Tag Archives: David Jones

Review: The Methodist Art Collection comes to town.

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When we were first married we worshipped in a village Methodist Church near Margate; an austere little chapel it was, whitewashed walls and uncomfortable benches. Thank God we did not have to sit under hour long nineteenth century non-conformist sermons, but were fed with wise words from Fr Martin Symonds, of Ramsgate Abbey.

That was more than a few years ago, but the austere image of Methodism is fixed in my mind, which expects churches to be bathed in coloured light from stained glass windows and peopled by statues of the saints who have gone before us.

Not all windows or statues in English Catholic churches would merit inclusion in a travelling art exhibition.

The Methodist Church has built up a collection of modern art, largely looking at Jesus, in one way or another. You can view the works here: http://www.methodist.org.uk/prayer-and-worship/mmac/index . The website will lead you to videos and other resources around these images.

Instead of hanging on church walls, the collection is sent out to proclaim the Good News in its own way; through exhibitions around the UK and in the future to Dublin, Rome and beyond. Until Saint George’s Day 2017 it is in Canterbury’s Beaney Museum.

Not all the images inspire me to ‘prayer and worship’, but I am hard-wired to David Jones, represented here by a delicate woodblock of The Three Kings, passing a David Jones signature passion-resurrection image: a war-blasted tree-cum-cross, sprouting new growth. The Magi approach a starlit Bethlehem amid Welsh hills that bring to mind a woman’s torso and raised knees at the moment of childbirth: the star’s rays beam down like a searchlight upon the haven where the Child lies, under the hill within his Mother’s womb.

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Next to Jones’s tiny, monochrome image hangs The Dalit Madonna, a big, bright work by Jyoti Sahi. While this glorious work picks up themes from Eastern and Western European tradition, such as the sun and moon in the sky, and the Babe blessing from the womb, the artist integrates these with his own Indian culture. The sun is represented by a marigold; the moon by a crescent, including Hinduism and Islam in this birth. Then the Infant is seated within an oval reminiscent of the traditional mandala of Eastern icons, yet despite his foetal position and naturalistic drawing, he is clearly blessing the viewer; he is strong but clearly dependent on his mother, who bends her body in worship and protection, her breast ready to comfort and nurture. Many Catholic preachers would tell you that Mary, who conceived Jesus before her marriage, would have been considered an outcast; an untouchable like this Dalit mother, a radiant human being who clearly loves her son, the centre of her world and being. And how many unwed mothers were condemned by the Catholic Church in recent times?

The one Old Testament story on view here is that of Cain and Abel. We could be among Jones’s Welsh hills, or the Lake District, or even the Downs of the Isle of Wight where John Reilly lived and worked. Cain is a stocky, almost Calibanesque figure, at work within the pale he has set around his neat, well-ordered, smallholding. He pauses in his digging to stare up at his brother, a slim, radiant type of the Good Shepherd, who like Abel would be killed by his own. Suddenly that spade looks menacing: a ploughshare about to become a sword. And yet one cannot help a twinge of sympathy for one who wants his world to be under control, without any disturbing incursions from his brother’s nomadic flocks; that brother who stands nearby with eyes for the far horizon, not for him.

The Lord’s eyes, too, are on a far horizon in Christ writes in the dust – the woman taken in adultery by Clive Hicks Jenkins. In a nightmare of blues, Jesus is almost cartwheeling as, with arms outstretched as on the Cross, he looks away from the scene, away from the woman and her accusers, away from us bystanders looking on. The woman, with her Magdalenesque red hair, high heels and little black dress, is bound, as Christ soon would be, a halter around her throat.The light that glows upon her skin is reflected from Christ, apart from the tiny white triangle of her underwear, visible beneath her skirt which she cannot pull down with her hands tied behind her back. It takes a few moments to see that her accusers already have rocks in their hands, awaiting the moment when Christ’s assent to her killing is given. A moment that never comes. Would we back these men up, if we were there? Were these the men who stoned Stephen? Was Paul among them? Was this the first step on the road to Damascus?

Go and sin no more, Jesus told that woman. A good motto for the Christian life.

Even in the first two pictures reviewed here, the effects of sin creep in: the tree from Flanders, the outcast mother. We see the sin in Cain’s illusory self-sufficiency and his inherent jealousy; loud and clear in those shadowy, self-righteous stones, poised for murder. But like Jones’s three kings, each of us can follow the star, which leads us to a fleshly, humble place. The damage of our sinfulness will not prevent the Cross from being the tree of Life.

If you get the chance to see this exhibition on its travels, do spend some time with a few of the works. Others among them may speak to you louder than these four have done to me. Stop, look, listen.

MMB

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November 10: Sacrifice and War: Pain and David Jones.

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The soldier who survives the war may suffer over and over again, in pain physical or mental. A friend told us of her father, a Great War amputee, enduring years of agony from his phantom wound.

His fellow Welshman, the artist and poet David Jones, would be taken back to the trenches by a sudden noise, a slammed door, a dropped walking stick, the rumble of thunder. ‘The memory of it is like a disease.’¹

Or the phantom pain beneath the scars of a ravaged soul.

Jones wrote in In Parenthesis about his Sergeant Major’s rifle instruction:

Marry it man! Marry it!
Cherish her, she’s your very own.
Coax it man coax it–it’s delicately and ingeniously made
–it’s an instrument of precision–it costs us tax-payers,
money–I want you men to remember that.
Fondle it like a granny–talk to it–consider it as you would
a friend–

Which matters more, the soldier or the weapon, the precision instrument forged by industry?

¹Thomas Dilworth: David Jones and the Great War, London, Enitharmon Press, 2012, p204.

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David Jones, ‘Vision and Memory’, Pallant House, Chichester, to 21st February 2016.

Review by Maurice Billingsley

The sound and sight of the waves pounding the Sussex dunes still roared in my head as I came to the David Jones Exhibition, ‘Vison and Memory’ at Pallant House, Chichester.

At first sight, the contrast with one of the first works in the show could hardly have been greater: an apparently tranquil room, the bay window occupied by a large-leaved green plant. A still life, but for a feeling that everyone has just left the room en masse. What called them away?

What called David Jones away from the suburban drawing room was his vocation as an artist and poet. This wide-ranging exhibition shows many sides of a life that led him from frighteningly well-observed childish drawings of animals to his heart-breaking and heart-healing response to the Great War; through association with Eric Gill’s Ditchling community to a transcending vision encompassing all these influences and more, baptised in his growing faith as a Catholic.

Those waves are to be seen in Jones’s seascapes and in the snow-bloated torrent of the infant River Honddu above Capel-y-ffyn where the Ditchling brethren stayed for a while. Jones, like many a part-Welshman or woman felt a strong affinity with the Land of his Fathers. His visions of the Black Mountains or Pembrokeshire are truer than this writer’s summer’s day photographs; it requires a specially blest pair of eyes to see the beauty in melting snow, with the smudgy ochre of the mud bruising through the surface. Thank God those eyes can teach us, the half-blind, to look and to see.

Just a few yards from the Channel, behind the dunes where we walked, lay the quiet waters of Chichester Harbour. The peace was interrupted by a passing Chinook helicopter. No need to seek out memories of War in Jones’s work, any more than in life today with its constant news of conflict. In one work an aeroplane over Hampstead Heath seems threatened by a plume of smoke from a domestic chimney. In another, showing the back gardens of Brockley, the suburb where he was born, the curators discern reflections of the Trenches of the Western Front, though to my eye any of them could have welcomed the down to earth Christ of Stanley Spencer.

There is a small woodcut of the Ark, beached on the mountaintop, the waters gently ebbing from her keel as the dove flies to the olive tree in the foreground, where she will pluck a leaf from the tentative shoots on its blasted branches. In the background: is that the Dawn, or searchlights playing over the trenches and shattered trees of Picardy?

In a student sketch from soon after the War, Christ is crucified behind British Tommies dicing for his garments. The later ‘Vexilla Regis’ shows a triumph, set in Wales. His rough Cross is formed from two trees, hacked to stumps in the background. Yet not all Jones’s trees are abused by humankind. The first tentative buds are to be felt rather than seen while a thrush on ‘Laetare Sunday’ sins his heart out: to the mother of his chicks or to his Creator? Rejoice, rejoice! There is reason to rejoice, and joy for David Jones sprang from the wells of his Catholic faith and his Welsh roots whose stories sit well with Revelation.

For Jones the essence is that God so loved the world he created that he gave his Son to complete that loving story. Redemption includes all creation, with the trees and the animals processing into the Ark in another woodcut. The Artist who receives from God the eye and brush to whiten the waves or black the cheetah’s spots and make us look, works sheltered beneath a Cross-topped portico, surrounded by animals, in a woodcut made for Gill.

Gill, surely, awoke in Jones the love of beautiful lettering that appears in works toward the end of this exhibition. Each bears long and repeated gazing, even if many of the words are unknown to the beholder. But long and repeated gazing will offer wealth to the viewer. There is almost too much here to take in. I hope I am able to visit again.

MMB.

This review has also appeared in the International Catholic News website:

http://www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=28814

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