CHICHESTER CATHEDRAL, built in the 12th century, has, like all churches, always been a place where people seek protection in times of conflict and seek peace from the stress of the daily world. Since Walter Hussey was Dean from 1955 to 1977, it also has a reputation for welcoming new art.
The Dean donated his private collection to Pallant House Gallery, with which the cathedral now has a close working relationship through its Creative and Engagement programme and the gallery’s Community Programme. This year, it is the venue for 15 artists from the Pallant Creative Collective, each of whom offers a personal interpretation of “safe spaces” relating to the cathedral.
This exhibition is excitingly diverse, and there is a free accompanying booklet in which the artists further explain their thoughts with poetic simplicity.
“Nowhere is utterly safe, not even a cathedral. It is people who have sacrificed a lot, often their lives to provide safe spaces for others,” Kate Simms writes. Her acrylic-on-board Sacrifice is a mystical representation of Christ’s sacrifice in the form of a burning flame surrounded by smaller flames referring to the “brave men and women who lost their lives defending us in war”.
Peter Baker, working with John Lang, continues this theme with Before and After World War II, a triptych acrylic on canvas, showing initially a peaceful people scene, then a war scene with Spitfires zooming overhead and guns firing, followed by public rejoicing after the war. A similar idea came to Alistair Riddell as he sat in the Sailors’ Chapel in the cathedral and remembered his grandfather, Brigadier D. S. Riddell, who served in the Royal Navy in the First World War and always made him feel safe. So his contribution is My Granddad, acrylic on canvas.
Patricia Stefanski portrays a more intimate relationship as a place of safety. Her oil and gold-leaf painting on board shows a boy slightly unhappy and wriggling, but held firmly in his mother’s arms. Her second oil-on-board shows a girl and boy studying together in the safety of parental guidance.
Friendship is Maria Rosa’s concept of safe space. Mary’s Blue Sash, mixed media on waxed paper, is of three panels of women friends’ linked by a sash, who have gone through serious psychiatric problems together. Maria Rosa found her divine safe space through praying to the Virgin Mary, and the sash represents Mary’s womb, from which everlasting salvation would come, and brings the women together in holy communion, friendship, and socialising. Rachel Best’s concept of a safe place is simply Love, a fragile candle in ink on paper.
For many people, space itself is a safe space. Maggie Cronk feels that trees can form a natural cathedral, and, walking in the woods, one can feel safe in that there is no pollution in the airy space. “You can feel connected to nature and the life forces of growth, water, and wind,” she says.
Her impressive photogravure solar prints showing the trunk and roots of many huge trees suggest stability and security.
A fascinating view of a safe space is the pod that holds its fertile seeds safely and tightly until the time is right to release them. Linda Nevill has sculpted three pods the size of large garden pots in papier mâché, painted in bright blues and greens. One is open, showing the seeds, “symbols of hope”, inside.
The cathedral itself is seen as a calm refuge for many. Jan Wyld’s clay sculpture Hands shows a pair of protecting hands painted over what resembles an open mussel shell with a tiny battery-operated candle inside. This is inspired by praying and sitting in the Lady Chapel, where she often lights a candle and thinks of people she has loved and lost.
Debbie Moore has used glass paint on plastic to reproduce the cathedral peregrine falcon on a stained-glass window. She almost envies the falcon nesting on top of the cathedral in its safe space, high above busy Chichester. Phil Moore has also used glass paint and pens to depict To see and to be seen, a large pair of eyes within a kaleidoscope of colours. He has had chronic mental ill-health for years, but he writes: ‘When I am in the Cathedral, I think God sees all of me. I see light and love.”
The cathedral is a safe second home to Bridget Peachey and her art partner Keith Honeyman, who works as a volunteer gardener in the Bishop’s Palace Gardens and loves the reassuring hourly prayer in the cathedral. They enjoy painting birds and wildlife, and made a study of the ones in the cathedral’s stained-glass windows to produce All Creatures Great and Small, a shoulder-high portrayal of a stained-glass window to include a wise owl, peregrine falcon, angel bird, and making a garden a safe space for others.
To David Puttick, the cathedral is a caring arena. “People who are godly care.” A while ago, he photographed a portion of the 12th-century stone relief of the Raising of Lazarus when it was under Perspex. He then painted the image, which became an abstract from the view point of Lazarus as he struggles, half awake, to make out the dazzling halo and face of the Christ-figure, the blue sky seen through the window.
The Pallant House Gallery’s Community Programme is managed by Emily Robson and Lucy Greenfield for people of all ages, abilities, and disabilities to enjoy creating art. It has about 200 members.
“Safe Spaces” runs until 3 November at Chichester Cathedral.