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In remembrance of him

01 March 2013

Katy Hounsell-Robert views an exhibition of new art for Lent

Triumphal on the South Downs: Nick Bush's The Entry into Jerusalem, in the exhibition at St Michael's, Discoed

Triumphal on the South Downs: Nick Bush's The Entry into Jerusalem, in the exhibition at St Michael's, Discoed

IN LENT, the tiny ancient shepherds' church St Michael's, Discoed, on the Welsh borders, also becomes a welcoming candle-lit area for music, poetry, and, in particular, an art exhibition. At the end of the church below the altar stands a 12-foot-long dining-table, laid with a carafe, wine cups, bread, and plates. It is made of plaster, symbolically white, and is Charles MacCarthy's sculpture contribution, That they all may be one, to the 2013 art exhibition, "The Last Supper".

After the success of the first exhibition in 2012, when MacCarthy and David Hiam brought together 14 artists each to create a personal representation of one Station of the Cross ( Arts, 16 March 2012), it now promises to be an annual pilgrimage for individuals and groups, who travel miles across peaceful green Welsh farmland to this place to reflect and pray. For those wanting guided reflection, the Rector and curate have composed a liturgy to accompany each piece.

The format is the same as in 2012, the 14 artists drawing lots for a particular subject relating to the overall theme, and the majority working with oil on canvas this year, plus two sculptures.

To allow more artistic scope, MacCarthy has selected meals in the Bible, with Christ before and after the Last Supper, and two from the Old Testament. In The Passover, Peter Stilwell records the protective crosses painted in blood at the sides and above the door; but within the "house" he paints wildlife that is under threat in the present day.

The other is Abraham and Sarah entertaining the three Angels. Allison Neal leaves three clean white dinner plates in the hazy heat of the desert ready; for who knows when one might be entertaining angels?

We move on to the New Testament and the wedding at Cana, where nearly 100 cups are lined up by Simon Dorrell with design precision for a reception. Some seem to be empty, and some filled with red wine. This is perhaps symbolic of our waiting to receive, or having received, Christ.

Human portrayal is generally avoided. Andrea Mclean's Supper at Bethany, when Mary anoints the feet of Jesus, is one of the few paintings to "be there". The soft turquoise, pink, orange, and green, and shapes of people and flowers, within a 600mm diameter, have a really Middle Eastern feeling of fragrance.

Julienne Braham also evokes the Palestinian background by working her way through the narrow souks in Old Jerusalem into the house with the large upstairs room prepared for the Passover. For her, it is also symbolic of struggling through "hellish" labyrinthine alleyways, to the (purgatorial) ground floor, and arriving in the (heavenly) welcoming light of the upper room.

There are two very different betrayals. Peter's betrayal is portrayed movingly by Susannah Royle as a broken man outside a high wall, dragging the weight of his guilt behind him like a heavy net; while The Betrayal of Judas by Jane Tudge is 12 dimly lit wine cups on a night-black background. It hangs defiantly, challenging us to identify the cup of the traitor and make judgement. It is, unusually, made of beeswax and paraffin on canvas over board. At first, the cups seem indistinguishable from each other, but, as one looks, it is clear how the artist has subtly changed the way the light falls on each one.

So many famous artists have portrayed these scenes that it is understandable that more abstract interpretations are favoured. Anthea Stilwell uses 35 small squares containing a variety of patterns and colours for In My Father's House, and Jesus Washes the Disciples' Feet. Xavier Hughes has simply painted a representation of Love as bright gold stars cascading down everywhere through Jesus's cleansing.

After much soul-searching, Lois Hopwood painted a simple round wafer floating on wine to portray the institution of the eucharist, with the suggestion of a face in the deep-red wine.

The two youngest artists have no such reservations. Nick Bush's Entry into Jerusalem is as though seen when paragliding over the South Downs, near Lewes. Dan MacCarthy has put aside his obsession with the numerical significance of 153 to make Breakfast on the Beach, a figurative piece of fishermen hauling in their catch, as a huge sun rises over the green sea. His Christ-figure cooking fish over the charcoal fire is bearded, with cap and sunglasses.

Opposite the door of the church is the second sculpture, The Supper at Emmaus, by Tania Mosse, a stunning piece of bronze representing the bread in the hands of Christ being broken. It is scored in a cross so that the light shines through.

All commission on the art work and profit on the sale of the catalogue, with its excellent text by art-historian Frances Spalding, will go to St Michael's Hospice.

"The Last Supper" runs in St Michael's, Discoed, near Presteigne, Powys LD8 2NW, until 3 April. www.discoed.org. For further information, contact David Hiam at davidhiam@aol.com; phone 01547 560246.

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