AS ARTIST-IN-RESIDENCE during the week of services for the
reburial of Richard III in Leicester Cathedral in March, Michael
Harrison was able to absorb the atmosphere of an extraordinary
His work had begun five months earlier, during the creation of
the new Chapel of Christ the King, when he was able to embark on
the sequence of 15 paintings now on exhibition at the city's Cank
The body of work draws inspiration from Sanctuary, an earlier
series of paintings that arose from Shine, a startlingly
beautiful son et lumière event that formed part of the
Cultural Olympiad in 2012. Harrison's home church of Rothwell in
Northamptonshire, famous for its bone crypt, was one of six ancient
churches whose story was told in a pageant of white and coloured
light against the backdrop of their spires or towers. The artist
was particularly drawn to the streaming of light and colour on to
the altar at Rothwell, magnificently reflected in those
He works in oils and his style is impressionistic, vibrant,
influenced in particular by the Scottish Colourists.
The screen of the new chapel provided inspiration for the first
painting, Approaching the Sanctuary, largely completed
before the reburial events. Here the inverted crown of the woodwork
invites association both with the crown of thorns and the royal
crown lost among the thorns at Bosworth Field. In this painting,
shadowy figures stand watching at a reverent distance from the
tomb, in an orange light that warms.
These watching figures are at the heart of paintings that seek,
above all, to convey the awe and wonder of the events and the
timelessness that brings past, present, and future together -
something not lost on a city that continues to be sanctuary for
refugees from conflict. There's sometimes a space left between the
watchers which seems to invite the viewer quietly to step in, join
the onlookers, and actively engage with what's happening.
Two of the paintings feature the coffin and pall, which the
people of Leicester queued in their thousands to view during the
re-interment week. One is the receiving of the coffin by the
clergy; the other shows in the movement and attitude of the figures
the awestruck intensity that was such a phenomenon of the week's
Another two paintings. Homage of the Friars has hooded
monks standing before the tomb - the men who first and hastily
buried Richard brought into the timeline of the present and now
standing in reflection before him.
Almost mischievously in one painting is a suggestion of the lone
figure of Richard himself, a half-figure in the manner of Degas,
standing in the corner and at a distance, as though he has just
crept in when no one else was there.
The series culminates in the events of the Reveal service, where
conflict was danced out with a clash of staves, and the motif of
the rose window, glowing like a ball of fire from the two
paintings. Other recent paintings by Harrison are also part of this
"Sanctuary for a King" is at the Cank Street Gallery, 44-46 Cank
Street, Leicester, and its opening has been extended until 30 May.
Phone 0116 253 0313.