Today, I am going to introduce you to a phase of painting from the 1980s. At this point, I was unmarried, and living in a flat in Chiswick. My children started to come at the end of this decade, but here, I had time to enjoy painting and thinking, despite having a very full time job at an Economic Consultancy. I know. I was there for light entertainment. Here is what was happening to the Artist Extraordinaire then.
The magic of religious Italian Renaissance painting has always been an inspiration to me. In the mid 1980s, I began to want to apply some of the imagery from these old masters, to a more modern interpretation of Christian Biblical stories. I had long been interested in combining the Divine with the Mudane.
|Annunciation by Fra Angelico, from about 1437|
Here is another painting of an Annunciation by Fra Filippo Lippi from around the same time. The symbolism in the painting tells us what we need to know. If we cannot read, the imagery in this painting will make it clear to us what we are seeing. The hands of God send a dove towards Mary, this is the Holy Spirit that will enable Mary to carry the Son of God. Gabriel holds a lily, a symbol of purity, and virginity, for Mary. There are lilies in a pot at Mary's side, and both figures have a golden halo of light around their heads, telling us that they are divine.
|Annunciation by Fra Filippo Lippi from about 1445 - 1450|
I am going to show you an icon now. An icon is a serious art form, the very preparation for painting and the painting itself, is considered a prayer. The images are always painted in the same way, and when it is finished, each icon is a venerable, revered, object of devotion. Please look at these images with your heart. I cannot tell you how beautiful I find them. No, they are not real, and yes, sometimes the faces look as if they need surgery, but look at the lines that go into the expressions. They are long and smooth. They suggest gravity, they suggest gentleness, they suggest authority. They are hard to do, try and copy one and see just how difficult it is. We think that because it is not realistic for us, that it must be dashed off in no time at all. Wrong. They take many hours of preparation, many hours of prayer and a dedicated hand and eye to complete. They can take months to finish. There mystery and magic and I am moved by it every time. Look at this.
|Virgin and Child icon|
And now, look at this one
|Jesus Christ Life Giver.|
And so. Armed with such inspiration, I began to paint my own versions. I wanted to keep the simplicity, I wanted to keep the gentleness, and I wanted to take as many of the symbols and details of style that I could. And so. I took Jesus, and kept him dressed as if he was in an icon and thought, what can I do with him? What if, I thought one day as I sat on a tube train, Jesus got on the train and went to visit his mother? And I came up with an idea.
What if Jesus sat on a crowded train and got squashed by everyone, and no one even noticed? From this idea came Jesus on the Tube, and from this painting, has come endless interest and requests for information as to what it is all about. It is a tiny painting, only 5" x 5".
|Jesus on the Tube, the original painting|
This painting has been all over the world. It has been used for all sorts of educational purposes, by the BBC, by Alpha International, by RE Today, by various and many churches and it has been part of the National Curriculum for schools. I have given workshops on it, I have repainted the original on commission just occasionally, I have answered hundreds of wonderful questions from school children on all sorts of things to do with the painting (like, what's it all about then? What's he doing? Why's he there?) and I have received many different interpretations on it over the years from all sorts of people in all sorts of countries. I will never sell this original but I take commissions, and paint portraits of families (or individuals, or friends) next to a Jesus of their choice, at a station of their choice, with each person holding something that represents who they are. For example, one lady held a brochure for a Greek holiday and an orchid, another man had a biking helmet and a kite, people have had a French Horn, or a hamster, or a special bag. Here are two examples of Jesus on the Tubes. See how each person has something with them to say who they are, and often they are dressed in their most favourite clothes.
|The Glassock Family|
|Carmel and Natalie Suthons|
So. Jesus on the Tube gave way to other images that were very much placed in this world.
The Madonna Diptych showed how difficult it is to keep one's dignity with a new baby. In the first image, called the 4am Madonna, Mary is shown holding a new baby who is absolutely ready to play. It is 4am. Mary has bags under her eyes, this is all so new to her, and a pot of tea is sitting behind her, suggesting that she has been awake a good long while now, and baby is still not tired. Some baby clothes are hanging in the background, and I can confess here that this baby is a portrait of my own new born daughter, and that the Madonna was very much me. I have painted my daughter's clothes in the background, and the down turn to the Madonna's mouth is very close to my heart. The second image is the Breast Feeding Madonna. What we are not told before we learn to breast feed a newborn baby, is how much it can hurt. In this painting, the delighted infant latches on with enthusiasm and poor Mary has to almost cross her eyes. Behind her, the pot of tea. And Mary is wearing the newest of new maternity bras. Just like mine. Another whole new learning curve. These two images were painted on very small blocks of wood, in oils. The 4am Madonna has been reproduced in many publications, and is the front cover to a wonderful book on being a new mother called "4am Madonnas. Meditations and Reflections for Mothers and Mothers-to-be" by Rachel Barton. This diptych was bought by a very interesting couple from America.
|Madonna Diptych, the 4am Madonna and the Breast Feeding Madonna|
This next painting is called Easy God. This is painted with all the majesty of an icon of God the Father. It is a powerful image of a thunderous Almighty, full of power, and full of compassion. But he is wearing orange, the colour that identifies Easy Jet. At the time of painting this, I was listening to the owner of Easy Jet discuss other ideas to which the prefix Easy could be attached. I thought, wouldn't it be handy to have an Easy God, who we can pull out quickly in times of stress, with none of the fuss of following a faith, going to church, dealing with all the paper work. If I painted an Easy God and dressed him in the readily identifiable orange, then we have a very good new easy access God. Fabulous. So this was painted, and it is a large painting. About 3' by 2'. None of your small precious icons here, a large, can't be missed, easy access, easy to recognise, Easy God. This was bought by a very thoughtful husband for his wife, as a present. A good man, I say. I know the wife, and she is a very witty and spiritual lady.
|Easy God. A kind of pop up version for emergencies. This is slightly unfinished, there was writing on the book in the end, but I don't remember what it was.|
I couldn't resist this next one. C. Pantocrator. A man goes into a church to gaze at an icon on the wall only to find the icon gazing back at him. He is stunned. I love it. A small painting on wood, bought by a very devout man up North. C Pantocrator is short for Christ Pantocrator, Christ Ruler of All, and I liked how C Pantocrator looked like an ordinary name, which the poor man looking on may have thought was the artist's name. In fact it is the title of the painting. I have given Christ all the stylised lines evident in an icon, and the rosy cheeks, and I have used some of the decorative patterns on his tunic and behind him. What is different here is Christ's expression.
And finally I will end with an image of the Madonna Waving with a Cup of Tea. This is a tiny painting, about 2" x 2". It is so small that it takes a while to notice that Mary is waving, and Jesus is holding a cup of tea. This was sold to man in London who came back to check, because he wasn't sure if he had seen a cup of tea or not. I got very carried away with this kind of new icon painting, and produced some fairly unusual paintings. They were always produced with respect and a sense of humour, and always in keeping with the spirit of the icons and the Italian Renaissance paintings that I so love.
|Madonna Waving With A Cup Of Tea.|