Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Methodist art collection at Royal Hibernian Academy

This week's Independent News & Media Irish regional newspapers' column.

Michael commane 
When last did you pop into an art gallery and stroll around, looking at the paintings?

Is it something you are inclined to do or is it that art galleries are places you would never dream visiting?

From time to time I find myself walking around a gallery but it’s usually to see some work that has been in the news or been recommended to me.

And that’s more or less what happened on this occasion. A work colleague told me about an exhibition of Methodist modern art at the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin’s Ely Place.

The RHA first saw daylight in Abbey Street in 1823, the current building was opened in 1970 and houses four galleries.

A gem, quietly tucked away just around the corner from Hume Street off St Stephen’s Green.

On the evening of the opening of the Methodist Collection, RHA Director Patrick Murphy spoke of how people visit the gallery and simply stand in front of paintings, examining them. And how the artist keeps going back to her or his work trying to get it right.

‘As to what’s right, that’s a mystery. I hope one person will come in here and have a personal epiphany,’ he said.

I went along to the opening of the Methodist Art Collection, which is on display at the gallery until December 21.

On the opening evening Dr John Gibbs, who is the retiring chair of the Methodist Modern Art Management Committee, spoke of how his late father initiated the collection of 20th century paintings.

Dr Gibbs had no trouble telling his audience how his father felt that Protestants in general had little appreciation of the link between art and faith and certainly in the early 1960s had little understanding of modern art.

That’s the genesis of the collection, which began with 35 works going on tour in England and Wales.

It mainly went to schools in the following years. He told a story how in one Yorkshire school a girl took a fancy to a panting by Graham Sutherland, cut it out of the frame and brought it home. It was eventually retrieved and restored. The artist, Graham Sutherland did not sign it when he originally completed it but made sure to do so after its restoration.

One of his works, ‘The Deposition’ is among the current collection on display at the RHA exhibition.

The body of Jesus has been taken down from the cross, lying in a tomb in front of the cross. Two strips of linen run in a loop from the ends of the wall, either to, or behind the cross.

It was painted in 1947 and there is something about it that reminds one of the terror of the Nazi concentration camps. Sutherland’s works from the late 1940s were influenced by photographs he saw of victims of Hitler’s terror.

Another painting at the exhibition, ‘Good Friday: Walking on Water’ is the result of the artist, Maggi Hambling experiencing a terrible storm in November 2002.

Looking at the paintings I was reminded of US Cistercian priest Thomas Keating, who died last month, who believed that God is within reality so expansively that being surrendered to the present moment is to be present to him.

A gallery is a great place to relax in the now. Should you be anywhere near Dublin’s Ely place before December 21, you might cast your eye over the 30 pieces on display. It might even tempt you to think about the Christian faith. Relevant today?

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