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Visual arts >

Shapes and colours suggested by Messiaen

Richard Harries on Sophie Hacker’s art

AN EXHIBITION in Winchester Cathedral is the result of a collaboration between its assistant director of music, Sarah Baldock, and Sophie Hacker. Sarah Baldock said that when she played Messiaen’s organ cycle La Nativité du Seigneur, images came to mind. So Sophie Hacker listened to the work many times, in a variety of recordings, and over a year produced nine works of art related to the life, and especially the nativity, of Christ.

On Epiphany, for the opening of Messiaen’s centenary year, 350 people came to hear the music, see a film made in connection with it, and look at the art, a performance that was very warmly received. The exhibition of the art has now been extended, before it moves elsewhere, in due course to Paris. It is well worth seeing.

The works are low-relief sculpture, but made mainly out of slats of wood, lead, wire, and all manner of found objects rather than stone; for Sophie Hacker has a great love of these found objects and their possibilities as art. For example, the work based on the theme of the shepherds includes flattened bark, hand-made paper, hessian of different kinds, string, and old leather.

But, although Sophie Hacker sees herself as a sculptor, she trained at the Slade as an abstract painter. One of the strengths of these works is the unity and interplay between the objects and the way they have been painted. Using acrylic, she deploys colour to powerful effect to give each work its unity and its distinctiveness.

Some of the works are very accessible, for example Les anges (The Angels), with its swirling shapes in different blues. The meditation in the programme notes by the Revd Roland Riem, one of the Canons Residentiary, brings out how the found objects, paint and shapes link in to the music.

“Soft textures evoke the surface of feathers. Shards of mirror reflect light over the image, as the main shape sweeps up like a swarm of starlings. Metallic leaf and iridescence bring even more glimmer. All this articulates the chattering, high notes of the music.”

I very much liked the art work based on the worship of the shepherds. It has five thick strands of materials, as described above, at a diagonal across the work, with their roots in the earth, against the background of a rising sun.

Requiring more attention before it makes its impact is the work based on Jesus’s acceptance of his suffering. Dominating the piece is a rough piece of wood of interesting texture and with subtle shapes in it, which emerges from a metallic background of brown with glints of gold.

The nine panels are arranged in three triangular blocks of three, to set the birth and life of Christ in a Trinitarian setting. This is one of those exhibitions that can bridge the divide between those who think modern art is grotesque nonsense and those who hardly count representative art as art any more; for the themes and images are discernible even without titles, and yet the work is at the same time abstract and widely encompassing in its use of materials.

“Sophie Hacker: Art works in response to Olivier Messiaen’s La Nativité du Seigneur” is at Winchester Cathedral until 31 January.

www.winchester-cathedral.org.uk

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