Art Theology No. 5

 This time we have reflections from two members of the West Lancashire URC Partnership.
The first is from Karen Abrams of Fleetwood URC and the second is from Ian Mottram of Elswick URC.

 

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Vertigo by Leon Spilliaert (1881-1946)

Isaiah 41:10 Don’t be afraid, because I’m with you; don’t be anxious, because I am your God. I keep on strengthening you; I’m truly helping you. I’m surely upholding you with my victorious right hand.

The solitude of lockdown or isolation has been difficult for many. We have had “wobbles” and bad days when the need for company and support has overwhelmed us.

This painting symbolises that position better than any other I can think of. It was painted by Belgian artist Spilliaert, in 1908.

The woman sits precariously atop a steep conical tower of steps. She is alone and poorly balanced, her hair flowing in the strong wind, She vulnerable. It is a long way down, is she considering throwing herself off? If not, it would still be easy to fall. Even climbing back down will be difficult, the steps down are so deep. The use of monochrome heightens the bleakness of the situation and the sense of her isolation, loneliness and exposure.

As we have felt sadness, separation and even despair in these strange dark times it is easy to forget that God is with us, all we have to do is pray and he will stay with us till we can find a way back to company and life.

Exodus 33:14 He said, “My presence will go with you, and I’ll give you rest.”

 

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Francis Bacon
Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (c.1944)

I would not suggest looking at the life of Francis Bacon as a model for the Christian life. However, he knew how to get to the heart of the matter when he came to expressing the human condition.

The figures here are inhuman and yet human. It is as if the bodies have been consumed by the angst they are experiencing as they witness the horror before them.

The first is cowed and reduced in stature, hair covers the eyes, the figure cannot look. The flesh looks like it is being forced off the body by the emotional weight as the bone beneath is revealed.

The second has the eyes covered with what looks like a bandage. This has always reminded me of images in the aftermath of war. Today it reminds of those who are beyond help and dying in hospital with the virus. The bandage is small and ineffective, a symbol of care but it is not enough to cover the pain.

The third figure is screaming into the void, ‘My God, My God why have you forsaken me?’.

When considered with the following verses Bacon gives us an insight into the feelings of those who witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus.

John 19: 25-27 And standing by the Cross of Jesus his mother, and the sister of his mother, Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Mary, the Magdalene. Jesus, therefore, seeing his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing by, said to his mother: “Woman, behold thy son.” Then, he said to the disciple “Behold thy mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own.

 

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