ACCORDING to St Augustine of Hippo, a sacrament is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace”. Mark Cazalet bases his art on this sacramental theology and expresses his prayer in an exuberant show of colours gracefully shaped into emotive patterns.
His earlier figurative paintings, which wove biblical and political themes into a modern context, were refreshingly effective, representing Flight to Egypt as Mary and Joseph with the baby Jesus in a sling getting on to the Cairo underground, while To Bethlehem showed a heavily pregnant Mary riding on a donkey trying to get through a checkpoint in the high Bethlehem wall. Cazalet’s South London Stations of the Cross, in which Christ is crucified on a lamp-post and, in the Third Station, falls down unnoticed in the Tube during the rush hour were deeply moving.
As an artist, he does not necessarily keep repeating a style or subject that he has found to work, although his original and bold use of colour, blending unlikely colours such as deep pink and orange, vivid blue and green, influenced by his early travels in India, Egypt, and the Middle East, remain the tools of his trade.
At the moment, in the precious time that he has between lecturing on art, working with communities, and carrying out his many commissions here and abroad, he spends in a prayerful state either in the woods in Suffolk, where he shares a house with his brother, Roger, or in woodland in the south of France, although he is thinking he should not just rely on far-away places for inspiration.
The outcome this year is a collection of 44 oil paintings divided into four series: Sentinel Space (on thick Khadi paper, handmade from wood pulp and rags), Dazzling Darkness (on masonite board), Radiant Light (also on masonite board), and Illumination (on Khadi paper).
© mark cazaletSentinel Space 4. 2019, oil on paper, 196 x 75.5 cm
Initially, they may all appear very similar. but each has its own individual character. Hints of forests of flame, Egyptian royal headdresses, birds on branches, peacock tails, entwining roots, and winding greenery seem to be recurring shapes.
Everyone will have his or her own interpretation and favourites. For me, No. 2 of Sentinel Space suggests a sunlit wood and a hooded gold figure like a spirit of trees who protects and watches out for us. Illumination contains the most, 18. No. 5, with its relentless forest of fire, appealed to me, and also No. 1, which suggests a medieval saint or virgin with a blue cowl in a stained-glass window. The Radiant Light series is as its title suggests. No. 10, of an ethereal universe with a turquoise sea separating and yet uniting the green and brown lands, I found very beautiful.
The title Dazzling Darkness is a quotation from Henry Vaughan’s poem “Night”, which speaks of Nicodemus meeting Jesus at night in the woods, when he sees him more clearly than in bright day distracted by the world’s activities. Cazalet has painted on this theme before, and there are only four works. No. 3 shows lightning flashing across a dark and disturbed background of indigo, black, and purple, and comes over as powerful and majestic. The artist finds that working at night, when the darkness heightens not only his visual awareness, but his awareness of scents, birdsong, and temperature, helps him to create strong images that he can develop later in his studio.
“Quiet Radiance: Mark Cazalet” is at Serena Morton, 343 Ladbroke Grove, London W10, until 12 July. Phone 07716 558732. serenamorton.com