Mere Anglicanism

Cathedral Premiere for Genesis Exhibition

Gallery notes: Stephen Bird exhibition at Durham Cathedral

An exhibition looking at the stories of the book of Genesis will have its premiere in Durham Cathedral’s Chapel of the Nine Altars next month.

The Genesis series is a collection of paintings by artist Stephen G Bird, an artist and teacher at Ampleforth College in North Yorkshire who studied fine art at Chelsea College of Art and then Goldsmiths in London from the mid-1970s to the early 80s. Over the last two decades his painting has developed a singular, evocative style based on layers of colour, strong line drawing, pattern and closely woven composition.  

His latest exhibition is a visual exploration of the themes from the Book of Genesis, translated to a modern-day setting. Stephen explained: “For me, the stories of Genesis are so much a part of the British culture that I wanted to re-create them in a way that meant the viewer could identify with the themes from a modern-day perspective. So as God creates time, he is depicted as a watch and clock maker and the creation of Adam happens at the potter’s wheel. God rests on the seventh day by dozing in an easy chair with tea and cupcakes and the ‘Expulsion from Eden’ is represented through a ‘time-at-the-bar’ scene in 1970s London as the last bus rolls by.”

Stephen, who teaches in a religious school and attends church regularly, said he hopes the exhibition will appeal to people of all faiths and none: “I am not preaching from my paintings,” he said “these stories are part of our every day culture and heritage and if you look at the English language closely we use phrases from Genesis as part of our everyday expressions, they are just so much a part of who we are. I hope that people who come to see my work will enjoy it on many levels, whether or not they are Christians themselves.”

The catalogue that accompanies the exhibition includes notes from Father Henry Wansbrough, a monk at Ampleforth Abbey and Cathedral Prior of Durham. Stephen said: “I hope people enjoy reading Father Henry’s take and mine as they go round the exhibition. I have put so much of my own history and personal stories into the paintings, but it was fascinating to read Father Henry’s observations and insights because often he took something from the image that I had never intended when I painted it – but that I suppose is the joy of art, each viewer can experience each painting in a totally different way.”

The exhibition is made up of 17 canvases, each measuring approximately 3ftx2ft. The collection of work has been funded by a scholarship from the Farmington Institute, which enables teachers to take time out of the classroom to pursue research and development of projects in a religious field. Following the premiere of the exhibition at Durham Cathedral, Stephen plans to tour the exhibition to other Cathedrals and religious buildings over the coming year.

Stephen’s exhibition in the Chapel of the Nine Altars runs from Thursday 3 March – Wednesday 16 March. An accompanying exhibition of work for sale will be on display in the Undercroft Restaurant at the Cathedral until 31 March. For more information about this and upcoming exhibitions at Durham Cathedral, please visit http://www.durhamcathedral.co.uk/whatson

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