Where is God in our 21st century world? – The Chaiya Art Awards

photo credit: Jonny Back

I have the immense pleasure of starting the blog tour celebrating the launch of  the accompanying hardback book to the Chaiya Art Awards exhibition, ‘Where is God in our 21st century world?’ written by Ann Clifford. The awards website tells us this book is “for the curious and open-minded, for people of all faiths and none. It is bursting with richness and diversity, vulnerability and exploration, colour and fragility, treasure and beauty.”
It showcases more than 60 of the shortlisted artworks.

It’s not easy for me to sum up how I feel about this book. I was moved through so many emotions and reactions. Some images I swept past in an instant. Others held me. One thing I do know, it is a book I will look at and share often. Very moving and thought provoking, and potentially the best conversation starter about things of faith that I’ll ever come across.

There were some poignant examples of ‘Kintsugi’, which is mending a broken item using gold. Making that item more valuable after the mending. The piece I’d love most to see in real life is, ‘The Storm’ by Chris Evans-Roberts. I almost dismissed ‘Koryo’- an image taken in North Korea by Yue Wang, as simply a tourist’s photo. But there’s a powerful underlying significance that once you see, you can’t unsee.  ‘Grenfell 2017’, by Matthew Askey, is a deep and dark portrayal of that awful tragedy, which brought me to tears. ‘The Real Thing’, by Simon Shepherd and ‘The Last Fish Supper’, by Gina Parr – well I couldn’t decide if they were comical, challenging, ironic or just plain irreverent.

My favourite though, was a work in oil on canvas called, ‘Seek and You Shall Find’. It was painted by Karl Newman, and stopped me in my tracks as I looked through the book. I got to ask the artist some questions and am delighted to share his answers with you.

photo credit by Jonny Back

1. Karl, your painting grabbed me the moment I saw it. I spent ages looking at it and through it, and have come back to it many times. Congratulations on being a finalist in this award-winning collection. How does it feel?

Thanks. It actually felt very good to be a part of the Chaiya Arts Awards exhibition. I occasionally enter similar competitions and I’m not always selected and so I certainly wasn’t assuming that I would be selected for this exhibition. When I saw my painting in the show I was really pleased to see it placed as prominently as it was. It made me smile inside to think that this little fishing hut that I’ve known since childhood and which is really remote is placed facing the Thames under the Oxo tower on London’s Southbank. You really couldn’t get a greater contrast!

2. I was struck by the concept of peace needing to be “sought” in the busyness of life. Is this your own personal experience?

Yes, I think it is my experience that you have to find a place of peace. I don’t think peace is something we are entitled to or that comes knocking on our doors. We have to seek it out. And then it’s very easy to lose your peace in a world that crowds in, demands time, energy and resources. Being quiet, getting away from things and resting are important for wellbeing and for creativity. We have our best ideas when we are relaxed and resting not when we are tired and stressed.

3. I love the layers in the image. Did you see the image layer by layer, or was it all there before you started to work?

That’s interesting. For this image in particular the painting process was one of revealing and disguising in equal measure. I’d make a mark and then paint over it, scraping, scratching, smearing the paint in a variety of ways to try to find the feel of the dense forest I was trying to depict. Working in this way helped me to think about the subject, of seeking and finding. That is literally what I was trying to do, I was seeking the image I saw in my mind and then in the end, partially finding it. I started with the most distant layer, the sky and worked forwards. The red shoes were painted last.

I work in a tiny studio and so most of the time I am really close to the surface of the painting and I don’t see the image as a whole until I carry the canvas outside where I can stand back. Over the years of working in this way I think I have focussed more and more on the surface and I love what paint does when it is applied layer upon layer. I get very absorbed in the process of applying and manipulating paint and lose sight of the overall image, which is why in this case I chose such a simple, solid composition with the fishing hut placed centrally and the triangular shape of its roof the focal point. It allowed me the freedom to play with the paint and colours in order to achieve the feel I was after.

photo credit: Jonny Back

4. What other piece in the collection has impressed you most ? Would you share with us why?

There were several works that I really liked. I think Marian Wouda’s sculpture ‘The Other Lamb’ is a particularly compelling piece. It’s an ambiguous image, beautifully made with plaster and straw, which asks questions of the viewer. Is it sleeping peacefully, or is it dead? It invites interpretation. Within the context of this exhibition and the question asked of the participating artists it alludes to John the Baptist’s proclamation ‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’. It is a powerful and arresting piece that I find myself drawn to more as time passes. It isn’t a work that draws attention to itself initially.

5. Is art your main expression of faith? Has it always been?

I guess so; both making and seeing art. Images resonate with me, they gain traction and meaning in my life as time passes and I find myself repeating motifs in my own work. Viewing work and making my own paintings allows me to meditate on things, issues, ideas and on God too, it is an art form that is not hurried by the constraints of time as theatre, dance or watching a film are. The act of making art is itself an act of faith, of reaching for something that doesn’t yet exist. Faith and imagination are closely linked and therefore I think God often speaks to us through the arts.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us Karl, and congratulations again.

So there you have it folks. The blog tour is well and truly off and running. Make sure to keep and eye on the other blog posts as the tour goes on, by going to the web addresses on the list or following #isGod21

You can follow Karl Newman on Twitter. The photographer for the exhibition was Jonny Back

Where is God in our 21st Century World? (ISBN: 9781909728905, Non- fiction, paperback, 96pp, £15.99) by ­­­­­Ann Clifford was published by Instant Apostle on 21 September 2018. It is available from bookshops, online retailers and the Chaiya Art Awards website.

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