What makes a person give up almost everything most of their acquaintances cannot live without, in order to spread various coloured pigments over a canvas or whatever structure one wishes to illuminate? There may be many answers by the myriad of artists that exist in the world but for me there is only one. Passion.
It is a passion to paint; a passion to develop a white canvas; a passion to brush my hand over the marble cool of the beautifully pure gessoed panel before laying on the first layer of chaos that will eventually become something stunning like the intense, steady gazing face of Christ.
Because of this passion so many artists who became great masters, and many who did not, had to renounce the norm. They walked away from accepted views, even accepted views of painting schools of the time, in order to break free of imposed constraints and develop themselves as fully as possible. In doing so an artist becomes fully human and real and true – to himself or herself.
The hobbyfying of creative skill has demeaned the creative to someone who can be a consumer of arts and crafts goods in abundance and at great cost. It is a huge industry and I am somewhat nostalgic for the days when I had to hole up in a rundown shed to cobble together my own canvases as they were so expensive to buy. One can get them so cheaply nowadays it is not worth making them- unless, like me you do not like the feel of them and so continue to stretch and staple and size the things. Aah, I do so love feeling my canvas the morning after a night sizing it with glue – it is taut and has a particular vibration that makes me itch to paint on it- something I do not feel with commercially available canvas boards. The artist is as much part of the artwork as the pigments.
Passion makes an artist create just for the sake of it. I would love to think that everything I work on has a buyer waiting at the end of it with chequebook at the ready but right from the start I realised this was not the most pressing reason that drove me to paint and to continue to paint. If it was, I would have given up long ago as, invariably, by the time as artist gets paid for anything they already have a long list of outstanding bills to pay.
I was born in Brighton and lived there for a number of years. It is a vibrant city where there are a thousand artists in every direction you care to look; so one gets a sense of realism about the artist’s work. There are countless people who paint, draw and create in ways that are far superior and more skilled than you could ever be. In the early days I almost gave up in despair at ever having the the brilliance of some of the work I saw but at this point – which has happened many times since – someone comes along and gives a word of encouragement, or says something that makes you realise this is not about painting the way anyone else paints.
My work is about my own uniqueness and what that unique creativity brings to the world. There is a spiritual basis in creativity that is being ground into a pulp by consumerist attitudes. A true artist is bringing something from somewhere else – a consciousness of the Divine. Art is a holy occupation. My passion for art stems from my passion for Christ and it is far greater than I can let on in person. My work is, perhaps, the filter for that heavenly passion from within that fills my soul and allows me to work with the utmost focus and attention. Working as an artist is a meditation on the Divine in one’s nature and the creative process. If the artist can separate him or herself from the ego, and simply create for the sake of it, it is a reward in itself, the benefits of which I do not intend to bore you with as it would take all day. Needless to say I still need to earn enough to feed my hungry cats, Mingles, Lucky and Gimli, they are voracious creatures and their passion for eating is almost as great as mine for painting.
Today, on the 8th November 2011, I am fascinated by the breaking news that restorers have found the face of a devil secreted in clouds as St. Francis’ soul is ascending into heaven in a fresco by Gioto di Bondone. Some of the articles I have read indicate Giotto may have done it because someone had upset him. Another states that there was a belief that even as souls are taken up into heaven there are devils who try to prevent it entering salvation.
Well I do hope that the interest shown in this image will then bring observers to the beauty of the rest of the painting and the untold beauty of the life of blessed St. Francis. We spend far too much time mulling over what is evil; who has hurt us; what is wrong with the world; another person; the church; the government; single parents; divorced women; bankers; estate agents (bless them- someone needs to); etc etc etc.
How negative a race we seem to be. Or are we, truly? Is it just the way media portrays us – that we have become so used to anger, violence and bad behaviour? Some may think so. But I think this is a cop out.
Let us go back in time to when Christ was among us – they had no TV then. People were just as violent and evil and unpleasant. Jesus came to bring a message of hope to the world, to be our Saviour from all that was gross and wrong with our hearts. No matter how loving, healing and wise he was, in the end he was falsely accused, beaten, humiliated and given a shameful and horrific death. He told us that those who are from heaven are not of this world and this world will hate them. Have hope then all you who are rejected by churchy cliques; have hope all you people who will not enter a church because they are fearful of how you will be treated by those inside who are supposed to be ‘christian’.
Ah yes, then I hear people saying – well one has to overcome this and show commitment and learn to see good even in those who behave badly- it is a test of faith. And how, pray, are the most vulnerable people in our society ever going to find the love and saving grace of our Lord if a bunch of ignorant eejits are manning the doors with superficial smiles that disappear the moment anyone shows any hint of not quite belonging to the club that the particular church has become?
I support any priest who fights to overcome his or her church from becoming like an elite golf club. Let everyone come and let everyone in church love them, everyone! And if you find certain people are not quite your cup of tea then love them even more. Then you really will be of a Christ-like heart. Love makes up the balance of hate a thousand fold. A small amount of love will negate a whole truckload of enmity.
A message to the churches – and by churches I mean the people who attend the church – of this time. Beware of those you secretly hate, falsely accuse and revile; those who are strangers amongst you or do not fit in. Do you really know who they are? And if you truly follow Christ why are you allowing yourselves to behave in so vile a manner as to pass on gossip and just as bad allow yourself to listen to it. For shame do you not know this is how the enemy attempts to drive away those who have come to help you. Only the most ardent who cleave to God continually can overcome such treatment and continue with the work God has entrusted to them.
We capture God into our hearts and into our churches with love and with love only. Once He is there so much can come from it – you would be surprised. When God is your agent nothing is impossible.
The devil’s face revealed in this painting in a place so close to heaven is revealing a truth about holiness. Even at the doorway to heaven the enemy lurks waiting to pounce upon the unwary soul. I am reminded of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress where the enemy is firing arrows at Christian as he is about to enter the wicket gate. He is pulled in most quickly by the guardian. Is your church truly one where you are like the guardian or like the enemy? Look right into your hearts and look deeply.
There is a significance to this finding in Giotto’s painting today – it is simply this: after a time the truth about our nature is revealed for the world to see.