THIS triptych by Mark Cazalet (b.1964) is a personal response to
three miracles recorded in St John's Gospel. To the left, the man
cured at the pool of Bethesda (John 5); to the right, the raising
of Lazarus (John 12); and, in the centre, setting the perspective
for the whole work, the blind man who was cured (John 9), which
also happens to be the Gospel for this Sunday.
I like the central scene in particular, because it shows the
blind man going back to what he most enjoys doing in everyday life,
fishing in the canal, but now with a huge happiness, because he can
see what he is doing. The white stick is laid aside, and the man,
eyes open, gazes up at the sky.
These three Johannine miracles form part of the pre-Lent
preparation in the Orthodox Church, indicating the healing of body,
mind, and spirit.
Cazalet is a versatile artist who has worked in a range of media
in different styles, and who has done a number of commissions for
churches. He likes to set Gospel scenes in a contemporary setting,
and believes that they can be given a new freshness in this
I find his cityscapes particularly striking, because, while most
of us can find beauty in the countryside, there is beauty to be
foundin an urban landscape, if we open our eyes to it. For example,
Cazalet has done a series of West London Stations of the
Cross, where Christ is depicted on the way to the cross in the
middle of the motorways and street scenes that so often seem noisy
One of this series, Christ Being Judged, for example,
is set in a small patch of derelict land underneath an overhanging
stretch of motorway, with a train in the distance. It is the dark
underside of the motorway which dominates, for Cazalet believes
that the Christian faith isa hidden affair, not easily picked out
in the power struggles of the world.
Yet there can be a strange beauty in such urban scenes, and this
comes out especially in his study Kensal Rise Gasholders,
Sunrise, Midday, Evening. Old gasholders are sometimes
preserved now as examples of high Victorian engineering: one is
being restored for that purpose near King's Cross, by the canal,
Even leaving aside the desire to remember our industrialising
past, however, its stark, symmetrical ironwork is a thing to
behold. Cazalet captures this well in his study of the Kensal Rise
gasholders in the three different lights of sunrise, midday, and
evening. The two great frames of the gasholders in this miracle of
the blind man are equally effective.
Traditional studies of Jesus healing a blind man show him
touching the man's eye. In Cazalet's study, we do not see Jesus at
all. Rather, this is the man after the healing, miraculously able
to go back to his old life,but in a new way. He is of
Afro-Caribbean background, a knitted woollen hat on his head,
standing relaxed and at peace with the world.
The end of his rod is balanced neatly on his arm, which is
curled around his back, the line dropping straight down into the
canal. The light of the painting, the sky, the light green of early
summer, and the fresh watery blue of the canal exude both serenity
The painting to the right, of Lazarus, is set in a typical
London graveyard, with a handsome 1820s church in the background,
and one of those grandiose tombs, complete with Grecian urn, from
that period. Traditional depictions of this scene show Jesus's
summoning Lazarus from the tomb; and, invery early ones, pointing
to it with a kind of wand.
In this study, again, Jesus is not shown, just Lazarus, emerging
into the light of day in a thin singlet, with a surprised, eager
look. The light green of the trees expresses the freshness with
which Lazarus now sees the world. Indeed, what we have here, and in
the painting on the left, is the world as it is seen and
experienced after the miracle of grace has touched us.
In the painting on the left, there is a shallow outdoor city
pool, suitable for young children, although one man is lying
sprawled on the side, sunning himself. A large woman, pregnant
again, is dunking a child in the water.
I read this scene as the crippled man looking at the pool with
his newly healed body, able to see the healthy exuberant life
around him for the first time. It is difficult to see that life if
you yourself are caught up in the burden of your own affliction -
but, once released, how different the world looks.
The scene is set in Hackney, where Cazalet worked with a school
on a painting. "The only real is local," the artist writes, quoting
G. K. Chesterton. It is our world, the ordinary everyday world of
our multiracial city - full of sights and sounds and strange
beauties - but now to be seen with eyes opened by grace.
The Rt Revd Lord Harries of Pentregarth is the former Bishop
of Oxford, and the author ofThe Image of Christ in Modern Art
(Ashgate, £19.99 (CT Bookshop £18); 978-1-4094-6382-5)
(Books, 20 December). This Lent series is based on the