Archive for category Subject: Religion

Visual Contemplations || Lillian Delevoryas

This is nothing if not specialised: “Paintings Inspired by Gregory of Nyssa’s ‘The Life of Moses’”. I turned to the back-cover blurb for enlightenment. “We are in some manner our own parents, giving birth to ourselves by our own free choice in accordance with whatever we wish to be, whether male or female, moulding ourselves to the teaching of vice or virtue.” I’m glad we cleared that up.

It is, of course, always unfair to mock something you don’t understand, not to mention unwise as you display the limits of your own ignorance. Let’s delve a little deeper. Lillian Delevoryas is in her 80’s and has a lifetime of experience, having worked in oils, Japanese-influenced woodblock prints, English floral watercolours, icons and more. This work has been exhibited internationally for more than 60 years. A new talent trying to find an identity this is not. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: a review of a life and a distillation of all those various styles, to “return to [those] subjects in order to perfect them … [with them] stripped of everything but [their] essentials”.

St Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa was a fourth century Christian best known now for his spiritual writings. His Contemplation on the Life of Moses has a theme of “perfection according to virtue” and the prophet’s life is used as analogy for the journey of the soul from slavery to freedom. The introduction tells us that Delevoryas discovered it while recuperating from two bouts of surgery, a time when many people start to re-examine themselves and their lives. Texts read then often turn out to be influential.

Enough of the background, what of the book itself, which stands or falls on its own merits? If I showed you the cover, with its antique figure sitting on the back of an ostrich, which has its head buried in the sand, you might conclude that it wasn’t entirely serious. However, it doesn’t stand alone and, within the sequence of the book, it illustrates a section called “Heading Nowhere”. Suddenly, it’s not a joke. Sure, it’s surreal and meant to be, and illustrates “the state of blind (or purely sense-based) ignorance, which refuses to let in the light of true knowledge”. Other pieces are rather more iconographic and give a much stronger sense of being an illustrated St Gregory sampler – there are quotes from a variety of his writings.

So, to sum up, this is a spiritual journey that was initiated by the artist’s own life and predicament. It is, however, much more than merely inward-looking and has much that will be of interest to anyone embarking on a similar journey themselves.

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Art + Religion in the 21st Century || Aaron Rosen

OK, let’s be a bit provocative, shall we? If you don’t know much about art, there’s a good chance you know what you like. If you don’t know much about religion, there’s every chance you know what everyone else should like. No two topics have ever been so universally divisive, though I don’t think anyone ever said their five-year-old could have come up with a religious doctrine. Oh, hang on, I bet they have!

So, having offended as many people as possible, let’s look at what we have here. First off, I like the title. It’s not “art & religion”, it’s “art + religion”. I’m going to hazard a guess that that little difference isn’t a typographical mannerism but rather a deliberate indication that this is a book about where these two (I think we’ve already established) controversial topics collide. Fusion, rather than fission, of course, produces a whole new element.

The blurb tells me that this is a “timely and thought-provoking” book. You don’t say! It’s certainly not afraid to get you thinking, and to shock if necessary. Not all – in fact I’d probably go so far as to say few – of the images are religious in themselves and certainly not devotional. Marco Brambilla’s Creation, for instance, culled from film vignettes from The Sound of Music to Star Wars, gets in because it premiered in one of the oldest Roman Catholic cathedrals in New York and was accompanied by a live choir. It evoked (it says here) queries about what visionary experiences people expect to have in church today. Pardon me while I stick my head out of the window and shout “bum” as a critique of modern life in a traditional English village.

Inevitably, there’s an element of The Emperor’s New Clothes here and you can have fun choosing your own favourite exemplar. However, the book is indeed thought-provoking and I’ll venture to suggest that this is what religion should do. Jonathan Hobin’s A Boo Grave recreates the famous Abu Graib image, but using children. I’ve looked at it a few times and it’s still unsettling. Less so, but still thought-provoking, are the Tower of London poppies, which made a point about war, death and remembrance. The obligatory Banksy is, well, obligatory. I’m still trying to work out what Spencer Tunick’s Sydney 1 has to do with religion or spirituality – or his assertion that being nude “can be a very spiritual experience for [participants]”. Cold, uncomfortable, yes. On the other hand, shamans often use discomfort to provoke an out-of-body state, so what do I know?

OK, I know I find this an interesting, provocative and frequently disturbing book. What was intended, I think.

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