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Art review: Spirit of Fire: Pentecost Exhibition, Kingsland, Herefordshire

26 May 2023

Katy Hounsell-Robert sees multiple artists’ take on Pentecost

Richard Bavin

Phoenix by Richard Bavin

Phoenix by Richard Bavin

AN EXHIBITION of art and sculpture, “Spirit of Fire”, explores the theme of Pentecost. It runs at St Michael and All Angels, Kingsland, in Herefordshire, until 11 June. “Some day, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides, and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire” (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin).

Kingsland’s spacious parish church was built in the late 13th century by the powerful Mortimer family, supporters of the Lancastrian claim to the throne against the Yorkists. They erected churches all over Herefordshire. It has been recently refurbished and given a new space dedicated to displaying art.

Alex DufortLeap by Tania Mosse

Here and at the medieval shepherd’s church near by in Discoed, the artist and curator Charles MacCarthy has, for several years, organised exhibitions inviting artists in the area to portray freely their own interpretation of selected events in the life of Christ. This year, the theme of Pentecost seems to have stirred deeply the creative souls of the artists, who have responded with a variety of oil and watercolour paintings and calligraphy, as well as sculpture, installations, and craftwork. After viewing these seventy pieces, I feel I have been hit by a hundred hammers and watched a thousand fireworks exploding round me.

A number of the pieces faithfully, if freely, follow the account in Acts of the great wind blowing through the place where the apostles were celebrating the Jewish Pentecost, and how tongues of fire descended on each of them empowering them to speak intelligibly to people of every nation present, heal, and communicate the Holy Spirit with authority.

Viv Luxton has made her The Pentecostal Meal a delightful comic cartoon. Two long adjacent tables are both packed closely with diners of all ages and types. At one table, portrayed in black and white, the diners look sad and dreary, while, at the other, in colour, the guests are all drinking the spirit of fire in glasses and embracing one another and blissfully happy. The minute detail of the activities and people is impressive.

Another piece, Jill Rock’s inventive installation, shows people lying prostrate on the ground, clearly blown over by a hurricane represented as tangled descending ropes suspended from the ceiling. A rather ghoulish version by Veronika Lavey is of a woman with a 1920s hairstyle, a thick fur stole over her bare shoulders, and a burning red candle held above her face and dripping red wax over her mouth.

Andrea McClean’s amazing ethereal flame contains in detail all kinds of creatures and plants, to show that Pentecost brings a message of hope for all, and swirls round the room to find its place above people as a bringer of peace and connecting inspiration.

One of the few sculptures is Tania Mosse’s beautifully carved Leap. Made of alabaster and sandstone, it represents leaping flames and also a leaping fish, symbolic of hope.

While handcraft may lack the aesthetic prestige of embroidery and tapestry, Jenni Stuart-Anderson’s circular progged rag rug in bright crimson in-woven with “Spread the Word” in gold letters is a rousing reminder that the spiritual message is not only “immaterial”, but practical.

Many see the meaning of Pentecost in natural environmental scenes. Once and Future Song, painted by Jim Durrant, is almost like a re-creation of the world. Like the lotus flower, which represents purity, it emerges from the dirty mud out of a watery swamp, rising magnificently to a great illuminating flame.

Lorenzo Gavarini also uses a large close-up of a red lotus flower opening to receive the message, while Richard Bavin has chosen a real landscape scene, where a copse has been carefully removed, and, in the centre, a young oak has been planted. Its branches, coloured autumnal gold, stretch up and, although vulnerable to disease and drought, it is symbolic of hope and resurrection.

Susie Cawley, watching the glorious beauty of the sunrise suddenly appearing over the hills to give energy and new life to the day, has a similar approach; also, Julienne Braham, who has bright light, like lightning, pouring down over her peaceful green pastures. She sees Pentecost “as an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in a rare life-changing moment — a flooding with light and love, causing a change of direction and perspective”.

In Islamic countries, sayings from the Qur’an in beautiful script have always been framed and hung on walls, as we might hang pictures of Christian subjects on ours. Here, the illuminated Bibles of the medieval convents have only a specialist market now, but, to Roger Luxton, calligraphy is a truly satisfying medium, as the content of the text is as important as the image.

Lois Hopwood has used numbers — 49 for the days since Easter — and the word Pentecost in Hebrew, Coptic, and Greek to make a fine piece in her palimpsest. Shannon Donovan has written the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Interslavic; for she feels that Pentecost brought a freedom not known before.

It is a lively and exciting exhibition, approaching the subject in many ways.

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