‘The Return of the Prodigal Son’, Ghislaine Howard, (8′ x 6′), Saint Ann’s Church, Manchester.
An extraordinary time for me – exhilarating, sad and poignant in different ways as I near the end of almost 35 years teaching at MMU. What an amazing privilege and what a tremendous journey. What can replace the excitement of working with colleagues and students over so many years, immersed in a world of creative, academic and studio engagement. All this with the words of Rilke’s sonnet, ‘The Archaic Torso of Apollo’ ringing in my ears. To have the opportunity to live in a sustained dialogue with the work of artists living and dead that I love had always been my ambition and I’ve achieved it. Not bad. It
has not all been easy, but worthwhile, deeply and immeasurably worthwhile. I will continue teaching, writing and painting – it would be impossible for me to do otherwise.
I remember giving a lecture in Oxford some years ago, and over lunch the member of staff with whom I was sitting apologised for screwing up the publicity and alerting me to the fact there might be less than expected for the lecture – I looked out through the stained glass window at two wet sheep, feeding on the lawn and indicated that if they knew me any better than they did, they would realise that if all else failed I’d be happy lecturing to those two bedraggled and presumably disinterested beasts. And of course, despite, what a great religious leader may have once suggested, our audience are not sheep – that is the real excitement. It is the deep humanity of any audience with whom one interacts that is so marvellous – the not-knowing what the information and ideas, the openings that we are able to create might lead to in the minds and imaginations of our students.
So, tonight, Thursday 10th April I will be giving a lecture ‘Encounter and Transformation’ at MAG, whilst Ghislaine, my wife (artist and occasional lecturer at MSA) together with Kelly and Matt (two Art History students) are setting up an installation in the Dutch room – it will include over 110 small panels relating to Ghislaine’s daily practice of producing a painting directly related to a news media image of the day known as the 365 Series These have previously been exhibited at IWMN and York Minster). The panels have been hosen to correspond with the presence or absence of the ‘Seven Works of Mercy’
This has become a major project that we are both working on with Blackburn cathedral. It has two separate but interrelated aspects, the production and exhibition of seven major canvases relating to each of the ‘Seven Works’ and the continuing practice of producing the small daily paintings.
‘The Seven Work of Mercy’ are:
Feed the hungry
Visit the sick
Give drink to the thirsty
Clothe the naked
Shelter the homeless / welcome the stranger
Visit the imprisoned / ransom the prisoner
Bury the dead
Though the ‘Seven Works’ is a specifically Christian idea – it is one shared by any civilised society and, in different forms, by all the world’s major faiths.
Hence, it’s a powerful and sustainable means to start different communities talking together and recognizing not only that which divides us, but more significantly, those things that we share.
The Manchester installation is part of a broader project which develops information gleaned from the 365 Series. These small (8 x 6 inch) panels have been grouped into sets of seven that correspond in some way with the Seven Works; these are then distributed to different interested communities/institutions, such as schools, youth or community centres, synagogues, mosques and churches. We have just heard thrilling reports about a set that were sent out to South Africa last year.
The works remains with the recipients for a specified time and is used as an educational and meditative tool to encourage discussion and debate. At an appropriate time, the group exchanges their works with another group from another community – for example, a synagogue might be visited by representatives of a secular, Muslim or Buddhist community.
So, I will be busy and happy – there is the garden, books, (On haiku and poetry as catalyst for the academic and creative imagination) paintings (I’ve already completed my first almost post university painting) to be done and to be seen, re-seen and seen again) and my work with Ghislaine. I also hope for a successful outcome of a novel I’ve been working on for some years, concerning Albrecht Dürer and the search for a unicorn, it’s provisionally entitled ‘The Emperor’s Man’ – if it makes the perilous journey from screen to print – I’ll let you know!
Oh, and if you are in Buxton for the festival in June later this year catch my play at Scrivener’s Bookshop, ‘The Good Lady Ducayne’ inspired by Elizabeth Braddon’s short horror story of the same title, written a year before Dracula was published, in 1896.
Thanks for everything – it’s been a blast.
Stopping teaching is not an option
Illustration form the Strand Magazine, February, 1896:
‘The Good Lady Ducalyne’ by Mrs. Elizabeth Braddon