if Words don’t sit silently on pages?
If bonfires spit out light,
and dove’s wings strike the sky,
and stars shout across galaxies;
then why do we whisper about words and wonders,
instead, we should splash them across canvases
with the fierceness of a snowy owl. 

 

Ghislaine Howard The Washing of the Feet, acrylic on canvas, 2004

Christ’s act of washing the feet of his disciples is not a common religious subject for artists. It was popular amongst the great Venetian Renaissance artists such as Tintoretto, and his large-scale version with all the disciples present in the Prado is usually what comes to mind. Nothing could be more different than this intimate image of Christ gently washing the feet of, presumably, his disciple Peter, and drying them with a towel (inspired by John 13:1-20).

The greeny blue background is plain, with no reference to all the other disciples eating, focusing in on this act of kindness. This would normally be performed by a servant in the Middle East at that time, or by individuals themselves, to wash the dust off sandal-clad feet. It was the usual etiquette before offering hospitality and Christ offering this act of kindness himself was significant. As the Bible says, “So, if I your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14)

In the context of the recent pandemic lockdowns in Britain, ‘everyday acts of kindness’ have been transformative for many people in society and this work has spoken in particular to the community at Methodist Central Hall as they reflect on love for others at this time.

Ghislaine Howard is based in the north-west and was renowned originally for her ground-breaking depictions of pregnancy and childbirth in the 1990s in Manchester. Her works were included in the recent Portraying Pregnancy: From Holbein to Social Media exhibition at the Foundling Museum. She is a religious painter of great power and has shown her Stations of the Cross/the Captive Figure at a number of cathedrals, including both those in Liverpool, and at Canterbury and Gloucester. The painting was specifically commissioned in 2004 by the Management Committee and it is the simplicity of this work that makes it so moving.

For the members at Methodist Central Hall, the work speaks of Love:

“Love. We are here to serve, with love, the needs of everyone who comes into the city centre, whatever their need.” Christine, Methodist Central Hall

 

 

Poet Emilie Lauren Jones also reflected on loving actions in her beautiful poem:

The Washing of Feet

After Ghislaine Howard’s The Washing of the Feet

 The brushstrokes of the sea painted
a layer of sand across our bodies.
Set against a green/blue horizon,
she dipped the faded edges of a beach towel
into the plastic bucket of salt water,
rubbed us clean, patted us dry,
completed this ritual
with the unrolling of socks and tying of laces.

I choose a navy flannel from the drawer
dab it into the dish of warm water
(the same one she used to cook our shepherd’s pie in)
rub her clean, pat her dry
then cream the cracks between her toes,
and swaddle them in fluffy slippers
before asking if she’d like a sip of tea
or the lamp switching on.

 

Richard Bavin The Empty Tomb, watercolour on paper, 2013

This simple watercolour is powerfully effective in conveying the stillness and emptiness of the tomb, taking a viewpoint from inside, looking out at the rolled aside stone. It was originally commissioned as part of an exhibition entitled Risen! Art of the Crucifixion and Eastertide at Monnow Valley Arts and other venues in Herefordshire in 2013. In this exhibition newly-commissioned art was shown juxtaposed with the Methodist Modern Art Collection. This work stood out for its quality of stillness and absence, yet with the crescent-shaped light created by the stone, conveying hope and new beginnings – the darkness of the total eclipse receding now.

Bavin is a practising Christian and spent time in prayerful meditation before being drawn to the passage in Luke: “They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body” (Luke 24:2-3). He decided how to respond to the challenge of this commission by asking himself, “could I paint this space in a way that conveyed something of the magnitude of what has just taken place?” This small simple work, with the grave clothes heaped to the side, discarded by Christ as he walked out into the garden in the morning light, spoke to a number of members at Methodist Central Hall and impressed them.

Bavin studied fine art at Hereford College of Art and at Gloucestershire University. He is actually a specialist in depicting trees and woodland, a member of The Arborealists, a national group of artists united around the theme of trees, and a former artist in residence with Herefordshire Wildlife Trust. He finds the time he spends in woods sketching is a form of contemplation which resonates with his Christian experience.

This painting was initially purchased by a private buyer in 2013, who later donated it to the Methodist Modern Art Collection in 2014 in memory of the Revd Geoff Cornell, a much-loved and active member of the Management Committee, after his sudden death that year. The stillness and calm that some experienced in lockdown is reflected in this work. Memorialising and remembering have also become a key part of the recovery process for the nation, following the Covid-19 pandemic.

For one member of the Methodist Central Hall community it was a simple reaction to a small but impactful work:

“I like it mainly because it places us inside the tomb for us to experience what that must have felt like, rather than the more traditional view.” Mike, Methodist Central Hall

And it was also valued by members at Balsall Common:

“A powerful, but peaceful image of the empty tomb, which encourages me to follow the risen Christ up the steps and out into the bright daylight.” Joy, Balsall Common Methodist Church

Further reflections from poet Emilie Lauren Jones:

 

What He Left Behind

After Richard Bavin’s The Empty Tomb

Hope is a half moon
lighting sallow steps.
He folded their stinging words,
their sneering mouths,
into a neat pile
and discarded them
in the once-dark corner
of an empty tomb.

 

Craigie Aitchison Pink Crucifixion, etching on paper, made from four plates, 2004

The Methodist Modern Art Collection is rich in Crucifixion scenes. In 2010 it acquired this etching by Aitchison, who has been drawn to the subject of the Crucifixion all his professional life. This has however, a slightly different take on a scene that has fascinated him for years. His first one-man show in 1958 contained a small painting of the crucified Christ attended by two angels, and in 1997 his Calvary paintings found a home in Truro Cathedral, the first to find a permanent location in a church setting. He continued to develop series of works around this simplified Crucifixion in oils and in print form.

This is a screen-printed artist's proof, and embodies Aitchison's style of abbreviated forms and strong pastel colours, which he has continued to use throughout his career. In this Crucifixion, as in others, the simplified figure of Christ is seen as almost forming part of the vertical upright of the cross, here with Christ draping one arm over the cross. The image of Christ with his bright red hair floats in a pink space, though sometimes he places Christ in a yellow space.

In other similar works the stylised figure of a Bedlington terrier is also included, and originally one was shown here at the foot of the cross. As the etching evolved, so the detail of the dog was removed, although its ghostly outline is still visible. Aitchison first encountered a Bedlington terrier in the 1970s at Crufts. He was smitten, and they often appear in his work. Indeed it has been said that the painting of crucifixions and Bedlington terriers defined his career. Including the terriers in his crucifixions has been controversial, but he once explained “It makes them look sadder, if there’s an animal there getting in a state.” Why he removed this one from this print is not entirely clear.

Aitchison’s fascination with Christ’s Passion dates back to his schooldays, when Glasgow Corporation courted publicity by paying a large sum for a crucifixion scene by Salvador Dali: “I went to see it, and although it was a long time after that that I started painting crucifixions, it stuck in my mind. It [Christ’s Passion] is a horrific story, and I think more worth trying to say something about than anything that’s happened since.” While Aitchison said he always believed in God he did not like to be called a ‘religious painter’, saying: “I don’t know what it means. I think if you think you’re religious, it’s a bit conceited.” Depicting Christ with red hair was also controversial, as it was traditionally Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, or Mary Magdalene who are frequently painted with red hair. The work today engages viewers in debate and discussion when it tours and particularly appealed to the community at Central Hall who felt it would intrigue visitors.

Aitchison was one of Scotland’s foremost painters, known for his vibrant use of colour and imaginative compositions. His grandfather was a minister in the Kirk (United Free Church) and his father was an eminent socialist lawyer, who became Lord Justice Clerk of Scotland. He trained first as a lawyer himself before changing direction and attending the Slade School of Art in the early 1950s, which he described as ‘paradise’. He was awarded the first Jerwood Painting Prize in 1994, for one of his Crucifixion scenes which was acquired for the Jerwood Collection.

  

Images above from the Methodist Modern Art Collection © TMCP, used with permission. www.methodist.org.uk/artcollection
The Methodist Church. Registered Charity no. 1132208

 

 

 

 


Share this