This is the artist Brian Whelan’s new work, the Brentwood Cross. In a recent article about it, it was said that ‘It is a thing of beauty, a vivacious, youthful, joyful beauty.’ The article went on to quote the theologian, Hans Urs Von Balthasar, ‘Art without beauty is horribly castrated and faith without the experience of beauty can never encounter God, the origin of all that is beautiful’
I didn’t find it beautiful. In a way I found it quite grotesque. I do love the bright peacock and russet tones. I like the historic connection of images telling the story to the illiterate. I like the fact that children and adults alike could wander into the heart of the Gospel and spend any length of time meditating upon its rich imagery, images which may grow beyond the visual representation. But it doesn’t stir me in the way that I am stirred by poignant beauty ~ where one can do nothing other than surrender in wonder.
Beyond the beauty of Creation, this made me think about what pieces of religious art I do find beautiful. Often the pieces of beautiful art, are works that appear at first simple. So too the simplicity which I find beautiful, is also a beauty that I find all powerful. They speak to me and lift me out of myself . . . almost as if I feel the work ~ rather than just see it with my eyes. It often raises the hair follicles on the skin, as if the skin could prickle the air ~ as if in response to there being a gap between the outer layer of the body’s skin, and the closest layer of air, both extending to reach out towards each other. Skin and air longing towards each other in extension, barely touching ~ like fingers on the roof of the Sistine Chapel with nothing but extension in between.
Some religious art works have stirred me so deeply, that just to look was to fold a deep wave of physical motion within the depths of my being ~ fettering me to the earth like an anchor, whilst at the same time washing over me, flooding my interior, compressing and releasing the heart, before surging on upwards swallowing-guttural in my throat ~ released in tears exposed beautiful by droplets from the eye, unexpected.
These pieces have stared right into my soul as if uninvited, and have taken the core of my secret self and returned to their composition with a little piece of me forever claimed by that work. I can think of few pieces of art that have both set me free and imprisoned me at once in this way. A breathtaking beautiful station of the Cross being one, amongst too few other pieces, are works of art that I know have taken something of me that will forever be held in spirit earth-bound beyond my existence ~ in both beauty and truth.