Art in the Church: An interview with commission4mission

Editor’s Note: commission4mission is an arts organisation based in the United Kingdom. For the Art in the Church Workshop, Transpositions interviewed its Secretary, Jonathan Evens.

(1) Please briefly describe your organisation.
commission4mission was launched in March 2009 to encourage the commissioning and placing of contemporary Christian Art in churches. The art is both a means of fundraising for charities and as a mission opportunity for churches. Through our work, we aim to provide opportunities for churches to obtain and commission contemporary Christian Art; provide information, ideas and examples of contemporary Christian Art and its use/display within church settings; and raise funds for charities through commissions and sales of contemporary Christian Art.

(2) Why is what you are doing important for art in the church?
Our experience has been that local churches contemplating the possibility of commissioning contemporary art are often put off by what they think will be prohibitive costs, disputes in the congregation about appropriate styles, and arguments that there are more important priorities for the available money. Our approach aims to address these issues and thereby to open up new opportunities for artists from churches that otherwise would not seek commissions.

(3) What do you see to be the relationship between art commissioning and mission?
We suggest that the visual arts can contribute to mission by: speaking eloquently of the Christian faith; providing a reason for people to visit a church; making a link between churches and local arts organisations/initiatives; and providing a focus around which local people can come together for a shared activity.

When the visual arts are seen as integral to mission, then the interest of congregations in commissioning is likely to grow but the issues of cost and other priorities still remain. As a result, commission4mission has built up a pool of artists able to work flexibly to available budgets and willing to allow a proportion of the cost of each commission to go to charity. We also suggest that commissioned artworks are donated to churches by interested parties as memorials to loved ones. Our experience suggests that this combination of charitable fundraising and memorial donations overcomes many of the issues usually faced when considering the commissioning of contemporary art for local churches.

(4) Can you share an example of a recently completed commission?
Among our completed commissions is the Stations of the Crown of Thorns by Henry Shelton at St Paul’s Goodmayes. These semi-abstract ‘Stations’ are unusual for several reasons. First, Christ is depicted in each image only as a simple, humble crown of thorns. Secondly, the triptych, which forms the centrepiece of the Stations of the Crown of Thornsand includes Stations 11, 12 and 13, has inventively incorporated an existing metal crucifix into its design to form the 12th Station, ‘Jesus dies on the cross’.

There are 15 ‘Stations’ in total, as the scheme includes a resurrection ‘Station’ depicting Christ’s presence in the Eucharistic elements. Shelton’s trademark flowing lines, which create images through minimal means and with maximum facility, are in evidence throughout the scheme. However, as an artist who often paints with the tones and harmonies of the Dutch Masters, this commission represents a considerable lightening of his palette in order that the colour scheme of these ‘Stations’ harmonize with the existing stained glass in the Church (includes designs by Morris and Burne-Jones, among others). Parish priest, Fr. Benjamin Rutt-Field, has written meditations to accompany the ‘Stations’ and these are currently being added to the church website.

(5) How does this commission fit into the mission of St Paul’s Goodmayes?
St Paul’s Goodmayes is a parish church which has consistently commissioned artworks throughout its history from Morris & Co, via the Whitefriars and FaithWorks studios to Leonard Evetts, Jane Quail and Henry Shelton. The integration of these diverse works into the architecture of the church enhances worship and communicates faith. The Stations are prayed by ecumenical groups during Lent using Fr. Ben’s meditations. St Paul’s features on both a local and Episcopal Area Art Trail which bring additional visitors to the church. Guided and sponsored art trail walks have included St Paul’s and have engaged the local congregation and wider community. The church has supplemented its permanent artworks with temporary exhibitions for an annual community festival. These have included exhibiting work created through community art workshops and, this year, will include an art competition for local schools on Jubilee and Olympic themes.

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