7th March – 26th April 2011
Glass and Golgotha
As you enter from the West Porch of the cathedral, there it is: Derek
Culley’s Golgotha on the Nave
Bridge above the Well.
Golgotha comprises fourteen paintings
on a single piece of canvas 30 feet long by 59 inches high. The paintings
are distinct – separated by white – but related by technique
and symbolism. All have hard-edged motifs but some are stronger, darker
than others. The remoteness of the work has its own impact: distance gives
clarity and we get the experience of it as a whole whilst also perceiving
the different bursts of movement and colour which give each panel its
If you try to read the painting from left to right as we in our culture
are prone to do the four on the left have elegiac mauves; the ones on
the right are more sure, more distinct and there is greater contrast.
Is there a movement, therefore, to clarity, solidity, certainty?
Of course, there is no reason to presume that the work should be ‘read’
The Celtic symbolism, the bright colours and the use of black echo the
stained glass windows of the cathedral. Which brings me to my point. The
use of coloured glass brought light and life and inspiration to the mediaeval
worshipper who must have marvelled at the way Bible stories were brought
to visual life. This is solar power at its most beautiful, transforming
the density of the stone walls into rainbow light. More spectacular than
the painted diptych or triptych, this was mediaeval TV changing as the
I don’t think paintings, however epic, angel-filled or gold-leafed
they are can have the impact that stained glass windows have. Not when
they share the same space. With some exceptions they can’t compete
with the scale; they can’t compete with the medium. So why are paintings
in such huge spaces? I think they represent the human scale of things
and I think the glass represents the spiritual realm. The windows are
our human endeavours to make sense of things – our paintings if
you like – lifted by the light of faith that clarifies, illuminates
and transforms everything - even the heftiest stones, the claggiest clay
of our human existence.
Golgotha was the place of skulls: the place of Christ’s crucifixion,
the scene of His most vulnerable human manifestation. I originally felt
that Derek Culley’s Golgotha shouldn’t be a painting but a
piece of stained glass: the jewel colours, the spatial plane, the abstraction,
the religious symbolism all cry out for this. But I’m no longer
sure. With the human realm and the spiritual realm it isn’t a question
of competition but of aspiration.
And Derek Culley has addressed questions of context and scale before.
A previous exhibition was in a casino which some would call the devil’s
house! His spiritual message could not compete with the worldly sensuousness
of the space, with its coloured flashing lights and temptation to excitement
and unearned wealth.
But it does have a place in God’s house.