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Art review: Works in Clay for Contemplation at Sarum College

05 April 2019

Katy Hounsell Robert views contemplative ceramic artworks

Stopping Places: 6th Station, Jesus is Tortured, “Nails,crosses and thorns”

Stopping Places: 6th Station, Jesus is Tortured, “Nails,crosses and thorns”

STOPPING PLACES is Mary Flitcroft’s title for her abstract ceramic version of Stations of the Cross. “It has more of a feeling of giving whatever time is needed to meditate on the event at each place, while ‘Stations’ seems to imply a scheduled timetable,” she says.

Whatever images take shape arise not from a planned design, but from her meditation. “For me, the process of making is contemplative. I take my time and allow my heart and mind to focus on the subject; there is no rush. My hope for this work is that you also will find time to stop, to reflect, and to contemplate.”

While the aim is not to grab the attention with bold colours and strong shapes, one does need to spend time endeavouring to share her interpretation, but clear captions and an accompanying printed liturgy from the Prayer Book with Flitcroft’s comments and suggestions help. Each small Stopping Place is glued on to a clear acrylic sheet and framed in white wood.

In the first, a recognisable shape emerges of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, overhung with wispy crosses, like twigs tied together, the night suggested by brown and black slashes. She uses three strong Xs in a rich brown frame to express Peter’s denial in the wealthy Roman courtyard, and then sharp lines to show torture and condemnation. The cross that Jesus carries is huge, looming over the crowds in the Jerusalem streets, and later joins the robbers’ crosses, looking down over two pale shapes suggesting Mary and John. Jesus being laid in the tomb is a pale-cream oblong surrounded by rich dark brown.

Stopping Places: 12th Station, Jesus Commissions, “Together they receive”, at Sarum College

Flitcroft’s other work at Sarum College is Journey, in the same genre, but mounted on board under glass, and represents her own inner pilgrimage. This is very moving and honest. Initially, she is unwilling to make the journey, and we see the three Xs darkly repeated. The image is then divided by a cross into four with a suggestion of a tomb in one lower corner. Then the journey begins through tangled trees and waterfalls, with a bent figure struggling across the area.

Exhausted, the pilgrim takes rest in a bed, an oblong similar to the tomb, but cosy in pale blue and grey, and strapped in like a baby. After a rest, she goes off again crossing fields and forests, mountain areas and desert places. Then it becomes more built up and dense, with narrow streets, and she is confused about where she is and if she should continue. She is lost and asks for guidance. Then the scenery becomes brighter, and she finds the crossing place where many other travellers join her and together find their homecoming.

Flitcroft loves working with clay, which “bears the imprint of what is done to it in the body”. Since her A-level studies, her graduation from Loughborough College of Art, and 25 years of teaching, she has been developing her technique, and has a large body of ceramic work. To make these particular pieces, she takes a piece of porcelain paper clay, which is more flexible and less brittle than porcelain clay itself, and rolls it into a very thin translucent sheet, which she folds, tears, cuts, marks, and colours with oxides and stains before putting them in her kiln.

“Companion”, from Journey, at Sarum College

She spends a long time thinking about each one, but then makes three or more in a day, turning to Ignatian meditation to guide her. She has also been inspired by the famous 20th-century Catalan artist Antoni Tàpies Puig (Tàpies i Puig), who set a fashion for mixed media and mixed clay and marble with his paint, introduced string, rag, and even furniture into his work, and encouraged a sense of meditative emptiness.

Flitcroft initially exhibited her work in her home city of Birmingham, where it attracted the attention of Canon Mark Pryce. He is keen to promote the work of talented artists in the Midlands, and, as a Visiting Scholar at Sarum College, where the Department of Theology, Imagination and Culture is particularly strong and active, he suggested that Stopping Places would find an appreciative audience here.

Flitcroft has four other sets of Stopping Places — “each of which comes out differently — sometimes quite dramatically”. These will be on show at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, until 12 April, and at St George’s, Edgbaston, in Birmingham, 7 to 11 April and 15 to 17 April.}

Mary Flitcroft’s exhibition “” is at Sarum College, 19 The Close, Salisbury, until 18 April. Phone 01722 424800. www.sarum.ac.uk

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