A gallery a great place to re­lax in the now

Fingal Independent - - OPINION - Fr 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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