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The elitism, commodification and commercialisation in the current contemporary art world need challenging, and Christians should be prepared to do that. Adrienne Chaplin

Nicholas Evans: Entombed – Jesus in the Midst

ArtWay Visual Meditation October 22, 2017

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Nicholas Evans: Entombed – Jesus in the Midst

Symphonies in Black

by David Pott

In 1978 a self-taught Welsh pensioner became an overnight sensation in the art world. Nicholas Evans was ‘discovered’ by the art critic Lawrence Gowing who said about him, “One's first reaction is an almost incredulous gratitude that such a painter, at any age, should be working anywhere among us.”

Nicholas Evans was born in Aberdare in southwest Wales in 1907. At school his teacher recognized his talent for drawing and gave him a pencil, but he soon gave up as his parents could not afford to buy him paper to draw on. He went down to work in the mining pit aged 13. When he was only 16, his father died an awful death in a mining accident. He was only 43.

As Nicholas continued working down the pit, he was impacted by the testimony of the man he worked with who was known by his work mates as Dai Pentecostal. Dai would often sing hymns while working, wielding his mandrel and cutting coal to the rhythm of the tunes. Nicholas himself learned the songs and sang them as well. Dai's influence on him was deep, helping him to come to faith not long after his father's death. Later in life he became a Pentecostal lay-preacher and would throughout the rest of his life preach at meetings around the area.

Two uncles and other neighbours died in accidents and his mother persuaded him that he must leave the mines for good which he did when he was 19. He worked on the railways where he became an engine driver.

When he retired in the 70’s someone gave him a Phaidon book about Vincent van Gogh and it was that which led him to take up painting. He was totally self-taught. He sought God for guidance and believed that every painting was an act of worship. His work is all about the lives of miners in his community in Wales but with a spiritual perspective. He viewed the miners and the mines as a wonderful allegory of our spiritual life here on earth, where we are stuck below the surface with a whole additional beautiful world waiting for us above. His paintings look as if he has used coal dust and shades of black predominate with the occasional gleam of yellow. He often used his fingers and a soft rag in the painting process. As Alf Corlett wrote: “One could call his paintings ‘symphonies in black’. He has made black the medium of his Welsh eloquence. Beginning with the absolute black of fresh-hewn coal, he scrapes, rubs, smudges, smears till he has wrested a thousand shades of meaning from that mysterious non-colour.”

His best-known painting is an early work full of drama entitled Entombed – Jesus in the Midst. There’s been a disaster – a group of miners is huddled, sharing fear and hopelessness after being entombed underground by a roof fall, with no way of escape. They are trapped in the darkness and their lights, forming a useless central pile in the foreground, have gone out. The rats are a sinister presence in the left foreground.

Suddenly Jesus appears. He’s dressed as a miner. This carefully structured painting with the miner’s lamp at the apex serves to highlight the powerful figure of Christ. He stands calm, strong and serene, full of both mercy and hope. The impact of Christ’s presence means that the miners are transitioning from fear, hopelessness and despair to worship and adoration. The miner on the left is already in that posture of worship. The whole structure of the painting is reminiscent of medieval paintings where Jesus is either on the cross, rising from the tomb or ascending to heaven and a cluster of people are in worship in the lower part of the painting.

Christ carries in his huge hands a lighted lamp whose rays pierce the darkness – perhaps Evans had in mind Holman Hunt’s Light of the World here. But Christ also holds out above their heads a bunch of golden keys, jangling them to awaken them out of despair and encourage them to rise up and follow him out of darkness into the light. There is possibly a biblical reference here to the angel awakening Peter in the dungeon in Acts 12.

This is most surely a work that is worthy of meditation, speaking powerfully about the legacy of mining, the human condition and Christian hope.

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Nicholas Evans: Entombed – Jesus in the Midst, 1974, oil on canvas. 137.2 x 91.0 cm.

Nicholas Evans died in 2004 at the age of 97. His gravestone is engraved with the words: Nicholas Evans – Pilgrim and Painter: “I’d rather lead a soul to the Lord than paint a Mona Lisa.”

David Pott lives near Bishop Auckland in County Durham in northeast England. This former coal mining area produced many fine artists known as the ‘pit painters’. This month a new Mining Art Gallery is opening in Bishop Auckland to display their work. The gallery will also feature some works by mining artists from elsewhere and Entombed – Jesus in the Midst will be displayed on loan from the Museum of Wales. http://www.aucklandcastle.org/events/categories/mining-art-gallery/ 

For further reading and viewing:

* For an article about the Mining Art Gallery on the BBC website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tees-41652524 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tees-41652524

* For a blog by David Edward Pike, see http://daibach-welldigger.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/the-pentecostal-who-painted-in-black.html  

* For an article in The Guardian, see https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/sep/11/museum-of-miners-art-to-open-as-part-of-bishop-auckland-culture-drive 

* Bishop Auckland was the centre of the Durham coal mining industry and a few years ago a Christian philanthropist, Jonathan Ruffer (who is also a keen art collector), came to Bishop Auckland and is investing in a number of initiatives including two art galleries – the Mining Art Gallery and a Spanish Art Gallery. To find out more about all this, see https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/rich-list-2017-exclusive-interview-jonathan-ruffer-the-man-regenerating-the-northeast-230w5hg6g 

* For a video about Norman Cornish, probably the best known of the local artists in the Durham area, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EPnmAhmuNds 

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ON THE WEBSITE   NEW ON THE WEBSITE   NEWS

1. ENGLAND - 3 November – 25 November, Norwich Cathedral, Norwich: exhibition Art, Conflict & Remembering. The Murals of the Bogside Artists. There will also be a day event with the Bogside Artists on Saturday 11 November in The Hostry, Norwich Cathedral, 11 – 16.30 h. Opening times and more info: https://www.cathedral.org.uk/whats-on/events/detail/2017/11/03/default-calendar/art-conflict-reconciliation-the-murals-of-the-bogside-artists

2. VIENNA - 7 October 2017 – 26 August 2018, Dom Museum Vienna, Stephansplatz 6, Vienna: Images in Language and the Language of Images. The exhibition focuses on the wide field of word-image art from the Middle Ages until today. During the Middle Ages, words and images were used to convey religious ideas and complex theological thought, while Modernity uses letters as visual signs in and of themselves: they become images. They were used in a similar way, when images were deemed inappropriate, as in the religious art of Islam, Judaism, or during the early European Middle Ages. The exhibition spans serial works featuring words and images by Blake, Kubin, Brus, as well as Gothic evangeliaries. In the 9th century, Hrabanus Maurus used letters and images for complex theological concepts, while a thousand years later, Alighiero Boetti turns letters into images – exposing an entirely new layer. Otto Mauer Prize recipients Siggi Hofer and Kamen Stoyanov work with script in space, as does Josef Bauer with his poetic word sculptures, while Jaume Plensa, Timm Ulrichs, and Birgit Jürgenssen deal with concepts of script and body. Goya and Hogarth provide biting commentary in their engravings while contemporary artists such as Johanna Kandl or Muntean/Rosenblum supplement their paintings with text. The objects in this exhibition are wonderful examples showing that words and images aren’t opposites, but have complemented each other for millennia in the struggle for existential expression. Öffnungszeiten: http://www.dommuseum.at/de/besuch/http://www.dommuseum.at/de/ausstellungen/bilderdersprache-sprachederbilder/

3. CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS – Letters, the flagship literary journal of the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, is accepting submissions from October 5th - November 15th, 2017. Letters promotes writers and visual artists whose work concerns matters of religion and spirituality. The journal publishes poetry, short fiction, nonfiction, and visual arts by people of all faiths. For the Fall 2017 issue, we are looking for work that engages the theme of "Harmony and Dissonance." To submit, please visit our website: http://www.lettersjournal.com

4. USA – Last week a merger has taken place of The Association for Theopoetics Research and Exploration (ATRE) with SARCC (The Society for the Arts, Religion and Contemporary Culture). Since 2010 ATRE has been the leading voice in hosting and encouraging people who work at what they name as “the intersection of justice-seeking religious reflection with spirituality, imagination, the arts, and embodiment.” SARCC will return to its former naming as “ARC” and its website will move to ArtsReligionCulture.org

5. THE FRENCH SECTION - 15 janvier – 15 février 2018, les lundis et jeudis de 18.30 – 20 h, Collège des Bernardins, 20 rue de Poissy, Paris :  Art, Culture et Foi, Paris organisé un cycle de 9 conférences avec projections sur le thème « Le jardin entre ciel et terre ». Dieu place d’abord l’homme dans un jardin, « pour le cultiver et le garder » à la suite de son créateur dit la Bible (Gn 2). L’Eden est un jardin des délices, d’abondance et de rafraîchissement. L’eau coule en abondance dans ce paradis dont le nom -en hébreu (pardès) et en grec (paradeisos) - signifie « verger entouré de murs ». Né dans un pays désertique cette image paradisiaque du jardin est une idée du bonheur Ainsi dans l’Islam, le paradis (Al Janna) est un jardin magnifique. Le Cantique des cantiques compare l’être aimé à « un jardin clos ». Au Moyen Âge, ce jardin clos, symbole de la vie monastique, donne sa forme aux cloîtres, lieux de repos et de méditation. L’Amour fait renaître ce Paradis : Jésus vient à Gethsémani (« le pressoir ») le jardin des oliviers, pour se retirer et prier (Mc 14 ; Mt 26 ; Jn, 18) et c’est le lieu de son agonie et de la violence de son arrestation. Comme un grain semé en terre Jésus est enterré dans un jardin. Mais au matin de Pâques, Marie-Madeleine voit dans le ressuscité le « jardinier » (Jn 20). Enlui s’inaugure une création nouvelle. A travers les nouvelles interrogations sur le devenir de la planète, le jardin et l’humanité se trouvent encore au cœur des enjeux les plus contemporains au terme d’une histoire jamais achevée, toujours à relire ou à reconstruite, et que ce nouveau cycle d’Art, Culture et Foi / Paris vous propose de découvrir. https://www.paris.catholique.fr/le-jardin-entre-ciel-et-terre.html

6. THE GERMAN SECTION – WIEN - 7 October – 26 August, Dom Museum Wien: Bilder der Sprache - Sprache der Bilder. Seit dem 7. Oktober ist das Dommuseum Wien nach vierjährigem Umbau wieder geöffnet. Seine hochkarätige Sammlung an alter und neuer Kunst präsentiert sich neu geordnet und aufgestellt in zeitgenössisch ansprechender Gestalt. Großen Wert wird an diesem prominenten Ort direkt neben dem Stephansdom auf die Kunstvermittlung gelegt, in deren Fokus Kunstbetrachtung, theoretische Reflexion sowie die Erörterung grundsätzlicher Fragestellungen zur Kunst und zu ihrem gesellschaftlichen Kontext stehen. Bis zum 26. August 2018 steht die Eröffnungsausstllung "Bilder der Sprache - Sprache der Bilder". Die gezeigten Werke machen deutlich, dass Kombinationen aus Bild und Text sich besonders eignen, um von den sichtbaren Dingen zu den unsichtbaren Welten zu gelangen. Glaubensinhalte, Fragen nach Leben, Tod, Diesseits und Jenseits, nehmen daher eine zentrale Rolle in der Präsentation ein. Es erscheint dazu ein Katalog. http://www.dommuseum.at/de/ausstellungen/

For more exhibitions, lectures, conferences etc. inside and outside your country, click here

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