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The Bible and the Visual Imagination.
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Imaging the Bible

New work by students and staff with material from the School of Art Collection

1 April – 9 May 2008
School of Art, Aberystwyth University

An exhibition of new work by present and former students and staff from the School of Art at Aberystwyth University was organised by Professor John Harvey to coincide with the Imaging the Bible Project Conference.

The exhibition was curated by Professor Harvey jointly with Martin Crampin and Dr John Morgan-Guy from the Imaging the Bible in Wales Project Team. The works on display included new work in a variety of media – painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture, embroidery and projection – and a selection of biblical work from the School of Art's own extensive collections. Thus the exhibition included work by Blair Hughes Stanton, David Jones, Eric Gill, Vera Law and Christine Penn alongside contemporary artworks, offering a wide variety of interpretations of a range of biblical themes and texts.

Digital print by Martin Crampin.
Martin Crampin, The Vision of the Four Living Creatures, 2008. Photographs of other artworks representing the four creatures, gathered during the Imaging the Bible in Wales Project, were also projected onto the canvas.

Introduction to the Exhibition

by John Morgan-Guy

A few years ago Archbishop Rowan Williams wrote ‘If it is really as hard as it seems to speak with integrity about God in our current cultural climate [then] some things can only be said by parody, by “near-misses” of religious utterance.’ Parody seems to be a strange word to use, with its overtones of travesty and distortion, but what the archbishop means is that in an era in which the concept of ‘sacred’ is increasingly unfamiliar to many and already incomprehensible to some, the artist has the opportunity to provoke questions – questions about traditional interpretations of religious narratives – by, as he says, reworking them ‘sometimes in disturbingly subversive forms’. The artist has the opportunity to move away from the predictable and the conventional and through ‘parodic religious art’ throw new light upon, and give fresh insight, into the original narrative that is the source of his or her inspiration. We may be thereby, as Rowan Williams says, helped to ‘understand [that] original narrative in a way that is not stale or merely pious’.

The works included in this exhibition have been created – and have been chosen – because they do throw new light upon the Biblical narratives. In some cases the subject matter is immediately recognisable and accessible to the believer but at the same time it is provocative of questions and certainly neither stale nor merely pious. This is as true of those works selected from the School of Art’s own collection, by, for example, Blair Hughes-Stanton, Ian Grainger, Gwyn Watkins, Chris Penn and Handel Evans, as it is of those works submitted by the students, postgraduates, staff and alumni of the School, and seen here for the very first time.

Martin O’Kane has recently reminded us that the Bible ‘abounds in vivid descriptions of landscapes, people and events, expressed in language designed to appeal to the reader’s visual imagination’ and that that language easily and naturally translates into visual art. Indeed, one can go so far as to say that the visual art is much more than merely illustrative; it forms a ‘parallel text’ to the narrative itself. All the artists represented in this exhibition are in different ways enriching and expanding that parallel text. The artist is like the householder in Jesus’ teaching (Matthew 13:52) ‘which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old’.

We hope that you will find this exhibition illuminating, provocative, far from predictable or stale – but, above all, that you will enjoy it.

Imaging the Bible 2008 Conference | Aberystwyth University School of Art

Watercolour with pen and ink by Christopher Iliff.
Christopher Iliff, The Great Beast, 2008