Saturday, November 15, 2008

Marian perceptions

We got up horribly early and took the Megabus to London, to visit our old friend Greg Tricker's latest exhibition of paintings at Piano Nobile gallery in Notting Hill. This time he's created a couple of dozen works, mostly paintings but also woodcuts and sculptures reflecting on the life of Saint Bernadette of Lourdes. We had an invite to the opening night on Wednesday, but were unable to attend. Sister Wendy Beckett OSB presided over the occasion, an indication of how well thought of is Greg's work. He's also published an illustrated book of this collection - his fourth, and from our point of view a must-have, an early Christmas present to each other.

It's a remarkable collection, with only a handful depicting Bernadette's life as a nun, or with any obvious ecclesiastical reference. Mostly Greg portrays her with great simplicity at home with the family in her local sub-Pyrenean community, in ways that are suffused with a sense of spirituality. His work may resemble naive mediaeval illustrations, but spending time with any of his pictures reveals great understanding and depth of engagement with his subject.

His depictions of Bernadette's encounters with Mary are far from standard Catholic ecclesiastical art. They show an intelligent enquiring young girl looking up into Our Lady's tranquil face. Many of the paintings have a pale blue tint or component - a kind of Marian signature or influence. But his painting of the discovery of the Lourdes healing spring is washed in green light, suggesting an encounter with the green goddess, not out of irreverence, but from a deep awareness of the universality of the imagery of the eternal feminine with which he has worked.

I like Greg's artistic vision of Mary far better than any of the standard 19th century images of the Immaculate Conception which I have seen in churches up and down France over the years. One of his key works is painted not on canvas, but on a small wooden door, complete with hinges and bolt, vivid in its colour, iconic in convention. Bernadette wears a pale blue head covering resembling but not quite a halo, but her face is gold. An image of transfigured beauty. This was used on the invitation sent out from the gallery - a real masterpiece. He knows how to inspire a sense of wonder in the depths of simplicity.

We took my sister June with us to Piano Nobile, both the venue and the artist were a fresh discovery for her. It was great to be able to share the experience with her, and to know that she too is much taken with the art works of one of our contemporaries, whose images are an eloquent testimony to his perception of the sacred in the ordinary.

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