Residency Day 3

Another beautiful morning, with the sunlight casting colourful images. Today I am focusing on patterns, shapes, forms, repetitions. By observing, absorbing, I am enabling the fabric of the building to seep into my unconscious. At this stage I have no intention for the work. I am just being.

I am not alone, I have managed to download Sir John Tavener’s work. The Hidden Face, my first experience of John’s work, and favourite, fills the space and my engagement is transformed. This is a majestic building but somehow not tall enough for when the piece reaches its crescendo. The music unifies the space, where in silence the interior feels lacking. The arches feel more purposeful, lifting my thoughts and spirits heavenward as the power of the music grows. Hypnotic, wordless, releasing, transforming, hauntingly beautiful. An absolute privilege to have known the man, to have been witness to his creative genius.

There is power in repetition of form, of musical phrasing, in building on what went before.

I record the forms that beckon me. I notice the inscription and record the stained glass, the murals, the altars. Who would have thought that the Latin learnt years ago would come in useful.

A random dog, who I later learn is called Target, wanders in for second time and hovers by the same spot near the altar. Who knows what lurks beneath.

I am reminded to take the charcoal rubbings on tissue of the grill that so fascinates Target. I also take a rubbing of an altar motif and one from a bench end.

Refreshed and warmed by a comfort lunch and sunshine, I return to silence and icy stillness.

Why did the music make such a difference to how the space is experienced? How could that difference be conveyed?

Seated on a pew I am aware of how they are designed to make you look down. To look forward or, worse still, upwards, causes severe back pain. The kneeling step also promotes the looking down. In this enforced bowed position there is little distraction save the muted mural and the backs of other worshippers. The delights of the building, the ornate structures, the glorious embellishments, the streaming sunlight, happen out of eyeline, as if to catch a glimpse is to be distracted from your rightful purpose, your worshipful purpose, to not be reverential. It is only on entering and leaving that you become aware of the majestic jewel like nature of the interior. Know your place.

Residency Day 2

Today is cooler and cloudy. The huge entrance door is shut to retain what little warmth there is.

Wrapped in my duvet coat I sit before the alter, a magestic structure honouring Jesus the boy and the man.

Today I want to experience the feel of the chapel, rather than it’s visual qualities. I sit with eyes shut. The chill air presses against my face. The sensation is not unlike a face pack. There is a silent ringing in my ears. Real life is a distant hum. The air smells of oldness, containment.

The sun must have come out. The red and the blue of the southern window shine bright, but not for long.

I am intrigued by the ornate structure above the boy. It feels top heavy, as if it could fall forward at any moment. I am reminded of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (1882). I don’t profess to understand the symbolism of such structures. I need to focus on how it makes me feel and not how it appears, or it’s meaning.

Today I want to explore the ‘feel’ of the colours within the chapel that are much more subdued, than the stain glass. The wall panels, in various stages of decay, (ignoring the religious symbolism), faintly echo Virginia Woolf’s home, Charleston. The subdued red, green, ochre, and elsewhere the dominance of red, green and the muted beige palette of sandstone. The chairs grouped purposefully around the alter, the carpeted treads leading up to the boy Jesus, the kneeling cushion before the alter to Mary, the prayer chairs, the draped fabric, the embedded tableaux. The exception, and clearly a later addition, are the blue painted radiators that line the side walls, obscuring the lower panel.

I record the colours in watercolour. It is too cold to try to do more. I venture outside. The air is warmer, softer.

I would like to experience music in the chapel. I have downloaded some of John Tavener’s works in Spotify, but I am prevented by technology from listening today. I will try to unravel the mystery during the week and try again next week.

I return to contemplation, to the questions I need to formulate. I follow the tableaux of suffering that fill the space between the stain glass windows. The contrast of light and muted, of celebration and of sorrow, of grandeur and humble offering, the difference magnified by a burst of sunlight, that casts jewel-like patterns on the recesses of the windows, whilst casting the tableaux into further shadow.

My walk round the walls of suffering, round the edges of the building, the edges of life. Are the questions buried in the tableaux or floating in the chilled air, everywhere?

The light is starting to fade. I feel quite alone. No energy of former lives, no ghosts, just aloneness.

Residency Day 1

I have decided to work every Tuesday, at least through January.  I plan to arrive at 10am and leave around 4pm.

My first day was perfect.  The South facing entrance to the Chapel was bathed in sunlight on a crisp January day.  The sole key was used to open the imposing door and light flooded in.

My plan was to ‘just be’ in this historic building.  I came prepared with materials but did not expect to use them.

With no expectation, it is interesting how the mind fills the void.  My natural inclination is to plan, to anticipate, to expect the unexpected, yet here I was without direction.  A weird feeling.img_2394

I had expected to just sit in a meditative state and absorb the building, but I found this too difficult.  I needed to explore, so I did, with the aid of my ipad.

At first I photographed anything that caught my attention.  I was not short of subject matter.

Pattern, symbolism, light.


I systematically walked around the building recording my visit; a creative tourist, but as the day progressed and energised by comforting lunch, I became aware that the pictures were becoming more abstracted.


And whilst I already, possibly have the basis for a substantial series of abstract paintings (173 photos), this is a long term project which requires me to really evaluate my connection with this building, to dig deeper than perhaps I am prepared to venture.

I came away from the day with some questions.  The building felt cold.  Yes it was January!  But more than that, I didn’t warm to the building.  Why?  This is what I need to explore.


It is now over a year since I finished my MA and I am learning to impose structure to my work.  The Tread Softly series is nearing completion and my thoughts now turn to what to do next.  I had expected to start work on a series of images based on my parents love letters, but events have overtaken me and another exciting opportunity has presented itself.

I had the good fortune to meet the owner of the Pugin Chapel in St Leonards who was looking for community engagement with the Chapel.  I suggested a residency and yesterday I completed the checks necessary to work on a school site.  If all goes to plan I will start work in the Chapel in the New Year.

For some time I have been considering the possibility of working in a church.  As my work moves into a ‘softer’, reflective period, I have been wondering whether it would lend itself to responding to a spiritual building.  I am not religious but I have lived in a converted chapel and found the experience enriching.  I am hopeful that creatively exploring the Pugin Chapel will open a new direction for my work.

I should add that even asking for the residency is way beyond my comfort zone, but I have seen the results of other artists from such an experience and as I move purposefully towards the next stage of my life, I feel that now is the time for such a challenge.

Where to start?  I toured the Chapel yesterday with the director and explained that I will not be painting views of the building.  That my purpose is to paint the feelings the building arouses, which may be abstract or may include details that resonate with me.  I plan to spend a day a week for the first few weeks, just contemplating, observing and recording details.  Due to the way I work with many layers of very wet paint, on site painting will not be possible.  I will need to rethink how I approach this project.