THE gentle countryside of the Welsh Borders, where sheep graze
peacefully, is itself a type of green wilderness that people find
conducive to spending time here to reflect on their inner and
spiritual selves. So it is very apt that the tiny medieval
shepherd's church of St Michael's, Discoed, has titled its third
Lenten art exhibition "The Way of the Wilderness", using particular
biblical verses from the Old and New Testament to reflect how the
prophets and Jesus sought the mountains or deserted areas onland or
water, to be in communion with God and confront temptations and
cope with grief.
As with the previous Lenten exhibitions "Stations of the Cross"
(2012) and "The Last Supper" (2013), the curator, Charles
MacCarthy, and the Friends of St Michael's have kept the
eventfresh, exciting, and thought-provoking by inviting 15
different artists of varied beliefs and philosophies to interpret
the verses, working mainly in traditional oil or watercolour paint,
and also in stained glass, sculpture, woodcut, and photography.
Whether or not Moses would have sent picture-postcards to his
family of his climb into the cloud- capped mountain to listen to
God, Alex Ramsay presents, in Wild, 12 digitally produced
postcards of beautiful sky and mountains, with a large image of
brilliant sunshine as Moses enters the cloud.
In her stained glass The Still Small Voice, Nicola
Hopwood conjures up the terrifying power of heaving earth,
shattering wind, and destructive fire, followed by the peace of
absolute power witnessed by Elijah.
Moving on to the New Testament and A Voice Crying in the
Wilderness, Julienne Braham reminds us that the wilderness was
a popular pilgrimage place with the charismatic John the Baptist
and his eccentric lifestyle, calling people to repentance and
preparing the way for the Christ. She scatters pieces of newspaper
reports around, and a suggestion of loudspeakers beside the
bubbling blue water of the baptism pool.
Trying to experience the grief of Jesus when he heard of the
death of the Baptist, who was not only a close member of his family
but one of the few people who really understood what he was, Simon
Dorrell recalled how he had felt when his own father died.
Grieving for John on Butternut St. (in ink, watercolour,
and gouache on paper) is of a deserted area in Detroit almost
covered in snow, and whose abandoned empty wooden houses are like
coffins. The effect is of total desolation.
Also allowing his own personal experiences of depression and
doubt to guide him on the third temptation, The Devil May
Care, Dan MacCarthy's woodcut on tracing paper over a light
box shows a roof apartment with a view of the city below and a
figure looking down into a pool of water, from which a reflection
of the devil dares him to fall from a great height, to prove that
God will save him.
Moving back to the desert forthe other temptations,
Tangible/Intangible by Roger Percival is a hypnotic
acrylic on canvas, portraying large stones on the baking-hot sand
in the glaring light of the desert, with a mirage of pieces of
bread beyond, indicating perhaps that what seems to be real
temptation has no substance to it.
Bronte Woodruff's Serve Him Only is a naïf figurative
piece using earth pigment on gesso on board, showing a figure of
Christ facing the golden calf and a huge sun representing God, with
a background of cities that the devil promised to give Jesus if he
would worship him.
Exquisite Torture by Mandy Pritchard portrays the
painful sensation of returning to normal physical activity and
mental adjustment after fasting and meditating for forty days and
nights. Jesus's elongated body is stretched to the limit, but
balanced by Susannah Royle's Rest, which offers a soothing
abstract of the gentle flapping wings, in soft pinks and blues, of
angels ministering to Jesus after his ordeal.
People may through no fault of their own be lost in a mental or
physical wilderness, and to these Jesus showed great compassion.
When the disciples were terrified of drowning in the storm at sea,
Lois Hopwood has painted Dŵr dwfn - Deep Water, a dark
expanse of night sky and sea with a distant streak of beautiful
blue and green light, with its long reflection in the water, and
Jesus standing in the boat, calming the disciples.
A different type of wilderness imposed by society is presented
in What Remains by Carolyn Blake. In a more abstract
approach to the woman taken in adultery, the shadow of a finger
writes in the dusty ground; or perhaps it is the shadow of a finger
pointing at the woman.
One of the most moving pieces is Outcast. Tania Mosse's
sculpture, in Hornton stone and bronze, of the despised and
"untouchable" leper kneeling before Jesus, shows his huge warning
bell hanging from his neck, and his face, almost eaten away by the
creeping disease, turned slightly away from Jesus in embarrassment.
Nevertheless, he is convinced that Jesus would heal him. The
healing of more than eight lepers was one of the signs of the true
In ironic contrast, Charles MacCarthy has used the parable of
the lost sheep to show both the compassion of the shepherd for
every single one of his sheep, and yet how Jesus, as the Lamb of
God, has to face his own sacrifice alone. In The One, a
pure white lamb stands alone on a high rock among blue-green
More rejection and suffering is also symbolised in
Gethsemane by Allison Neal, by the sharp and unfriendly
steps of marble and stone where Jesus has been left by his sleeping
disciples to face his agony alone.
For "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" Andrea McClean
moves away from the crucifixion itself and uses a space-and-time
view of the death of Jesus in a diptych Time Beyond the Wheel
and Satellite, where we can see a new planet glowing in soft
colours and shapes, and take hope in our liberation from the
treadmill of mortality.
The prices range from £300 to £1000, and 30 per cent of each
sale will be donated to Herefordshire Mind.
"The Way of the Wilderness" is at St Michael's, Discoed,
until 27 April. Opening times are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.