30th June 2020
NEWSLETTER 3- David Tress: Churches in the Landscape
For as long as I have been painting I have also been visiting churches – not so much for festivals, services and other events that take place in them, but more often when I find myself passing by on a quiet week day, and I am able to spend time absorbing the filtered light of the interior and the story of the church’s past which is revealed in its interior details and its exterior construction.
Cathedrals, of course, are breathtaking and magnificent architectural and engineering masterworks in stone but my greatest fascination is with small parish churches. Whereas cathedrals are usually built from stone imported from a considerable distance – Caen or Portland stone are good examples – small parish churches are literally rooted to the landscape in which they stand, built out of the materials that surround them whether that be local stone and slate in Wales or splendid mixtures of flint, red tile and thatch in East Anglia.
The history of the church will be revealed in its styles of stonework, arch and window, and also in the materials used. Alton Barnes in Wiltshire sports a jaunty red brick chancel proudly dated 1748 which is attached to a Saxon stone nave. Such modest parish churches may show clear evidence of the wider patterns of social and economic history.
Occasionally a medieval ‘doom’ board showing the Day of Judgement will be found above the chancel arch: saved souls are shown being led to paradise whilst sinners are herded into the mouth of Hell by monstrous devils. More likely any doom board will have been replaced by a royal coat of arms from the centuries after the Reformation. The church may retain clear window glass and box pews from the eighteenth century, an expression of both protestant simplicity and an increasingly successful property-owning middle class as at Molland on the southern edge of Exmoor. By contrast Blisland Church near Bodmin Moor – a favourite of John Betjeman – has a wonderfully extravagant rood screen created at the end of the nineteenth century, an effusive expression of late Victorian religiosity.
Often a church visit is as much about the people, places and landscapes discovered on the way as it is about the destination itself. Perhaps a chance meeting with vicar or rector, or – more usually – a lady arranging flowers will enliven the visit with some local stories of the church, village and surrounding area. The church building itself is a demonstration of the village life and community – evidence of changing political, social and religious tides and the ebb and flow of prosperity and hard times.
All these things are a trigger to my interest in making drawings and paintings of churches, but in particular the look and feel of a church, the way in which it sits in its landscape and the visual and textural quality of the building are the spur to making a painting. Even more important than this is the simple ‘feel’ of the church – how does it feel to sit quietly inside allowing my eye to trace the patterns of sunlight from the windows falling on pews or Harvest Festival offerings. Whether I am returning to a favourite and much-visited country church, or on a brief visit to a newly explored area of Britain, it is this ‘resonance’ that more than anything makes me want to record the experience in paint.
See images of David’s work here
To see a short film about the exhibition click here