Easter, A Time for Renewal and Hope

Chichester Cathedral and the Bishop’s Palace

Christians across the country will celebrate Easter this Sunday – it marks a time of hope, renewal and rebirth in the face of suffering and human tragedy.

With our church buildings temporarily closed to counter COVID-19 I thought I would take you inside Chichester Cathedral as Easter approaches. Pilgrimage spaces can decipher or inform our perceptions of the world gifting us with an experience of the numinous.

Sir Basil Spence, who designed and oversaw the building of Coventry Cathedral after the Second World War and the campus buildings at Sussex University, described the South aisle at Chichester Cathedral as one of the most beautiful in Europe. At the east end is the St Mary Magdalene Chapel with Graham Sutherland’s vibrant oil on canvas ‘Noli me tangere’ (touch me not).

The Very Revd Walter Hussey, famous as both a patron of the arts and as Dean of Chichester Cathedral, had commissioned Sutherland to paint a Crucifixion at St Matthew’s, Northampton in the 1940s and had hoped the artist would do something at Chichester.

Graham Sutherland’s ‘Noli me tangere’, painted in 1961, in the St Mary Magdalene Chapel, Chichester Cathedral

A Roman Catholic, Sutherland’s art was inspired by his faith.

As we enter the south aisle from the west end Sutherland’s ‘Noli me tangere’ initially strikes you with the quality of a distant medieval, enamelled jewel. As we process towards this work we are drawn into the intimate narrative described in chapter 20 of St John’s Gospel. Arriving at the chapel we become aware that the painting depicts the moment on that first Easter morning when Mary Magdalene becomes aware that she is in the presence of her risen Lord who has just spoken her name. As she reaches out to touch him his gesture stops her. The painting holds in tension Mary’s joy and the pending separation of a different kind.

The angular composition of the figures, plants and staircase allude to the suffering and cruelty described in the Passion narratives which lead up to and include Jesus’ crucifixion. At the centre of the painting Jesus Christ is dressed in white symbolising his holiness and purity. Christ’s finger points towards God the Father symbolising His presence. Mary may not touch Jesus. The artist invites us into this liminal moment in the story so that we, like Mary, might acknowledge Jesus, our creator, teacher and friend, as advocate and redeemer of the whole world.

Sutherland displays sensitivity and humility in the intimate scale of the painting which encourages us to rest in this sacred space.

The Passion narratives and Easter story provide a hope filled framework for a generous self-giving discipline inviting us to respond to God’s love with love for him, for ourselves and for others. Where we respond with acts of care, compassion and respect for those close to us and those we meet along the way we renew and give new life to our communities and our nation as we work for the common good.

With our church buildings temporarily closed I will be joining the online 10.30am Easter Sunday Eucharist led by the Bishop of Chichester, the Rt Revd Dr Martin Warner. From his private chapel those familiar Easter words will be proclaimed ‘Alleluia! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!’ To find out more and to join the online services from the Cathedral visit www.chichestercathedral.org.uk/worship/holy-week-and-easter.

I hope that you and those you love remain safe this Easter and in the weeks to come.

 

Punctuation Marks in our Busy Lives

Fred Hall – ‘Morning on the Downs’, oil on board, signed recto, titled verso, 32cm x 39.5cm

Like so many of us I am in the first few days of adapting to working from home separated from the people and busy cycle of my working life.

Toovey’s auction rooms are temporarily closed in line with government policy and the team safely furloughed. I have been overwhelmed by the number of hope filled notes and emails received from clients and friends, each expressing a spirit of generosity and good wishes. And I am embracing digital technology and images to enable virtual visits and valuations – at least for now.

As I adjust, temporarily, to this new rhythm of life I am aware of the blessings of family, self-discipline and time.

The rhythm of walking in the landscape stills me but I am aware that I need to be mindful of how I do this exercise if I am to honour those working in the NHS and do my bit to beat Coronavirus COVID-19.

In more normal times I love to walk on the Downs at the back of Storrington. This thought reminds me of a beautiful landscape by Fred Hall (1860-1948) titled ‘Morning on the Downs’ which we sold at Toovey’s for £1600. The painting captures a cool, spring light as the sheep graze on ancient chalk grassland filled with wild flowers. In the distance we glimpse the sea. It’s a scene we still recognize today.

Born at Stillington in Yorkshire, Fred Hall was a Newlyn artist whose realist paintings were later characterised by the lighter touch and impressionist treatment of his landscapes which you see here. Fred Hall left Newlyn in 1897 and married Agnes Dod. A year later they moved to Dorking in Surrey and the artist took a studio in West Kensington.

In an age of social media there is sometimes a temptation to look at, or worry about, what has passed whilst our eye is firmly set on the next thing. But it seems to me that the most beautiful things in life are often to be found in the here and now. The 17th century Jesuit Priest Jean Pierre de Caussade (1675-1751) described it as the Sacrament of the Present Moment. If we dare to shut out the white noise of our lives and seek to be truly present, to still ourselves and be attentive, these blessings reveal themselves.

Whilst I am missing that walk on the Downs we are so lucky that the streets and lanes of our towns, villages and the adjoining countryside in West Sussex are filled with blossom and spring flowers to lift our spirits.

For me the rhythm of prayer, walking and music brings me stillness and silence and allows me to be truly present. Whilst there will be challenges for us all I hope that, like me, you will be able to find punctuation marks in your lives to reflect on the blessings in each day.

A Mother’s Love

A hope filled oil painting by Dorothea Sharp titled ‘The Bath’

For many across West Sussex Mothering Sunday is traditionally a day for gathering at church and with families celebrating and giving thanks for mums and their love.

But last Sunday was no ordinary Mothering Sunday. With churches closed and Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plea not to visit our mums to keep them safe there was a real sense of heightened isolation in the face of COVID-19.

Nonetheless we are a resilient and hopeful people and love was shared across generations through Skype, FaceTime and the like. The Church of England streamed its services gathering us and the beautiful early spring weather lifted our spirits.

At its best there is a particular strength and grace to a mother’s love for her children. Constant, abundant and selfless, a mother will strive to bless their children with freedom through boundaries. This generous, constant attention to the needs of others and self-discipline provides an important example for our current times.

The 14th century anchoress Julian of Norwich lived her whole life in Norwich. Close to death she experienced Christ in a series of visions born out of her prayers. She survived and wrote the earliest surviving book in the English language written by a woman titled Revelations of Divine Love. Julian famously speaks of Jesus Christ as mother describing the quality of his love for us.

I loved the hope filled scene painted by Dorothea Sharp which was sold in Toovey’s March Fine Art Auction. Titled ‘The Bath’ it realised £8000 reflecting her reputation as a painter and the ever growing interest in women artists.

Dorothea Sharp’s paintings were influenced by her time in Paris and exposure to the Impressionists including Claude Monet. Best known for her landscapes, which often include children, Dorothea Sharp’s style is spontaneous and impressionistic. ‘The Bath’ depicts a hopeful, joyful, sunlit interior as a mother bathes her baby. Through the window beyond a sailing boat enters the estuary, the blue of the sea brilliant against the grey green hills of the far shore.

The love of a mother for her child is brilliantly captured with a confident palette and spontaneous brush strokes.

Love and prayer reaches across physical boundaries and shared stories of joys and sorrows bind families and communities together. I hope that each of us will, like a loving mother, tend to one another – those close to us and those we meet along the way. If we do then our nation’s story will once again be strengthened and renewed by our acts of compassion, consideration, love and service to others.

Amberley Museum’s Inaugral Sculpture Trail

Contributing artists at the 2020 Amberley Museum Sculpture Trail

The first flash of spring sunshine broke through as Amberley Museum launched its inaugural Sculpture Trail. The Sculpture Trail provides a natural bridge between the artist and artisan. Many of the traditional crafts and skills preserved and maintained at the museum are employed in creating sculpture.

20th century Britain witnessed a great revival in the Renaissance idea of the artisan artist. In Sussex artists like Paul Nash, Eric Ravilious, Edward Bawden and others worked as designers and woodblock illustrators as well as painters of fine art.

As we walk up through the museum we reach a fork in the path and nestling amongst the dappled light of the still bare Silver Birch we discover a stone form titled ‘Cell’. The artist Will Spankie explains “The sculpture is inspired by bees. I love bees – the way that they live.” Will and his wife Lucy keep bees. The textural cells carved in Purbeck stone reflect the mass of prismatic wax cells built by honey bees in their nests to hold their stores of honey, pollen and as nurseries for their brood larvae. The changing light plays on the contrasting textured and smooth surfaces of the worked stone creating an impression of stillness and movement.

Will Spankie’s stone ‘Cell’

We walk with the sculptor Michael Joseph and his wife Jane down a wooded path as they talk passionately about wild flower meadows and bees. We round a corner and find Michael Joseph’s sculpture ‘Serene’ bathed in sunshine. Its bold figurative outline is repeated by its shadow against a crisp white wall. Michael loves the technical challenges of making his sculptures. I ask him about the creative process of this piece. He says “I made a maquette by bending the metal, but this larger finished work is made from tubing which can’t be bent without distorting it. So I made a number of cuts through to the outer face to very high mathematical tolerances then I welded it. It’s dressed and patinated with powder coating.”

Michael Joseph with his sculpture ‘Serene’

Works by the blacksmith partnership of Sarah Blunden and Ben Fraser, as well as blacksmith Alex Smith give real voice to calling and vocation in creativity expressed by the artisan artist – for them there is no peace without making. The inspiration of nature and its rhythms is beautifully articulated by the sculptor Simon Probyn. His steel abstract ‘Pebbles’ greets you as you arrive. And then there is the architect sculptor Lester Korzilius’ mixed method ‘Vortex’ with its bold palette and abstract form which plays with light and its enviroment.

I often return to the Amberley Museum for its brilliant railway, vintage car, and craft weekends as well as to ride on its fantastic vintage buses and trains. The sculptures are an exciting addition to this industrial landscape allowing us to see the familiar anew.

Amberley Museum’s 2020 Sculpture Trail runs until the 28th June 2020 and there is a celebration of James Bond on the weekend of the 28th March. For more information visit www.amberleymuseum.co.uk or telephone 01798 831370.