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Art review: The Human One by Jeremy Thomas at Hereford Cathedral

by
12 March 2024

Roderic Dunnett sees Jeremy Thomas’s work

Jeremy Thomas

“From noon on darkness covered the land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani” by Jeremy Thomas

“From noon on darkness covered the land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthan...

THE artist Jeremy Thomas, whose exhibition in oils, “The Human One”, is on display at Hereford Cathedral, has fashioned a remarkable style of his own. He is an artist-in-residence at St Mary’s Priory in Abergavenny, “The Gateway to Wales”, in Monmouthshire. Thirty of his highly coloured paintings light up the reddish sandstone of the cathedral’s north transept.

Exploring minutely the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, the paintings reveal feature prominent LeitmotifsIn almost every image, there hovers the, as it were, guiding presence of the moon, or sometimes the sun, whether small and high in the sky, or more looming — shrouded in cloud, or behind the figure of Jesus, forming a kind of halo. In one, the massive sun dominates, above a figure (in fact, the entombed Christ) much like Lazarus, illumining his prediction: “So for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth.” Stone steps lead up into the fierce, dominant sun: Jesus’s direct contact with heaven.

Jeremy ThomasThe Last Supper by Jeremy Thomas

Amid a line of dramatic red arches — like Hereford itself, or the reddened colours of Seville’s mosque-turned-cathedral — a full moon hovers between the arches, where cowled figures are secreted in the darkness and a bony hand reaches up from the bottom left.

The Last Supper, one of those few images in which Christ is only implied, in an ascending line of illuminating candles, the stepped street with its browned hillside houses suggests ancient Jerusalem. In the final picture after Christ’s resurrection, a blue seascape with cirrus-like wispy cloud (a common feature) would seem to lack an image of Jesus, but for a mysterious, tentative human shadow that maybe bespeaks not the probability, but the certainty, that Christ lives on. In almost all the images, Jesus himself figures — naturally at the crucifixion, where his tiny hanging body is narrowly discerned from behind.

In the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22), a blue Christ figures amid undergrowth as effectively patterned as Thomas’s surging seas, the waves not so unlike cousins of the famous tidal wave of Hokkaido.

Particularly salient are an image in which Jesus, clad in distinctive white, stands at the top of a massive blue-white waterfall, framed by cave-like stalagmites; or Thomas’s revealing of a goatskin-attired “man of unclean spirit” lurking fearfully in a cave, the entrance occupied by an admonishing or restorative Christ. The top or source of the cascade is cast in blood-red, where it reaches the feet of Jesus, his command of joyous nature perhaps sullied by a predic­tion of the future. On the cross itself, Christ is graphically viewed from above.

“The Human One” is a stimulating exhibition whose oils reveal Thomas as an artist of considerable note. Having previously toured, it can be seen complete at Hereford Cathedral until Tuesday 25 March, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., alongside the artist’s collection from the Psalms.

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