Sculpture for the niches of St. John Baptist Church, Cirencester.
The images above show the sculptures photographed from the scaffolding. While the commission has been in process, I have recorded all the stages of production through to final installation, and these can be seen by clicking here.
My aim in these sculptures was to make a statement about the relevance that St. John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary have within the context of contemporary Christianity. I also wished to affirm the understanding (expressed in the brief) that the Parish Church stands at the spiritual heart of the community. In doing so, I wanted to produce contemporary works that are visually interesting, whilst taking care that they did not jar with the ancient structure of the church. The sculptures should appear to be a natural part of that structure, to which they would be complementary.
The sculpture of John the Baptist:
At first, I saw this charismatic figure from the wilderness as the easier of the two pieces. I envisaged him brandishing the cross with which he is frequently represented in religious icons; a harsh figure, last of the Old Testament prophets who brought a message of destruction as the consequence of man's sin. He would signify a contrast between the Old and New Testaments, between which he formed a bridge. The cross he brandished would prefigure the crucifixion, and link him to the sculpture of the Virgin and Child.
With the passage of time, I felt that although the image could be an impressive one, I was finding it difficult to relate personally to this figure of John, and I expressed my difficulty to Cirencester's vicar, Canon Morris. In discussion, he told me that he had seen a picture of the Baptist with piercing eyes which looked through the observer, and said that he saw this as signifying that God was looking through John; that John was not important to himself, but saw himself as an intermediary. Subsequently two members of the congregation pointed out the John Baptist window, depicting the Baptist holding a lamb, the only image I have seen of him doing so as a man (normally such images show him as a child), and it was suggested that the lamb might have been included because of the importance of the wool trade to the town.
Following these conversations, I rethought my representation, and John now holds out a lamb – "the Lamb of God" – over the town and over the people into which he is looking. For me, this is a more relevant link to the New Testament, and I am happy that it also refers back to Cirencester's past, and its present within a farmed countryside. As with my representation of Andrew, the Fisher of Men for Plymouth, I believe that linking the religious and lay contexts of a location is important in bringing the whole community together; and I am minded of the Eucharist I attended on one of my visits to Cirencester, when the door of the church was left wide open, and I felt strongly that it symbolised the way the church invited and embraced the town.
The sculpture of the Virgin and Child:
It seems to me that representations of Mary inevitably pose some problems within the Protestant tradition. Her role as a mediator between man and God, once so important within the Roman Catholic church, raises difficulties. Similarly, the once significant and schismatic distinction between the titles of Mother of God and Mother of Christ which led to her being viewed as “The Queen of Heaven” have evaporated, and make the traditional crowned image, still to be seen occasionally, remote. At the same time, a simple image of a mother and child can easily become one that might be any mother with any child, or at worst be sentimentalized.
In order to address these problems, I decided to present the Virgin holding a standing Christ-child by both hands, as he leans out of the niche in a position typical of a child's curiosity and fearlessness, whilst at the same time being suggestive of his crucifixion. As Mary holds him, the sculpture will be both Madonna and Child, and Pietà.
Both sculptures bear witness to the centrality of Christ, and the importance of the Incarnation.
Below is a short film produced by the Barn Theatre Company in Cirencester which gives some of the background details of this project.