chapter  7
40 Pages

A Vibrant Contemporary Scene

This chapter is concerned with artists who are still alive, and whose work relates fairly directly to Christian iconography. This means that I am not considering here a number of artists whose work is recognised has having a spiritual dimension or which sometimes has visual echoes of Christian themes. I think of Anselm Kiefer, whose work, despite focussing on the destruction of Germany, often has a mystical feel to it; Anthony Gormley, whose work has been shown in cathedrals, and Mark Wallinger, whose work, like that of Gormley, might be categorised as the expression of a spiritual humanism. I think also of Bill Viola, whose work, like that of Damien Hurst and Chris Ofili, sometimes makes verbal or visual reference to particular Christian subjects. Some of this work I greatly admire but it is outside the particular focus of this book. I will be considering a number of artists, some well known, others not, who focus more specifically on Christian themes. I am conscious of others, whose work I respond to but whom I have not been able to include for reasons of space

Fenwick Lawson

Fenwick Lawson (1932-) was born and brought up in County Durham. He studied at the Royal College of Art and was influenced by Epstein. He became head of sculpture at Newcastle upon Tyne College of Art (later the Polytechnic, where he also became Principal). More than 50 works of Lawson have been commissioned, almost all in the north-east of England, with the majority of them being situated in churches. Lawson, who works in wood, leaving much of the surface rough, conveys a strong sense of emotion in his sculpture. In this way he can be said to stand in the tradition of German expressionism as represented by someone like Ernst Barlach (1870-1938), who also worked in wood but most of whose art was destroyed by Hitler. Good examples of Lawson’s work are Cuthbert of Farne (1984) in the Durham Heritage Centre, The Risen Christ (1968) in St Paul’s, Jarrow, and The Journey. This depicts the body of St Cuthbert being carried by monks from its original burial place on Holy Island (Lindisfarne). In 875, because of fear of a Viking invasion, the body was taken from there to various places, eventually ending up in Durham. The original, carved from seven elm trees in 1999, is on Lindisfarne. A bronze was made from this, which now stands in Millennium Square in Durham, where it was unveiled in 2008. His Pietà (1981) in Durham Cathedral is particularly fine. Unlike the traditional depiction of this scene, in which Mary cradles the dead body of Jesus on her lap, here the body is on the ground, utterly stricken, and Mary is looking down in great sorrow (Figure 50).