Returning Journeys by Andrew Vessey at St Edmundsbury Cathedral


HAVING taught art for many years prior to his ordination, Andrew Vessey now uses the retreat as an extension of the many ways he can express what he believes in and the values ​​he tries to live by.

The 12 paintings which he exhibited as a “chapel within a chapel”, in St Edmund’s Chapel at St Edmundsbury Cathedral, each have accompanying text, incorporating a reflection, a poem and a prayer, all written by the ‘artist. Arranging his works in this way creates a space of contemplation where images and texts intertwine, and any attention given is prayer.

The centerpiece of the exhibition is Tribute to John Mason, the 17th-century poet whose increasingly popular hymn “How Shall I Sing This Majesty” is about the glory of God and the questioning of mankind’s faith. Vessey considers Mason “a poet whose incredible theological vision deserves better exposure”. Mason’s hymn, he suggests, opens our eyes to ideas “based on an attempt to express the inexpressible, to unravel the mystery without destroying the mystery itself.”

Vessey, whose ideas about faith and art found particular inspiration in Walter Hussey’s ministry as Dean of Chichester, thinks this is “what good poetry does, and so do we artists”: “We put words and images together so that one can begin to find a truth that is always considered at hand but that, until now, we have never been able to express for ourselves. Chez Vessey Tributea single crack of white expands or explodes into color and pulses outward from a still center to form bursts and bursts of colored light.

Many of his paintings explore the connections between biblical stories and those places in which the artist was confronted with the harsh reality of God’s presence. Many also take place in his favorite part of Suffolk, the coastal area between Southwold and Aldeburgh. It was “the scene of many childhood holidays, exerting an indelible influence on my chosen color palette and my deep love for painting and writing poetry on the River Blyth”.

Courtesy of the artistTribute to John Mason by Andrew Vessey

Breakfast at Blackshore, Southwold is the third in a series of paintings based on John 21. Responding to Christ’s invitation, the disciples find themselves having lunch with the risen Saviour, are challenged and become motivated. This stretch of the River Blyth, with fishing boats and human-sized industry, is where Vessey imagines disciples “called away from the familiar and their routines, to forge Christ-like communities from of a small rural movement”.

The natural world – through walks taken or places visited – is often the inspiration for multi-layered works incorporating multiple images that fragment or distort the picture plane, yet are unified into a larger whole. Vessey is an integrative artist, with a unitive vision, seeing God and stories intertwined in the landscape. Christ and an angel underlie many of these landscapes, as light radiates and illuminates from deep within. Pictures within pictures, paintings within paintings, are all placed in a chapel within a chapel: visual and spiritual depth held together.

Vessey’s works celebrate the natural world, while exploring the spirituality of a specific place or interpreting places as places to encounter the divine. Of these, three, including Tribute to John Mason, were conceived as potential altar paintings; images that, Vessey hopes, “could encourage reflection and a broader interest in art in the service of the Church.”

“Return Trips” runs up to November 20.

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