61. "What are some of your favourite prayer paintings?"
GOD'S GLORIOUS NATURE
Some of my favourite prayer paintings are some of the least well-known: various images of the Godhead as fire and glory. These might appear to have little to offer to some viewers who prefer to be moved by 'Christ the Bridge', or 'The Abyss', or 'The Whole Church praises God', for example. But the images which illustrate the nature and power of God evoke, for me, memories of those specific encounters with God in prayer in which He has revealed to me His glory and beauty. Sometimes He has done so by showing me just the glory of Himself as the Father, or as the Son, or as the Holy Spirit. And on other occasions He has revealed something of the life of the Holy Trinity, in its movement yet its stillness, it's intimacy yet its universal love, and its capacity to delight, to embrace, to purify and to bring to ecstasy all who enter that Eternal Home.
IN ADMIRATION AND PRAISE
Each picture of this type makes me want to fall down in adoration before God, or else makes me want to go around crying out to others about the importance of loving God, and not wasting our time on earth. On the other hand, all the other pictures give me joy; they make me marvel at God's wisdom in teaching me in such an extraordinary way. I'm more and more awe-struck by His charity, in caring so much about us all, and at His mercy in using me to do this Work. But I prefer the pictures about Himself to all others, though even pictures about God do not in fact picture God, for no-one has seen Him. I mean, no-one has seen God the Father, though some of us have been privileged beyond dreams to have seen the light of the Holy Spirit, and to have 'seen' Jesus in prayer, and even Jesus's Holy Mother Mary, and the Saints and Angels.
62. "Are there some paintings that you wish you could have spent more time on?"
QUALITY OR QUANTITY
On an ordinary level, I could say that I wish I could have spent more time on some of the paintings. But I'm comforted to know that I did what I could manage, at the time; and I know it's better, in this particular task, to produce two thousand pictures (let us say) that teach a lot, and are also of a fairly high standard, than only a thousand pictures, which I might have developed to an extraordinary degree in a painterly sense, but only because I had left unrecorded half of the images the Lord had given me to share with other people. To have paused over-long in a sort of painterly self-absorption, experimenting with technique for personal satisfaction, would have led to my forgetting to some degree what the whole Work is 'for'.
I hope I've been able to make mostly 'good' pictures; but I am definitely glad to know that I've been able to keep painting until the present day. I really hope I'll be able to finish recording all of the images that Christ has given to me. But if I can't, I hope I'll accept the fact, and be content.
63. "Were there some prayer-paintings that were particularly difficult to paint in oils, and if so, why?"
A NEW CHALLENGE
Some prayer-paintings have been more difficult to do than others, for quite ordinary reasons. The first is that when I began them, it was necessary to paint things I'd never painted before in my entire life, in any form. When an image was given to me in prayer which consisted of the crucified Christ, with His arms outstretched, like a bridge, in His own body bridging a chasm, as miniature people walk across Him to Heaven, I was able to paint a realistic 'copy' of what the Lord had shown me. Figure painting was not foreign to me; and any artist knows what a chasm or precipice looks like, and can convey its width and depth with a few strokes of a brush. But when the Lord revealed Himself to me in glory, or showed me an image of the whole of Heaven, with half-seen figures covering the whole area, in veils of light, I had to pause, and work out how to proceed.
There are no previous images in my memory of such things, to give me hints of how to paint them; I mean that the people in my visions were not like Fra Angelico's neatly-robed figures, or Giotto's sensible townsfolk. They were far more insubstantial, as if lit from within. I usually saw them only for a brief instant; so I had to paint from a brief memory; and I had no experience to draw on, in painting Heavenly things and people, whether streams of light, degrees of glory, haloes and aurioles, angels' wings, or the darkness which encircles the light of the radiant Godhead. So my first few dozen large religious oils were painted in a tentative, experimental way, as I learned how to achieve one effect or another which I had never tried to achieve before. Inevitably, I did not always succeed.
Some of the earlier pictures irritate me, when I look back at them, because I can see the flaws. I know I could achieve certain effects more proficiently now. Yet each of them exists as a long-ago record or interpretation of what I first recorded, of the same image, in monochrome water-colour. So I am not ashamed of them - just glad that I have now become more experienced in this sort of work.
Pictures are sometimes difficult to do when the Lord gives me a visual analogy to paint and share, using types of subject-matter that it has never occurred to me to paint, such as horses, or space-craft, or kitchen utensils. For example, He has shown me an image of two spacecraft a few feet apart from one another in space, manoeuvring into position so that they can dock. This was an illustration from the Lord of a very clear, soundless 'teaching' about union with God. The Lord was explaining that we cannot achieve a profound union with Heaven unless we approach God the Father with open hearts, in a particular manner shown to us by Him. This means approaching in humility, through Jesus His Son, in reverence and gratitude, just as carefully as people who manoeuvre spacecraft, and who know that it's a supremely important procedure.
We show little respect for God if we merely 'throw' in His direction an occasional and haphazard glance, when we feel in the mood. There are hundreds more of such teachings, many illustrated in unusual ways. I must suppose that the Lord knows these will encourage people to sit up and take notice, in modern times, through modern images, of age-old truths about the spiritual life, and salvation. But I have little experience of painting space-craft, so I do the best I can.
INCREASING PHYSICAL WEAKNESS
There is one further reason why some pictures have been difficult to paint; and I'm only going to mention this because it will help people to realise, first, why I no longer paint in oils, and, secondly, why I have not always taken as much care over individual pictures as I would have liked, but have 'rushed' some of them in order to move on to the next. The problem has been my health, or, more specifically, muscular weakness deriving from spine damage.
When I began the first oil 'Mass Paintings' in about 1988 I was reasonably strong. I was able to prime a large number of plywood panels, each about 40" x 30", and to cover the surface with oils, in huge sweeping strokes, until I achieved the effect I wanted. Or I could reach up and spend time on little details that would 'pull together' the whole picture. But within a few years I was weaker. That's why I later began to use hardboard panels, not plywood, and in a smaller size (approximately 24" x 18") and continued to do so until about the year 2000, when I was about to begin a new series. I planned to paint several dozen 'Holy Trinity' oil paintings, to put in a book.
The Lord had just asked me to produce a book of His 'Holy Trinity' teachings and illustrations. I was glad to do this, and was sure that it would be a more interesting book if I did coloured versions of the images, for it. But I knew I had not sufficient strength to be able to cover the surface of my recent hardboard panels. It had been more and more necessary, in recent times, to put down my brush until I recovered enough strength to complete a picture. So I reduced the size once again. I spend a year producing about seventy small oils of Holy Trinity images. Each was on a mere 16" x 20" panel; and there were no longer several layers of paint.
I had no energy for glazing, scumbling, or pressing on to achieve new efforts. My whole aim was to put down an image, in colour, as swiftly and efficiently as I could; so I inevitably lost something in the process. But that was the choice I had to make: whether to stop painting, or to continue, knowing that little of what I was doing would match the glory and even grandeur of some of the first large oils.
Another stage came, when I was unable to hold my arm in the air, with a brushload of oil paint, for very long; and that's when I had just become involved in writing a book for children about the Mass. I was planning to illustrate it with images that the Lord had given me; so it seemed wise to put my oil paints away for a while and to devise a new plan. I resolved to continue producing every prayer-image from the Lord in monochrome water-colour, as usual, since when I work in water-colour I am looking downwards, holding my arm downwards, across the paper, not up in the air, as with oils. And from now on I was going to paint every especially-exciting image as a full-colour water-colour, instead of a full-colour oil. And of those new coloured water-colours, I would use a few dozen for my childrens' book.
SITTING AT MY DESK
That's why I packed all my oil paints and equipment into a huge storage box, and tried to forget about the special effects I can achieve in oil, such as the thin veils of colour that let other layers show through, in a way I cannot exactly reproduce in water-colour. It was a sensible decision, but perhaps I'll open the box again one day to do something really special. Meanwhile, it's been very satisfying to sit at my desk and do water-colours day after day without reaching the former degree of exhaustion.
An unexpected facet of my work is that it is now shared with other people more through the Internet, and through posters and postcards, than by further exhibitions of the originals. We have drawn back from such exhibitions for the present, because of a lack of secure venues, and the risk of damage to the oil surfaces. A mere scratch on one of my smooth-surfaced oil paintings shows up as boldly as a scar, whereas a blow to a picture by another artist in another style would scarcely be seen. My point is that when the images are reproduced and enlarged, few people are concerned about the size of the original work; and the reproductions seem to succeed in what the Lord wants them to do, which is to convey spiritual truths in a new way, in a pictorial catechism - so I'm grateful for that; and I'm grateful that even after all this 'scaling-down' I am still able to produce something recognisable, colourful, and instructive, and representative of the original image given to me in prayer.
64. "You say that in recent years you have painted more full-colour religious water-colours and fewer oil paintings. Can you go into more detail about the different effects you get with the different paints?"
Now that I've completed at least two hundred full-colour water-colours - instead of coloured oil versions of the images - I've discovered that each medium has advantages in putting across the Lord's messages. The oils thrilled me because of the fine 'veils' of colour I could brush across underlying hues. I could also blend one colour with another, in side-by-side panels, in a way I cannot exactly reproduce in water-colours. Yet nothing can match the amazing speed of water-colour work - despite my having to wait for certain areas to dry; and the clarity of colour is magnificent, in water-colour pigments mixed with clean water, at full strength.
Many decades ago, I studied some examples of water-colours by John Sell Cotman, and others. Those landscapes were exquisite. But I couldn't understand why British water-colour works were mostly brown, or grey, or certainly dull green, or dull blue, when British portraitists such as John Singer Sergeant and Augustus John, using oils, delivered striking harmonies and exciting contrasts. Was water-colour meant to be used only for tame, quiet, modest little images - perhaps mostly by women, who could pursue it as a gentle hobby? Were oils only suitable for others, mostly men, who would produce pictures as bright, bold and brash as the painters' own lives? I didn't know then; but I know now that an artist has the freedom to use any medium he or she can, to get across to others a message that is worth delivering. And this is what other artists have discovered in recent decades, as they have used emulsion paint, video film, or collage, or new versions of mixed media to produce images that educate, amuse, entertain or provoke thought, without those artists feeling guilty for having failed to conform to past artistic traditions.
I must digress a bit, to qualify what I've just said. Not all materials used in modern art are acceptable, in my view; nor are all of the images acceptable. A gift of communication through marks and images can be used for evil as well as for good, to corrupt as well as to enlighten; so I think we ought not to say that a painter can do anything he likes. As a spiritual and moral being, his decisions should be informed, I believe, by his fundamental, worthwhile beliefs - even decisions about what to paint, and to what lengths he should go to achieve his artistic aims.
65. "How long do the full-colour water-colours take you to do?"
The simplest of my full-colour water-colours consists of a faint drawing, with two or three applications of transparent watercolour washes superimposed. I suppose that a simple drawing takes me only a minute to do. A wash cannot take longer than a minute - and I never have to wait for longer than a few hours for the whole surface to dry between washes - or merely an hour or two if I have only a small area to cover with a new wash. So the actual painting takes just a few minutes. Furthermore, in water-colour, as well as in oils, I like to work on several pictures at once. This means that I can work on two or three in succession, whilst a few others dry between washes.
If I have a complicated water-colour to do, I follow the same procedure, but the time taken is longer. A picture with hundreds of faces might take an hour to draw. When I need to use many different hues for faces, figures, clothing, background and rays of light - as well as whole paper washes underneath - I have a lot of waiting to do, as I let each wash dry naturally. Some painters use a hair-drier on the paper; but I rarely do so, as this alters the patterns of granulation made by various pigments, which are an interesting feature of water-colour work. Yet it remains true that the water-colours are astonishingly quick to do, compared with the oil paintings. So there are special advantages, as I said, with each medium.
To digress again for a moment, I know that some water-colourists love to paint in a deliberately 'messy' way, letting the colours meet and mingle, and letting the resulting 'accidents' dictate the end result. My way, however, is to plan in advance exactly how the painting will look. After all, my aim is to reproduce an image given to me, and not to distort it very much. So I don't really want 'happy accidents', though I do sometimes plan, and execute, special areas of mingling, so that the picture surface is a little more subtle and exciting.
Instead of filling in a background area with cadmium orange, I might apply a wash of transparent yellow, then, while it is still wet, drop in some puddles of very diluted permanent carmine, here and there, to produce a mottled effect. This can serve as a sort of counterpoint to other areas of the picture which are very plain. And there are many more ways of using colour that I've never explained to anyone but have just discovered by myself or picked up through art magazines or exhibitions.
66. "Do you think your experience of portrait painting helped in being able to draw human figures in the 'prayer paintings'?"
LACK OF MODELS
The life-class which I attended in the late 1970s proved to be marvellously useful as well as interesting. Much of my time there was spent in producing sketches of models in two-minute poses. I had to learn how to capture a pose with just a few lines or a minimal indication of shadow-areas. With that facility, and with much practice in straightforward figure painting, I found it easier than I'd expected, when I had to reproduce the various figures that the Lord showed me in prayer. Yet I still had one specific disadvantage.
In prayer, the Lord usually gives me an image only for a brief moment. I remember it, and make a sketch of it later in the day, or even a few weeks later on. But neither when I sketch it nor when I do a large version of it, later on, do I have a model in front of me. I do not have a person before me wearing beautifully arranged drapery - just a memory of what was shown for a short time. And that is why some of the figures are not as well-drawn as if I'd had a model before me; and some of the drapery is more rudimentary or grace-less than if I had had a tableau to work from.
67. "Since 2001, you have had solo exhibitions of your religious artwork each year in London. Are you happy to be able to share the paintings in this way with people?"
In 2001 I exhibited some original religious oils in London, though not putting any for sale. Since 2001, my children have been very generous with their time, and their ideas, as they have become involved in 'Radiant Light'. That is why, after consulting me, and asking permission of the priest in charge they have hung reproductions of some of my paintings in the French Church in London, for a few weeks in each summer. This has been solely to inspire people, so it has been thrilling to have permission from the priest, and to see the children make these arrangements, so that people who wish to do so can meditate on the pictures in a prayerful atmosphere. It's in my nature to want to share what I find beautiful, or moving, or instructive; and it is also what the Lord wants. He did not indicate the specific venue, but He providentially made it possible; and now I am seeing the fulfilment of the promises He made to me many years ago. One of those was that He would make the pictures widely-known.
Christ said that there was no need for me to worry about being able to share the pictures widely to nurture people in the Faith. All I had to do was to be obedient to His plans, and share the pictures where and when I could, confident that He would crown my little efforts with success. This didn't mean commercial success, since none of the originals is for sale; and the reproductions we offer through 'Radiant Light' - which as well as a Movement is also a publishing company set up by my children to handle my recent work - are sold at no profit to ourselves as individuals.
TO BRING ENCOURAGEMENT
Christ meant that He would succeed in bringing the work to the attention of millions of people, to encourage them in the Catholic Faith; and I can now see that His plan is well underway. Remember, when I first began showing the images, I knew nothing about the Internet - although the Lord knew. I also had no idea that my whole family would volunteer to become involved with the work, and that my children would shoulder a huge burden of administration and communication that I would have been incapable of carrying.
68. "When you were in your twenties, did you think that you might end up doing mostly religious artwork one day?"
IN THE PRESENT MOMENT
When I was young I had no idea that I would ever do this sort of work. When I was a child, and then when I was a young woman, I lived entirely in the present moment. It seemed to be a natural capacity in me. Although I would become wildly excited if I was told about a special event ahead, or a special reward or celebration, and would even speak with impatience about having to wait, this phase never lasted for long. I was soon engrossed in one project or another, perhaps because I gave myself entirely to whatever I was doing. I was incapable of doing things half-heartedly. So when I was busy, it did not occur to me to look ahead; and if I happened to be idle - which was a rare occurrence - I was quite incapable of dreaming up different scenarios, as some people do, about future jobs, or marriage, and working out how to make them happen.
If I had a yearning for what I couldn't have, as a child, I dismissed it; and my ideas and yearnings changed day by day, according to circumstances; so I had no private ambitions of any weight, nor any single, burdensome sense of disappointment. Life provided a succession of limited, changing hopes, genuine joys, and a good feeling that anything at all could happen: that life was full of surprises, good as well as bad. As I've already said, I had no capacity for invention; and I was brought up by a good father whose main delight was in logical thought, and encouraging his children to be logical. And since none of us knows the future, I would have thought it merely a waste of time to 'picture' things that might never come about, or could never come about. When horrible changes came, I grimly suffered them. When delightful opportunities arose, I was thrilled at a new adventure.
TRAINED TO BE 'SENSIBLE'
I asked my father, when I was nearly fifteen, if I could have a guitar for my birthday, and was overjoyed when he agreed that we could just afford one. It was terrific fun to master the chords, and take it to gatherings of friends. This was in the days when we still sat around singing, rather than listening. But I never sat and dreamed of playing to a great number of people, or wishing I had an even better singing voice. And if my Dad had said 'No' to my request, I would have accepted the news that we couldn't afford that present. I was not good, or patient; but I had been trained to be 'sensible'.
I loved foreign travel, and camping, and learning the guitar, and French poetry. But when I was young I was not the sort of person who planned and worked to make things happen in accordance with something she had pictured or dreamed of. I wondered if I could become a singer - but knew we had no money for singing lessons. As an Anglican youngster, I sang in the church and the school choirs, but could not visualise the future. Until I was about fourteen I was also attracted by the idea of being a missionary; but when I was told there were no answers to all my questions about Church and Protestant Christianity I became disillusioned.
It was also exciting to have parts in the school plays; so, for a while, I wanted to be an actress. Though I was too shy to speak, when introduced to my parents' colleagues, I had no such timidity when I had lines to speak on stage. And I had other yearnings. I knew, for example, that I would one day like to be married and have babies; and I believed I would never tire of painting. But each idea or ambitious thought was pushed aside by what was actually absorbing my attention in each present moment. It did not occur to me to say to myself: "What would it be like if this were to happen, and how can I make it happen?"
A GREAT CHANGE
When I grew up and was married, and was very happy nearly all the time, I still had no burning ambitions. I felt completely fulfilled by our way of life, and was busy at work, and cooking and socialising, until I was ill for a while - and, later, had a baby. Then a huge and unexpected change occurred in my life. It made unlikely the pursuit of any private ambition, and completely ruled out the pursuit of any long term selfish enterprise.
When I was young, I always had God my Creator somewhere in my thoughts: on the fringes, even when I had more-or-less stopped attending my Anglican church and praying at fifteen; but He came to the heart of my soul and life about a year after I was married. It was a time when I had realised that I did indeed believe the basics of the Christian message, and that it would be worthwhile to pray, and to explore Christian teachings. For the first time in my life I read books about Christianity because I freely chose to do so, not because I was nagged by a well-meaning adult.
By 1968, when I was received into full Communion with the Catholic Church, I had a new outlook on life. It stemmed from my new desire to please God in everything. From then on, I was sometimes appalled at the difficulties that arose both from my own nature, and from trying to live as a good Christian in every circumstance; yet my burning desire at every moment was to do God's Will, wherever that led me, and whatever it cost me. My natural instincts were in tune with much of what I saw would be requested of me. I knew that a Christian woman is supposed to fulfil her basic duties towards her husband and children before any personal ambitions of her own, just as a good husband should make time for his wife and children before taking up numerous hobbies. I also learned that it's a virtue to live entirely in the 'present moment', which is the only moment we have in which to show our love for God, and for our neighbour; so for these reasons I continued as before, occasionally able to enjoy the knowledge that one joyful event or another might occur some day; but for the whole of every day I was usually totally focused upon my present occupation, and content to live as I was living.
EXTRA DOMESTIC DUTIES
Just as few young persons can picture themselves as growing old and dying, so, when I was young, I could not imagine being middle-aged. I was incapable, too, of picturing what the children might do in the future. I had no ambitions for them, except that they would be kind people, and happy, in whatever way God allowed.
As far as art was concerned, I've already told how I found it necessary to fit it in here and there, and sometimes give it up altogether; so in my logical way I didn't waste time with regrets, when I was burdened with extra domestic duties. To dream impossible dreams would have been to make myself discontented or frustrated; and that, in my view, would have been not just a waste of time but a show of ingratitude to God for the good things I already had in my life. Besides, I preferred to trust in God that if He wanted me to paint He would make it possible. It's important for us all to realise that God is very generous with His gifts, not stingy; and it's not necessary for us to 'follow-up' every gift, and make a career of it, or prove something about our abilities.
It is inevitable, in an ordinary life, that some of our gifts are going to be left undeveloped, or 'put on the back burner'. Meanwhile, the Lord had already allowed me amazing joy, through marriage and motherhood. And He had promised me, as a member of His Church, the possibility of close union with Himself in this life, and perfect joy and sanctity with Him in the next life, if I persevered. And I believed in those promises. So I was hardly short of 'dreams'; indeed, my hopes and expectations were greater than anything connected with the art world; so that's partly why, I suppose, I was content to wait for life to unfold, without my feeling that it was unjust that I had few opportunities to paint.
69. "Do you think that beauty and truth are important in art, and how are they expressed in your paintings?"
THE TRUTH ABOUT AN OBJECT
If I look back with care, I can now see that both truth and beauty have been important to me in my painting, even as a child. I remember the satisfaction I had on a French exchange holiday when I painted a neat little water-colour of a green jug, in Tante Madeleine's flat in Rouen. I revelled in the 'truth' of it: in the fact that I had placed, in two dimensions, something of the coolness and simplicity of the jug, and in the fact that in doing this, and in taking the picture away with me, I was able to 'take away' something of the jug. It's difficult to explain, as this is the first time I've analysed my thoughts then; but I realise that I was awed by my ability, yet amazed that it was so easy. I really thought that anyone who tried could surely draw and paint, just as most of us can ride a bicycle or bake a cake.
TRUTHS ABOUT LIFE
My religious paintings, too, are 'truthful', in that each conveys something true about human nature, or God's glory, or the trials and surprises of the spiritual journey. And, all together, I believe - though some people will disagree with me - they present a true picture of what life is 'about'. That is what a Catechism is for, after all. It is to explain who we are, and why we exist, Whom we serve, and what sort of life we can enjoy if we put our trust in God the Father, through His Son Jesus Christ, and allow the Holy Spirit to transform us. In my sight, the pictures tell the truth about what we can be.
BEAUTY IN NATURE
The matter of beauty is simpler to explain. Since early childhood I've been moved to smiles and even to tears, by beauty. Today, I thank God, for the beauty in nature. My delight in nature began in the time when we searched the lanes for blackberries, near our flat in Slough. As I discovered hazel-nuts too, and conkers, and the old-man's-beard which decorated the hedges - and autumn leaves, frosted windowpanes, and flowers, and yellow fields in the summer sun - I've been entranced by their beauty. There's always more to discover, wherever we look; and I've always yearned to capture such beauty in paint, to share it with other people. It is sometimes thought that artists are 'show-offs', whereas the truth is that we are simply people who love to share our joy. We like to bring other people to see whatever glorious sight we have seen, to make them happy too. This is not always appreciated; so we have to learn to stand back a bit, and not to expect instant opinions, or agreement about the nature of beauty.
With my own innate set of ideas, partly shaped by my own culture and background and preferences, I liked painting not just flowers but also beautiful faces, babies, huge skies, and still-lifes with their mouth-watering fruits and polished surfaces. As I said, there's no end to what we can find, of beauty, wherever we look. But I feel I must return to the subject of truth, to explain a U-turn I made in art when I was about sixty years old.
DIVINE BEAUTY, TO SHARE
Long ago, it seemed to me that the main aim of art was to 'share' beautiful things, and to give joy in that way. But a time came, to my astonishment, when Christ, my God, gave me thousands of images about the most important subjects of all: about our spiritual life, our salvation history, about God our Father and the Holy Spirit - and about life after death. Many of these images were very beautiful, as given to me in their economy and simplicity; others, I made beautiful, by my careful use of colour. Yet interspersed amongst the many attractive images have been a number of horrible images of demons, and evil souls, and Hell. For many years I did not record these in any medium, though I never forgot them. I rarely forget an image. I have a 'lop-sided' memory, which means that I can mentally hold and 'sort through' thousands of images, including visual memories of about the whole of my life so far; yet it can take me months to remember a phone number - unless I arrange the digits to make a pattern or a picture, in which case my problem is solved. I can remember that just as I remember a painting.
Only when several years had passed, and when the Lord had told me that He was giving me an entire Catechism-in-pictures, primarily to help people in the Church, did I think again about those sad images, and re-evaluate them. My aim until then, in art, had been never to depress anyone, or pain them, by my gift, or force them to look at ugliness or horror. That was the main reason why I even became reluctant to do the cartoons and caricatures I had found it so easy to do from time to time. But now I found that the sad pictures were parts of the 'Catechism' I was being given.
PARTS OF THE WHOLE WORK
I had never doubted that they were from God. I had never told anyone about these visions, let alone painted them. But as I saw the growth of the whole body of work, I had to face the fact that art must be about truth as well as beauty. Life is not all about pretty pictures - neither earthly life nor life after death. And just as there has been a place for Goya's war pictures, Picasso's shocking 'Guernica', and even Toulouse Lautrec's extraordinarily sad but beautiful pictures of prostitutes, so there has been a place too for mediaeval scenes of Heaven and Hell, and, now, I have to say, a tiny place for my modern images of distressing subjects.
What use is a Catechism if large parts of it have been left out: precisely the parts that will help some people to realise that the Christian Faith matters? Jesus came down from Heaven, and endured all the agony of life on earth, in order to teach and save us: to save us from Hell, which is utter alienation from God. Jesus Himself spoke about the rewards that will be given to good people, and the punishment to be inflicted upon the wicked; so how can I say that I am doing the special work of 'illumination' that He has given me to do, in pictures, if I decide to leave out the unpleasant ones, and have a distress-free version of the truth?
That's what those thoughts were all about: Truth. Pontius Pilate once asked Jesus: "What is truth?" But now I knew the truth about my work: that it is my duty to put down what the Lord has shown me, and to trust that all the images will be used one day in a way that fits in with His overall plan: beautiful images to give encouragement and hope, and a few sad images to serve as warnings against persevering in evil ways.
That is why, in about 2004, I made about thirty small water-colours of the principle sad subjects, and filed them with all the joyful pictures: for the cause of truth.
IMAGERY, NOT REALITY
I must explain, however, that the sad images are precisely that: images, only. No picture of Hell, or devils, can capture the awful reality, just as no image of Heaven, or God, can possibly convey their glory and beauty. But just as the Lord wants to remind the Church of His goodness through pictorial as well as scholarly and oratorical means, so He wants to remind the Church of the danger of evil, for the sake of our souls; and here too He sometimes uses pictorial means - none of which is more than an image, but none of which is as horrible as the spiritual reality which He wants us to avoid.
The Lord sees it as a merciful thing for people to tell the truth in appropriate ways, whether about family life, or bodily health, or spiritual danger; and now that I've realised that, I've recorded almost everything I've been given in prayer.
70. "Who are some of your favourite artists now?"
There's a list of some of my favourite artists earlier in this interview, many of whom tackled sad subjects as well as joyful; yet in recent years I've come to appreciate a few more painters, as I've managed to go to galleries more frequently than when the children were small. I relish the work of El Greco, which seems almost 'impressionist' to me as well as poignant and beautiful. Amongst more modern painters I now appreciate Matisse, and even Bonnard, whose work seemed unfinished, to me, in earlier years; and I am thrilled to have discovered the early work done by Derain - though he later painted mostly in shades of brown - and the colourful early work of Kandinsky, who later moved determinedly into abstraction.
Now and again I've had further pleasant surprises, coming across Morandi's monumental still-lifes, some very simple works by Gary Hume, and beautiful scenes by Donald Hamilton-Fraser. I like a handful of Turner's paintings, and some by Kirchner,and even some of Allen Jones' work, though for his skill as a colourist, not for his subject-matter. Many consist of Monroe-ish women in five-inch stilettos. They are beautifully-drawn, but not what I want to imitate.