Pilgrim Spaces, Journeying in Our Modern Age

Chichester Cathedral and the Bishop’s Palace
Chichester Cathedral and the Bishop’s Palace

St Mary Magdalene’s life was celebrated this week on the 22nd July. She was described by the early church as Apostle to the Apostles. It was Mary who first saw the risen Lord and it was Jesus who sent her to take the news of his resurrection to the other disciples. As I have reflected on how she accompanied Jesus during his ministry, my thoughts have been drawn to the nature of pilgrimage, of journeying, in our modern age.

Pilgrimage spaces, whether sacred or not, can decipher or inform our perceptions of the world; they can gift us with an experience of the numinous. Whether a space is deemed holy or hollow will in part be determined by the degree of common narrative with which we approach it. Our perception of a particular built environment can be informed by historical context, ritual or role, explicit symbolism and our psychological interaction with the space.

People are bound together by their shared narrative. That we can tell something of the same story allows us to identify with one another and share a common identity. For example, many would argue that at the heart of what it is to be English is our monarchy, our landscape and our church, all of which are closely bound up with our island history. An English Tourist Board paper noted that in 2004 we made 68.7 million visits to historic properties in England, of which 32.4 million were to churches. Central to our attraction to these sacred buildings, beyond the common narrative, is the human activity of dwelling. Where we live, where we worship and our material possessions all enable us to articulate who we are and ground us not only in the procession of our own lives but also in the broader procession of human history.

Graham Sutherland at Chichester Cathedral
St Mary Magdalene Chapel, Chichester Cathedral, with Graham Sutherland’s ‘Noli Me Tangere’

Take, for example, the St Mary Magdalene Chapel in Chichester Cathedral. Central to this chapel is Graham Sutherland’s vibrant oil on canvas ‘Noli Me Tangere’ of 1961. Walter Hussey, famous as both a patron of the arts and as Dean of Chichester, called upon the first seven hundred years of the cathedral’s history and tradition, claiming that new work should be contemporary and not imitate the old. In his book ‘Patron of Art’ he notes that he had always hoped that Graham Sutherland would ‘do something at Chichester’. The sculptor Henry Moore had thought ‘that Graham Sutherland would be most suitable’ to paint a Crucifixion for St Matthew’s, Northampton, which Hussey commissioned. Sutherland’s now famous Crucifixion at St Matthew’s was installed in 1946. Sutherland, a Roman Catholic, was fulsome in his praise of Hussey’s vision and ability to carry people with him.

Looking towards the St Mary Magdalene Chapel down the south and choir aisles, we are struck by the transcendent quality and extraordinary length of this vista. Indeed, the architect Sir Basil Spence, who designed and oversaw the building of Coventry Cathedral after the Second World War, described this view as one of the most beautiful in Europe. Sutherland’s study initially strikes the viewer with the quality of a distant enamel jewel. As we journey 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 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 Passion narratives, which lead up to and include Jesus’ crucifixion. At the centre of the painting is Jesus Christ, dressed in white symbolising his holiness and purity. Christ’s finger points towards God the Father, symbolising His presence. Mary may not touch Jesus. This is the liminal moment where the artist invites us into the narrative 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 at once connects the viewer with the narrative in a very personal way and allows them rest in this sacred space. The painting is complimented by the altar, designed by the then Cathedral Architect and Surveyor Robert Potter, and sculptor Geoffrey Clarke’s candlesticks, whose angular quality reflect the figures in Sutherland’s work.

Art galleries also provide pilgrimage spaces. Walter Hussey’s personal collection of art is displayed at Pallant House Gallery and a Crucifixion by Graham Sutherland is currently on display in the main galleries.

Chichester Cathedral is open daily with one of the finest collections of modern British art in the country, inspired by Walter Hussey as he strove to articulate a new hope, a new Jerusalem after the experience of two world wars. Next time you are in Chichester, treat yourself and for a moment dwell amongst the art in this sacred space; accept the gift of a generous punctuation mark, space in the busyness of our modern lives. There are often concerts and exhibitions at the Cathedral to delight children and adults alike; for more information go to www.chichestercathedral.org.uk

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 24th July 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Consumed by Art: Jim Sanders

04 Shrines in the artist's kitchen
Shrines by Jim Sanders in the artist's kitchen

Jim Sanders is a Brighton-based artist who believes art should be timeless, as opposed to a fashion-led commodity. Through his art, he wants to convey the common concerns, or fundamentals of life: religion, birth, love, sex and death. Nicholas Toovey tells us more.

Jim Sanders

Jim was born in Solihull and raised in Redditch, he did a degree in graphic design and illustration, but soon discovered that the industry was heavily reliant on computers rather than drawing. The degree did however reinforce his love for assemblage and creativity. He moved to Brighton in 1998 deciding to escape his “red brick and concrete 1960s overspill” town in Warwickshire. Does Sussex inspire him? Only in part, he loves spending time ‘people-watching’ in town, and as his work is often figurative, he admits that must be an inspiration. Jim’s work however, is far more influenced by his childhood and his catholic upbringing. He is now interested in all manner of beliefs for what they convey – “I like the imagination of it and the related stories”.

Hybris by Jim Sanders
Totems by Jim Sanders
The Solitaires by Jim Sanders

With the exception of his graphic design degree, Jim received no formal training in fine art. This creates a refreshingly naive appeal to his work. His ethos is most akin to ‘outsider art’, this is work usually created by the mentally ill who are untrained and unaware of the art world or art history but whom enjoy the process of making art. Because he is of sound mind and often dips into reference books to further his appreciation of art he quips “I am outside the outsiders, but also outside the insiders!”. His output is primitive and this is often achieved by working with children; they have an unrivalled naivety when painting, born from their unique imagination and executed with an undiluted freshness that is not constrained by conformity. This process first started whilst teaching art to home-schooled children, but developed with the help of two boys, Apollo and Hermes. The eight and ten year-olds often visit Jim’s studio and collaborate with him. The three work together, doodling and getting basics on the canvas, sometimes with direction from Jim, but more often without. Jim then continues to work and develop these basics into a finished work of art. In addition to Apollo and Hermes, Jim often collaborates with other creative types, including poets, musicians and other artists.

Jim regularly creates work in a series; arguably one of the most imposing of these was a group of twenty ‘Totems’ that show his passion for assemblage. Created from found and salvaged materials, such as bottle tops and rusty tools, the totems adopt an autobiographical element, particularly his Catholic background, with each totem reflecting altarpieces and votive offerings. They were exhibited at the Pheonix Gallery, Brighton in 2007. The ‘Totems’ informed his next series, the ‘Shrines’, these are created in his kitchen also from found materials, the Shrines are continually added to with objects sourced for the unknown stories that they tell.

The route of all of Jim’s work is drawing. Whether it be from sketches created with the children he taught, drawings he makes whilst out and about, or ‘automatic’ doodles he makes at the kitchen table whilst cooking dinner. From a selection of over 400 drawings on scraps of paper, twenty figures have been translated in mixed media onto 2.5m high hessian banners, the reverse is plain black with poetry supplied by Xelis de Toro, when displayed in an installation this is all the viewer sees at first. After being lead through, the viewer turns to face ‘The Solitaires’, a powerful crowd of imposing figures that mirror facets of the viewer’s own personality.

Jim Sanders' Studio
Apostasy by Jim Sanders
Now That The Living Outnumber The Dead by Jim Sanders

Jim works from his Brighton home, one room is dedicated to his studio, where pictures in progress cover every wall. Hessian is stacked on the floor, which doubles up as the artist’s easel. Due to the courser weave of the hessian, paint seeps through to the sheets below creating all important layers and textures for future paintings. The rest of the house is dedicated to his work, the utilitarian bedroom has a bed and a wardrobe, but the walls are yet again filled with paintings, as is the staircase, kitchen and music room (he is the drummer in the Country-Punk band ‘The Crucks’), even the bathroom has works of art above and even in the bath. Jim has no settee in the house – “sofa’s are for people who watch tv” and with the absence of a television in his home you cannot argue with his logic. Every waking hour Jim dedicates to the creative process, art is his life and he is consumed by it. Jim’s work can often be obtained at Ink’d, Brighton, or direct from the artist. He hopes one day to own a building, ideally a church, filled with a lifetime of his work, creating a permanent museum or ornate temple of his work. For now his home is a diminutive version of what he will hopefully one day create. He is always open to showing people around his house and studio, in its ever fluctuating state, and a visit can be arranged by contacting him via his website.

The thought of penniless artists was arguably a romanticised Victorian notion intended to encourage patronage, but Jim, choosing to fulfil his desire for creativity, probably does fit into this category. More often than not he lives off £50 a week, but remains incredibly upbeat, “I’m not poor, I am rich from the art that surrounds me… the only time I get frustrated is when I have to choose between buying new paint or a loaf of bread”. Although his work is instantly recognisable as his own, he signs his work ‘SANS’, a shortened version of his surname and a synonym of without.

The imagery Jim creates is without question intriguing, even if it sometimes borders on the macabre. The dark undertones of some works only reflect the rudimentary elements of life, it is our own fears and taboos of the subject that can make his work haunting and uncomfortable. This does not make it any less brilliant. Jim paints and creates for himself, driven solely by his desire to be artistic. Although pound notes are always welcome, appreciation of his oeuvre, it seems, is payment enough.

Words such as ‘naive’ and ‘primitive’ may appear derogatory, but the art world has always had a place for this approach to creating work and if anything, it is often considered an accolade. One can look at the folk art of the 19th century or artists of the 20th century, such as Lawrence Stephen Lowry, Helen Bradbury, Fred Yeats and Alfred Williams, all of whom are highly collected names on the resale market today. Will Jim Sanders join this list of artists in the future? You can never be certain, but one thing is for sure – he definitely deserves to.

For more visit www.jimsanders-sans.com

Nicholas’ article was originally published in Sussex Life magazine in January 2012.

The Everyday Icon: Andy Waite

The artist, Andy Waite, via blog.tooveys.com
The artist, Andy Waite

Andy Waite is an Arundel-based artist, best known for his vibrant semi-abstract landscape paintings. Nicholas Toovey looks at a different aspect of the artists oeuvre based around figures and human emotions.

'Winter Deep' by Andy Waite, via blog.tooveys.com
'Winter Deep' oil on canvas, a more typical example of the artist's work

Andy was born in Buckinghamshire and after a time in Kent moved to Sussex. While studying art and design he lived in Findon, spending lots of time on and around the South Downs, with Cissbury and Chanctonbury Rings becoming favourite haunts. In 1978 Andy settled in Arundel, a place he describes as ‘an amazing location, you can be up on the downs within 15 minutes and the sea is only 3 miles away’. He is unquestionably inspired by the surrounding Sussex landscape that has kept him in the county for the last forty years. The neighbouring countryside is interpreted in sketchbooks later translating into oils on canvas in his landscape paintings that are most synonymous with his name.

'The Boy King' oil on panel by Andy Waite, via blog.tooveys.com
'The Boy King' oil on panel

Although landscape has been his main output, Andy has also always been interested in life drawing, which he undertakes in a swift and spontaneous way. It would be easy to assume that his ‘Every Day Icons’ are a progression from these figurative sketches, but in fact were created as a deliberate separate series. Informed by his other works and influenced by his trips to Italy, these icons were made with the concept that anyone, not just religious figures, might be revered or regarded as sacred. The faces depicted are based around friends or family and radiate a range of emotions from the quite dark to the joyous. ‘Some are searching, others yearning, some have found contentment in the moment. All are being honoured no matter what their state of mind’ says the artist. Whilst painting the images around these specific feelings, the emotion sometimes change during the painting process. Once completed, Andy assimilates the works for a few days titling them appropriately with a name that is almost suggested by the painting itself.

'The Fullness Of Time' by Andy Waite, via blog.tooveys.com
'The Fullness Of Time' oil on panel
'What The World Has Shown Me' by Andy Waite, via blog.tooveys.com
'What The World Has Shown Me' oil on board

The comparison to iconography is born from the palette used by Andy that echoes those used in Byzantine and Renaissance portrayals of religious figures. These were often embellished with gold leaf and due to the inherent cost it was reserved for the holiest elements such as halos. Ultramarine blue was a similarly expensive colour to create due to the main ingredient of lazulite and the difficulty of extracting the strong blue from the mineral; as a result, this was often used for the robes of the Virgin Mary and infant Christ. These colours were intended to lead the eye of the viewer to the key elements of the religious works when contrasted with the earth colours like ochre and umber. The supports of Andy’s paintings vary from modern boards to reclaimed wood, sometimes with several pieces adhered together to make a single panel, those left unfinished artificially age his contemporary interpretation of a tradition that started in medieval times.

The series of ‘Every Day Icons’ exemplifies the artist’s handling of the human form and Andy’s ability to illustrate unequivocal emotion. He portrays these feelings with an inimitable softness and subtlety. Ultimately, it is this sensitivity that makes the work extremely engaging and distinctively his own.

For more visit Andy’s website

Nicholas’ article was originally published in Sussex Life magazine in December 2011.