Geraldine Crimmins: wellbeing and the arts

During Arts Weeks 2018 at Ripon College Cuddesdon, artist and wellbeing advocate Geraldine Crimmins came to speak to students and staff at the college.

 

Geraldine Crimmins is a London-based artist, currently in a professional residency at the Old Diorama Arts Centre in Camden.

 

Geraldine has exhibited at Somerset House and Spitalfields amongst other places, and since 2015 has won four awards for her work, including ‘Outstanding Progression and Achievement in the Arts’ from the Westminster Adult Education Service in 2015, and in 2016 she was awarded the national prize at the UK’s Festival of Learning.

 

Geraldine has said that it is her view that creativity can be a source of nourishment, a kind of ‘food,’ especially for the vulnerable.

 

Although a budding artist in school, Geraldine convinced herself she ‘didn’t have the imagination’ and went on to pursue a successful career as a counsellor and psychotherapist.

 

Geraldine joined us to share the story of her remarkable life, and the part in which the arts have played on that journey, followed by a Q&A session towards the end.

 

A good introductory article on Geraldine’s life and work is provided in this interview in The Canary, and we encourage a visit to her website which has more information, and an an excellent gallery.

 

Here is the talk, followed by the Q&A (which begins at 22.00 minutes), with Geraldine in full:

 

 

 

Our Lady of Calais

 

The Arts Committee of Ripon College Cuddesdon are delighted to announce the installation of a new artwork at the college:

 

Our Lady of Calais

by Joy ‘CBloxx’ Gilleard

Spray paint on board, 250cm x 250cm

 

 

our lady 2

 

Painted and originally exhibited in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, this picture depicts Mary and the Christ Child as refugees. The picture raises awareness around issues of forced migration and the plight of refugees across the world today. In 2015 the picture was part of a fundraising initiative on behalf of Save The Children.

 

our lady 2 - close up.jpg

 

Commenting on the piece in this 2016 interview, Joy reflects that one of the roles of the artist is to speak to the human condition, particularly on such a large-scale issue affecting human life as forced migration:

 

No work is purely for visual effect…there is a responsibility as a creative person to put a message out there … it is good to challenge perceptions and make people think.

 

Joy describes the process of engaging with the issues surrounding Mary and the Christ Child as refugees, and painting this picture, as a “spiritual experience in itself.”

 

In bringing this piece to the college, our hope is to contribute to raising awareness of the plight of refugees and those experiencing forced migration across the globe. This is an issue especially pertinent to Christians in light of the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt, described in Matthew 2:13-15 –

 

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’

 

Our Lady - in St Pauls.JPG

 

A formal launch of the painting in its new home at Ripon College Cuddesdon will follow in due course.

 

Joy is one of the artists behind the 2017 artwork Athena Rising, a 150ft tall mural on the side of the Platform building in Leeds, the UK’s largest ever piece of street art.

 

Refugee Mother and Child

A Poem by Chinua Achebe

 

No Madonna and Child could touch

that picture of a mother’s tenderness

for a son she soon would have to forget.

The air was heavy with odours

 

of diarrhoea of unwashed children

with washed-out ribs and dried-up

bottoms struggling in laboured

steps behind blown empty bellies. Most

 

mothers there had long ceased

to care but not this one; she held

a ghost smile between her teeth

and in her eyes the ghost of a mother’s

pride as she combed the rust-coloured

hair left on his skull and then –

 

singing in her eyes – began carefully

to part it… In another life this

would have been a little daily

act of no consequence before his

breakfast and school; now she

 

did it like putting flowers

on a tiny grave.

Kingdom People

A hymn and a reflection on collaborative hymn-writing

by Sarah Brush and Michael Brierley.

 

Tend us, Lord, as Kingdom People

planted in the world, your field:

love, compassion, justice, freedom

are the crop we long to yield.

 

At our root, in depth and richness,

love divine provides the ground,

that our lives, secure and nourished,

may in love for all abound.

 

Forth from love there stems compassion:

we will weep with those who mourn,

staying with the lost and lonely

through the darkness to the dawn.

 

From compassion, justice blossoms

for the weak, outcast, oppressed,

casting down the rich and mighty

so that meek and poor are blest.

 

Freedom is the fruit of justice –

not the choice of our own way,

but the God-giv’n grace to follow

Christ in every step each day.

 

Love, compassion, justice, freedom –

grant, creator God, our call

by your Spirit so to grow

’til Christ our Lord fills all in all.

 

Sarah Brush (1974) Michael Brierley (1973)

Tune:  Servant Song

 

Below is a collaborative reflection about a piece of creative collaboration in the writing of the hymn above.  The words of the Revd Canon Dr Michael Brierley, Precentor of Worcester Cathedral and Cuddesdon alumnus are in black and the words of the Revd Dr Sarah Brush, Tutor in Pastoral Theology at Cuddesdon are in green.

 

The Diocese of Worcester has an initiative ‘Kingdom People’, which seeks to enable Christian communities more fully to embody four ‘kingdom values’  –  love, compassion, justice and freedom.

 

I’d always thought those four words had such a good rhythm to them and, as I was preparing to leave a diocese I’d worked in for nearly ten years, I tried to put them to music. At an earlier diocesan event we had used the hymn Brother Sister Let Me Serve You for which I’d written a couple of extra verses reflecting the particular prayer activities at the event. I thought using that tune would be a suitable echo for people to half hear in their minds as they sang the new words; linking life as Kingdom People with the Servant Song.

 

I worked on several versions of the words but couldn’t get them quite right. Thinking it would be good to have someone else reflect on it, I sent it to our cathedral Precentor, Michael Brierley who had incorporated other modern hymn compositions by young clergy, like Ally Barrett, in various services for the diocese.

 

Sarah Brush, then a curate in the diocese, sent some hymn words on this theme for possible inclusion at the diocesan services which I help to arrange at the cathedral.  I was both excited by their freshness, their structure (a verse on each value, introduced and concluded) and their topicality, and also found myself wondering whether one or two corners could be further polished.

 

I’d never worked on a hymn before, and found that a couple of train journeys to London on the sluggish line through the Cotswolds were the ideal setting for the polishing.  I ended up re-writing more than I expected.  The metre (and tune) was 8787, and the difficulty of filling the unemphasised, last syllable on the first and third lines spilt over into altering other lines.

 

It wasn’t always an easy process; sometimes we would critique phrases the other had painstakingly constructed or pitch for a change of one particular word. Often, changes meant more changes were needed and sacrifices of other words were necessary. Yet most of the time, perhaps begrudgingly on my part at times, Michael’s suggestions improved what I’d written and even expressed something I’d been trying to say but hadn’t quite achieved.

 

There was also the issue of focusing on a single metaphor – that of a plant – to run through all the verses.

 

This was one particular development which was a truly collaborative creation: the hymn transformed from reflecting the Kingdom People values with only a passing allusion to the vine logo which accompanied them to one which was woven throughout with an extended metaphor of a growing plant. This development gave us lots of new challenges but resulted in something so much better than my original version.

 

Several email exchanges later, the result was premiered at the chrism eucharist in Worcester Cathedral in Holy Week 2018.  All the better for being a genuinely collaborative exercise, it was a harder task than I imagined: but having done one, a next one – given a train journey or two through the Cotswolds – might turn out to be easier …

 

 

kingdom people

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Two Trees

The Rev’d. Dr. Joanna Collicutt reflects on the stark visual juxtaposition of Christ crucified next to the hanging Judas, depicted in the Fifth Century Maskell Ivory. 

 

 

On 7th February I was part of a panel invited to reflect on an image from the Imagining the Divine exhibition currently taking place at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. The exhibition contains artefacts from what it refers to as the ‘Five great world religions plus paganism’ (a contentious notion in itself, but not the subject of this blog piece).

 

Maskell Ivory

The Maskell Ivory (c.420-30 CE), probably originating in Rome.

Ivory, Height 7.5 cm, British Museum.

 

I chose this tiny and exquisitely carved panel that was originally part of a box whose sides depict incidents from the life of Christ. This has a claim to be the earliest surviving depiction of the crucifixion and is therefore hugely significant in the history of Christian art. In fact there are very few surviving depictions of the crucifixion from the first millennium at all, and we should ask ourselves why this is. For an intriguing account take a look at Rita Nakashima Brock, and Rebecca Ann Parker’s 2008 book, Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire.

 

Perhaps the first thing one notices is that this is not the crucified Christ with whom we are so familiar from mediaeval art – an agonised, contorted, dying or – more usually – already dead victim full of pathos. Instead we are faced with a victorious Christ, very much alive, even perhaps smiling, standing erect with eyes and arms wide open as if to welcome all comers, ready to fly off the cross.

 

There is lots here that is reminiscent of John’s account of the death of Christ; the emphasis on glory, the presence of the Mother of Jesus and the Beloved Disciple, and the Roman Soldier (known in later tradition as Longinus) who inserts a spear into Jesus’ side. Yet, like a Gospel harmony, we also find Judas’ suicide as told by Matthew, complete with the thirty silver pieces, and the completely charming detail of the birds of the air nesting in the branches of the tree from which he hangs, surely alluding to the story of the mustard seed from Mark and Matthew.

 

This would have been an image used for personal devotion and, like the texts and traditions that inspired it, it is not simply telling a story; it makes demands on the viewer. These are intensified, literally thrown into relief, by the three dimensional nature of this artefact that dissolves the threshold between the world of the viewer and the scene depicted. The figures move out towards towards the viewer, who in turn is drawn towards them.

 

And what does she find?  The juxtaposition of the death of Judas and the death of Jesus is highly unusual in Christian art and it should tell us something. It reminded me of the opening verses of that early Christian text, the Didache: ‘There are two ways: one of life and one of death.’ The cross is the tree of life in which all may come and find a place, but it is the tree of death for those who, like Judas, don’t ‘get’ Jesus. Judas is dead, defeated, flaccid, and crucially alone. Jesus is alive, victorious, erect, and crucially surrounded by his loved ones (Jews) and one who in the tradition becomes a faithful witness to his death (a gentile).

 

The viewer is faced with the fact that the cross presents a moral and existential demand to make a life and death choice, a repeated choice that must be made daily.

 

Personally, I find yet more in this image. I find a visual way of making sense and making real that very difficult but important verse from Paul’s letter to the Galatians: ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us; for it is written ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’. There is something here about God’s transformation of guilt, shame, and death in Christ that is communicated better visually than in words.

 

But there is also hope. Is Christ reaching out to that tragic figure on the tree? Is this the moment that the gibbet is brought to life? Is Jesus’ touch transforming even this, the loneliest and most desperate of places?