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Elizabeth Kwant: “Across the UK there’s an amnesia about this time in history.”

Thanks to our Sputnik Patrons, we’ve given a grant to visual artist Elizabeth Kwant. Elizabeth is a Manchester based artist, researcher and curator, who focuses her work on highly raw social issues such as colonialism, immigration detention, and modern slavery.

Her new film, ‘Volta do Mar’, continues that journey closer to home; a meditative performance focused on the interwoven histories of peoples and places in the UK, and the trauma that we find there. We asked our good friend Ally Gordon, from Morphe Arts, to find out more. We were really struck by Elizabeth’s work, and really happy that we could help bring this next piece to the finish line.

Making collaborative work, retelling important stories, and facing up to the demands of social justice are priceless processes. Why not join Patrons scheme for as little as £5/month, and we can give out more micro-grants to artists like Beth, who are taking risks to make difficult work.

Can you tell us a little about your new project, ‘Volta do Mar’?

I’ve been working on this project for a few years now, in an ongoing way. Let me backtrack a little bit to explain where I came from! Back in 2018, I spent a year in the archives of the international slavery museum in Liverpool. I spent time looking into the legacies of transatlantic slavery in the North-West of England.

So looking at the compensation which followed abolition – those plantation owners who received money for slaves; and where did that money go, basically?

That project culminated in a moving image installation, in the museum, in the transatlantic gallery, which was co-created with female survivors of modern day slavery. Through the process I had been looking at trauma, and how we hold it in our bodies; I really wanted women who had experienced a similar trauma to be able to respond to that history through their own stories.

During that time I did all that research, and in some ways it was behind the film but didn’t translate into the film itself. I wanted those women’s voices to be heard, so I didn’t go too deeply into the history around it. So I came away with all these ideas brewing! Volta do Mar comes from that period of time, where I had been researching into Cumbria, where I’m from originally – I was born in a small town called Whitehaven. 

As I began to look into the history of colonialism in Cumbria, I realised that Whitehaven was one of the most important port cities in the 18th Century, in the UK, for the trade in tobacco, and later sugar.

Often when one thinks about slavery in the UK we think about Glasgow or Bristol – so that’s an interesting part of the history in Britain.

I think with Cumbria you think of holidays, lakes, the National Trust, the picture perfect postcards! Interestingly I’ve come up against a reluctance to even look into this history, from institutions, tourist sites, even locals in some ways. Across the UK there’s an amnesia about that time in history. It’s generally not taught in schools. So I felt I wanted to somehow perform in some of these locations and places, and bring a kind of embodied presence into those spaces – particularly focused on Whitehaven.

How do you hope this project will help to highlight this part of history?

I think things work on multiple levels with art; often we’re told things in books or in a lecture style, quite a didactic way. I think artwork creates a space to engage with ideas on a heart level, an emotional level.

I really hope that my work does that, the moving image installations that I make do create a physical space as well; I like people to go in and experience the work, I particularly don’t like  showing work on a cinema screen, that sit-down, flat, passive experience. 

The last piece I made was in a circular room, and people walked in and were surrounded by women who were survivors of slavery, but who were on eye level, so they were engaging with them on an equal par.

It makes me think how art can open a space to discuss things that otherwise we can’t talk about; or to exist in a liminal space where we’re being intuitive over ideas that are difficult to comprehend.

There’s the personal aspect where I’ve been grappling with this as a white Brit; how do I authentically look at these histories in my work? Do I even have a right to? Some would say I don’t, and these issues are really complex. That’s why in the past I’ve chosen to work more collaboratively.

It’s wonderful to hear that Ruth Naomi Floyd is involved in the project, and of course Ruth often sings about her personal family story and her great great grandmother, who was treated truly awfully. Her music brings me to tears! Can you say a little more about that involvement?

I heard Ruth play the jazz flute recently! I’d been up in Cumbria filming, and thinking about the sound; I knew that I wanted to layer sounds. I really love working with found sounds; I wanted the sound of the mining machinery, because it was the coal mines in Whitehaven that exported coal to Ireland, and collected slaves from Africa afterwards. And the sound of the Solway Firth which is the sea there, next to the town.

So I have these layers of sounds that provide a base. When I heard Ruth play, it was just very evocative and emotive, and I thought that’s it

I really love to be able to collaborate with an artist of Black American heritage, whose family history is linked into the history of slavery; and also somebody who is such a wonderful advocate for racial justice. I can’t think of anybody better to put sound with the film.

So Ruth is going to be composing jazz flute. It won’t necessarily be vocals. She’ll be responding to my performances in the sites. The film is, I suppose, about lament, and in places quite ritualistic. Ruth will be responding to the history of the sites, and also the visuals of the film. And we hope that later in the year she’ll be able to actually visit the sites and respond more emotively to the history of the places.

It strikes me that a work of art of this nature, a performance of film with music, is less didactic, less instructive, but speaks to true events and can be a way to talk about things which are true, in an emotive way. Would that we had more lament in the world!

To find out more about Elizabeth and her work, follow her on Instagram, or see her website.

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Samuel O’Donnell: “It really means a lot for someone to take interest in your work.”

Thanks to Sputnik Patrons, we’ve given a grant to painter Sam O’Donnell. Alongside pursuing his own craft, Sam is a part-time church leader in Glasgow, and he approached us with a promising community project: opening a gallery space in the city centre, to exhibit local painters. We’re supporting the launch exhibition, ‘Opening’, which runs from 15th to 29th September. We asked our friend Katrina Moss—who runs the Chaiya Arts Award—to speak to Sam about how this project came about.

We love the idea of Adelaide Place church giving part of their building over to the broader creative community. As Sam says, getting exhibited in a professional gallery space means a lot to an artist, and the spirit of generosity here exemplifies what Sputnik is about. If that inspires you too, why not join Patrons scheme for as little as £5/month.. and we can give out more micro-grants to artists like Sam, who are busy blessing the place they live.

Can you introduce yourself to our readers?

Hi, I’m Sam O’Donnell, I live up in Glasgow. I’ve been here for about 10 years now; I’m from Manchester originally, and I moved here to study at Glasgow School of Art. I’m a painter, but I’m also on staff here at a city centre church called Adelaide Place Baptist Church. So I paint part-time and work for the church part-time.

So tell us a bit more about the project that Sputnik is helping to fund.

So, I’m going to be launching a new gallery space, here in the church building. It’s going to be called ‘A Place’ gallery. Sputnik is helping with the launch exhibition, the first exhibition of the gallery, from the 15th to the 29th of September. 

It’s coinciding with the Doors Open Days festival that happens in the city, where lots of buildings in the city are open to the public to explore. The exhibition has about 15 painters in it, who are based in Scotland or have significant ties to Glasgow.

The 15 artists that are taking part, are they artists that share your faith, or otherwise?

All the artists—they’re not people from the church, they’re all practising artists of varying degrees, people from all walks of life.

Are the exhibitions going to be based around a theme? And what was the catalyst behind the idea?

There’s no particular theme; this first exhibition is a group exhibition, just to get more people in the room, and get the gallery on the map a little. The idea in the future will be solo shows, with some of the artists I’ve already been talking to.

The impetus behind the galleries—it’s been a long road, an idea I’ve had for maybe 6 or 7 years. It’s coincided a little bit with what’s going on at the church, where we’ve recently completed some renovation works. So basically we have this room that’s off to the side of the church building, that’s not a liturgical space or a ‘worship’ space.

Like many artists I’m sure, straight after graduation I experienced very few opportunities. When things did finally come around, an exhibition or show I could be part of, it really meant a lot. It really means a lot to be approached, for someone to take interest in your work.

So I felt the church has the opportunity to do that, to offer something that’s generous to artists: to take interest in their work on their terms. And to do that with a gallery space that would be professional, that would make sense in the contemporary artist environment. To do that generously.

Everybody I’ve spoken to is so honoured and thrilled to be involved, so it’s been a really meaningful process.

I know from talking to artists that’s one of the hardest things—how you get connected to a gallery space, and get your work seen by a wider audience. I wondered how the church felt when you approached them about taking this space?

I’m lucky and privileged to be in a church that already values creativity and what creatives bring. I’ve been part of the church community about 10 years, and on staff for about 7 of those. My role has always been in the creative arts. So the church has already had an investment in that. And there’s always been an entrepreneurial spirit, to want to bless the city we’re part of.

So you do a mix of different styles in your own painting. What inspires your own personal creativity?

It maybe sounds strange to frame it this way, but one of the most important things for me is to make a commitment, and follow it through. When I was studying I felt like I had to make a decision to become a painter. Today there’s so many ways to be an artist, so many mediums you can work with. To make a decision to stick to one medium, and go the long distance in that art form – it’s quite a decision to make.

And so for me that’s then what inspires the creative field I’m in; I suppose I know what I’m there to do even when I’m not quite feeling it or if I don’t have any ideas. I know what I’m committed to, and that helps me to build the long distance.

In terms of my Christian faith as well, to make a lifelong step in faith is to make a decision in that way. So the things go hand in hand.

For anyone in Glasgow, you can catch the exhibition, ‘Opening’, between the 15th and 29th of September at Adelaide Place. The opening evening is Friday 15th from 6-9pm. See more at – and to support more projects like this, sign up as a Patron here!

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Jem Bunce: “In a remote place, you become smaller — everything seems bigger around you.”

With the help of our patrons community, we’ve given a grant to Cornwall visual artist Jem Bunce. Sputnik’s Jemma Mellor spoke to Jem about his new opportunity voyaging to the Outer Hebrides, with a plan to develop new artworks and see what other inspiration happens along the way!

Often the financial risk gets in the way of artists saying “yes” to the unusual and even life-changing opportunities that may come their way. Join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month – and we can help artists to take risks and detours like this one, building their craft as they go.

Jem, who are you and what do you do?

I’m Jem – I live in beautiful Cornwall, and I’m an odd-jobber and an artist!

Can you tell us about the project you’re about to embark on?

A friend of mine invited me to sail around the Inner and Outer Hebrides for two weeks. I’m just going to take my sketchbook, I’m going to draw. When I do any drawing, I don’t really know where it’s going, but I’m going to record – not just places I see, but my experience. I’ll get back with piles of paper, and maybe turn them into prints, paintings, and so on. 

It’s an experience, which I’ll record visually. And it’s apparently an incredibly beautiful place, and very remote. The plan is — if we can — we’ll go to this remote island, St Kilda. There’s now no population there. Four-hundred metre high cliffs; a huge bird population. It’ll be quite dramatic – even just the journey there!

Your work often begins with sketching on location. What particularly drew you the Scottish Isles, and the potential extremes there?

We live in a remote-ish part of the country anyway. Cornwall is absolutely beautiful, and we live right in the middle of it. Having lived in towns, in London and other places – when you live in a remote place, you become smaller because everything seems bigger around you. The sky seems bigger, the landscape seems bigger; there’s something about your connection, understanding what you see but also yourself in that environment.

Hopefully being in the Outer Hebrides will be like that, to the next degree. I think the subject matter is “me”, and the experience of being there.

You’ll sketch locations but then bring it all back into the studio. Is there something that changes in that transition?

It’s an open-ended journey when you start out on a drawing. Sometimes I make things difficult for myself — or arguably easier — I set myself targets: ”five drawings in twenty-five minutes” or something, where I don’t have time to think. So I’m making intuitive, quick marks —and then the sketchbook will lie closed for a few months, maybe a year. When I come back to it, I’m reacting to that drawing, to the marks I’ve made. 

In terms of art and faith, where does that come in for you?

Creation is, certainly, completely extravagant. God is just this extraordinary creator; everything’s just crazy and intricate and diverse. And then God says ‘I want you to create, as well’… we’ve got something of his creative nature in us. That in itself is a legitimate reason for being. At a basic level, that’s where my faith comes into it.

Also, painting is really hard; I genuinely go into it saying “God, will you help me..” When I’m looking at nature, I can actually talk to the person who made it — that’s crazy! This amazing relationship with the creator, this glorious sense of connection — that informs my work.

Follow Jem Bunce on Instagram, or see his website.

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Janet Kutin: Reality with weirdness creeping in

Our patrons community has helped us to give a grant to illustrator, animator and storyteller, Janet Kutin—aka the INKtrovert—whose meditative approach to her illustration comes through in vivid, multi-layered characters. Janet approached us with a very personal project, giving her the opportunity to expand into writing along with her illustrations, to produce a “small, but personally ambitious” anthology.

We often find artists have passion projects locked away in them just waiting for the opportunity to be expressed, and these can often be incredibly moving, full-blooded works that shed light on the world around us. Join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month – and we can keep supporting artists like Janet who have even more hidden depths to show us all.

Hi Jae. Can you introduce yourself to our good readers.

Hey, I’m ‘The INKtrovert’… but yes, more commonly known as Jae… and also sometimes Janet. I’m a film-obsessed Storyteller that’s been trading (and hiding) under that not-so-covert-personally-trait brand name for about 10 years now, having started during University—but long before that, I was telling stories in my journals and on the covers of my school books.

You’re an Illustrator, an Animator, but most of all a Storyteller. How do these elements come together in your practice?

They get involved with each other, because although my role has mainly been illustrating, concepts naturally branch out. I usually have specific ideas that I don’t want to be limited.

I personally use animation and writing in varied ways, or collaborate with others, rather than execute certain parts of a project myself—because I have a healthy awareness of where I lack in my abilities. It really depends on the project, but Illustration is my primary practice—I know it very well. Some briefs, whether self-initiated or not, call for an extension of myself so that’s why I chose the title Storyteller. It neatly explains what I do, but also sparks intrigue because the word can mean something different to everyone, resulting in more questions about my work, which is not bad.

You have the ability to be able to give even simply drawn characters real personality. What is your process regarding creating engaging characters through your work?

My process is slow and probably seems unnecessarily long to most people. By that I mean I delight in studying characteristics, researching beyond what I am seeing and including salient themes or elements even if it is a simple task; I meditate on them, if that makes sense. I love hiding motifs and small but (to me) significant details in my work that may appear random to some. To be honest, I don’t think I can fully articulate how I give ‘life’ to some of my drawings—I think that’s just how I see them in my head so they actually look normal to me! I guess my artistic expression mixed with years of skill-learning has developed a collectively weird, familiar method to my making.

It’s a privilege to be able to support a new project you’re working on through our patrons scheme. Can you talk us through it?

So this project started years ago when I was having a bit of a rough time in all areas of my life. When something like this happens, I tend to write rather than draw; it flows more naturally. I was frustrated and confused about a lot of things going on with me. So, not wanting to simply write about what was happening exactly, I tried a more productive approach to process it all. This anthology I am putting together is a raw, written reflection on myself with a few illustrations here and there (in addition to some somewhat colourful prints to keep the mood light). It’s small, but ambitious on a personal level, so my only hope is that I can produce something I can boldly share.

To keep up with Jae’s work, follow her on Instagram.

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Sarah Grace Dye: International experiments in making paper

Our patrons community has helped us to give a grant to visual artist, curator, collector, story teller and educator, Sarah Grace Dye. Sarah approached us with an incredibly unique project: in partnership with carpet makers in Uzbekistan, she’s developed a technique for making paper from scraps of silk; we’re funding her journey there to teach the methodology to the workshop owners themselves.

Cross-cultural, environmental, creative projects like this – infused with the uniqueness of Sarah’s own material-making practice – don’t just pop up everyday. Join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month – and we can keep supporting great artists like Sarah take experimental leaps into life. Find out more here.

Hi Sarah. Who are you and what do you do?

I am a visual artist, curator, collector, story teller and educator from Sheffield, now living in Frankfurt. I make artists’ books, make paper and draw. I love paper. 

After University, I found my home teaching on an extended diploma course in Art and Design (amongst other things) at the Arts University Bournemouth. I think my 12 years there were actually my training ground for what I do, and who I am now, artistically. It was such a vast and varied course—I taught all sorts of things, and was able to sneak into sessions taught by others to learn new techniques and processes.

That is where I was introduced to paper-making and some forms of book binding, all of which are key to my practice now. Working with some wonderful students and staff over those years was a privilege and an enormous source of inspiration. I think I learnt more than I taught! I still teach now (mostly via zoom) but it is in smaller groups or one on one with tailored sessions for each group/person.

Your artistic practice has all sorts of different facets – from drawing, to curating collections, to making paper. How did you find your way into these specific disciplines? Do you see your practice further evolving into different areas in the future?

My practice is all about re-using the resources we have around us in our homes. I make paper from household waste, as well as making inks and dyes. I love to draw, and have a regular drawing and mark-making practice as part of a couple of Zoom drawing groups with other fascinating women from around the world.

I have always been fascinated by books in a kind of love-hate relationship. My parents were collectors (or hoarders!) and had a huge library of books. They both were theological scholars and so had many very old fascinating books in English, Latin and Greek. I was mesmerised by these books. I loved the smell, the touch and the patterns the words made on the page and often there would be etchings of diagrams and pictures.

I have to confess to never reading any of them! I was not a fan of reading. I am dyslexic and reading was a struggle so not enjoyable whereas drawing was completely consuming for me and took me to my happy place. I still have a very old complete set of the greek new testament and a 150 + year old copy of Josephus ‘The Life of Christ’ for example that fascinate me. As a child my parents kept a cupboard of packaging, paper, plastic bottles glue and scissors that were accessible at all times, we were always encouraged to create and express ourselves.

I am always excited to learn new techniques and processes, especially in the current climate as we learn so much more about how we can help sustain our planet through our use of its resources. My practice is always evolving, often in response to a circumstance. I got stuck in Frankfurt in March 2020 for five months with no materials and no money to buy anything. That was when paper-making came into its own, and I researched and gleaned information about making natural ink and dyes to provide something interesting to draw with. I collected tea bags and packaging from around the house to use that paper for book making and to draw on.

Curating was a natural step for me. I am an inherent organiser. I am interested in the detail of things and how one thing reacts to another. Even as a teenager my bedroom walls were covered in pictures carefully placed to make a pleasing whole. I have always collected things. My parents had many friends living abroad, who would come and visit and bring me amazing little gifts, many of which I still have.

As well as being an accomplished artist, you also have experience of working with artists as a university tutor and community builder. What lessons have you learnt about nurturing and encouraging creative gifts in others?

I am a firm believer that everyone has the ability to create, regardless of what they might think! I love the challenge of presenting an opportunity and then teasing out whatever creativity is lurking dormant. Encouragement and enthusiasm are the most important aspects of teaching. 

Firstly: nothing is wrong. The worst mistake you can make will always teach you something, even if that is to never do that thing again! I would also encourage students to never throw work away. I can’t tell you how many times a student has hated something they have created, only to love it several weeks later after it has been put away in a draw.

Secondly: we are all unique. You will never create like me, or me like you; we have our own marks and style. It is simply a case of uncovering what is already there, and developing that uniqueness. Yes, it is important to glean knowledge from others, and be inspired; but then make it your own.

Thirdly: having space without pressure is also a key to creativity. It can be difficult to find that in our busy lives, but in my experience finding that space can enrich the rest of your day/week no end. For me just making some marks with ink or a pencil, never mind what it looks like, is a tonic in any situation. It is the doing and connection to the creativity inside of us that is important. 

When I moved back to Sheffield, I had a small self-contained flat in the attic of where I lived. I started a residency program for people to come and spend between one week to a month free of charge in that space to focus on whatever creative project they had bubbling up. I worked closely with Bank Street Arts in Sheffield, and often the residency would end up with an exhibition in that space. I would try my best to support whatever the project was in whatever way they needed while they were there. It has always been completely delightful to see people blossom and fill up with joy being given that space to explore what they love. Thats what it’s all about for me.

I think the key to building community and support is simply to really listen. What does the community need? Then you can act upon it in whatever small way you can. We each have to recognise how important we are as part of the whole and not wait for someone else to start.

Through our patrons scheme, we are helping to fund a fascinating project you are working on. Can you bring us all up to speed on what you’re doing?

I am currently experimenting with using little scraps of silk threads mixed with egg boxes to make paper. I have a dear friend who moved to Uzbekistan many years ago and set up a carpet workshop. He researched the process and designs and then taught the locals their own traditional skills in natural silk dying and weaving to create the most beautiful carpets. This knowledge had been lost during the Soviet era where traditional crafts were not allowed. You can read his story in the book A Carpet Ride to Khiva: Seven Years on the Silk Road by Chris Aslan Alexander. Today, it is a thriving workshop that employs many.

I mentioned to him that I use the fluff from the dryer to make my paper soft and strong, and he asked if maybe I could try to make paper with the silk scraps that are left on the floor after a carpet is finished. These scraps are currently discarded as rubbish. This prospect just ignited an excitement in me that I hadn’t felt in a long time. So a parcel arrived from Uzbekistan with little bags of coordinated silk scraps for me to play with.

Technically you are not supposed to use animal fibres for the paper making process, just plant fibres, but I never take no for an answer and love a problem to solve! I have successfully made paper and am now exploring both felt-making from the scraps and also a line of products that can be made with the paper/felt to sell at the carpet workshop. I am travelling to the workshop at Easter to share my methods and show them the products with the hope that they will generate a new line of income from their own waste materials.

I am so grateful for the money I was granted as it paid my bills for a month so I could concentrate on my experimentation without worry. It basically offered me the space I mentioned earlier! There is much more experimentation to come before I travel there, but that only fills me with joy and excitement at what might be discovered next.

Follow Sarah Grace Dye on Instagram, or see her website.

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Amanda Aiken: Characters that write their own stories

This term we’ve given a grant to Amanda Aiken, an illustrator based in the Scottish borders. Having worked on features, short films, and TV shows, Amanda is looking to develop her skills from a storyboard artist into a story artist — a role where pure visuals and sheer imagination helps to form the key beats from which a story and script develops. We talked about that difference, and her ambitions for her own project, ‘The Wait’.

We love to support industry professionals in their personal development and giving them a chance to stretch their wings into new areas. Join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month – and we can keep supporting great artists like Amanda as they grow.

Hi Amanda. Could you introduce yourself?

Hello! I’m a storyboard artist, primarily in animation. I also animate at times. I’ve worked on feature films, TV shows, commercials – all kinds of things! I’m also a voracious reader, doodler, dog owner, Aunt to a lovely niece and nephew, and notebook collector. I still have all my notebooks of doodles and stories, some from before I went to school.

As a storyboard artist I take a script and draw panels from it, outlining the story of the show/movie before it reaches the animation stage. This results in an animatic, a video of drawn panels with music and dialogue that’s used as a guide for the rest of the project. I enjoy my work but I’d like to move more into the area of a story artist. Rather than starting with a script, story artists create the whole story and its visuals. It’s the story creation rather than the drawing that’s my favourite part of the job.

Storyboarding is a bit like getting to direct but with far less pressure and responsibility. I can choose camera angles and influence the emotion of a scene. If something isn’t working out, there are times I can even make changes to the overall story.

You are presently working on a graphic novel and we are delighted to be able to
support this through our patrons scheme. What is this project about?

I occasionally write short stories—it’s a good way to bring an idea to fruition more quickly!—and these sometimes develop into storyboards or short films. These stories are usually a response to something that’s happened to me, or that I’m frustrated about. Often the stories are best left as the written word, or forgotten about altogether, but with The Wait I decided I wanted to draw it as a short comic/graphic novel. Living as a Christian has caused a lot of people to challenge me why I wait for God in certain areas. The story, though not about the Christian faith, is about waiting, and the challenge of doing so when everyone around you questions why you wait.

Because my drawings are generally loose and rough a lot of my artistic ‘challenges’ to myself are to create finished pieces. Several years ago I illustrated another short story, Kinsey’s Sword, which can now be purchased online. The process of roughing out the illustrations was great fun. Designing the characters and refining the illustrations to a place I was happy with was, at times, torturous. Yet I was proud and pleased with the result and meant to make something similar again; unfortunately I’m an excellent procrastinator and I kept putting it off.

With The Wait I knew it would be an even greater challenge as I’d have to design a much larger cast of characters and locations as well as settling on a finished look. That’s why I’ve had the rough of the graphic novel sitting in a folder for well over a year! So I decided to ask Sputnik for funding to set aside time to research and draw the character designs. I also plan to use some of the money for print samples, as I’d like the final story to be published in print and online.

What do you think are most important features of a good story? What kind of stories
do you most enjoy telling?

What I’m always wondering, whether I’m reading or watching a movie or writing or drawing, is whether the actions that are taking place make sense. It’s not whether I would react in the same way, it’s whether a decision is odd for a character. If I don’t believe a character could have made that choice, then nobody else will either.

There are many other things that make up good stories but what I’m seeking to do is to satisfy the audience in some way. That could be by either fulfilling or frustrating expectations. To do this, I create for myself. What do I want to see happen? What happens if that goes as expected? What if it doesn’t? I note my own reactions and dive deeper into the most interesting and satisfying threads that are uncovered. Sometimes these things might only interest me, but that’s what’s most important. The stories I’ve written and drawn have one main thing in common: they’re stories I want to read or see.

I lean to the fantastical and magical, but I’ve always enjoyed juxtaposing that with reality. The ideas in my notebooks are wide-ranging. I don’t overlook any of them because they don’t fit with a preferred theme. Instead, I consider how solid the overall idea is and how strongly it takes hold of me.

To follow Amanda and her work, see her website or Instagram.

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Angelina Ritchie-Smith: expressing ‘Wonder’ on canvas

Thanks to our community of Patrons, we helped abstract painter Angelina Ritchie-Smith to take part in a London exhibition. Although an experienced illustrator and designer, Angelina took up the paintbrush in lockdown—and hasn’t looked back since.

We love to support artists like Angelina, whose spirituality informs their work but can still talk to a broader audience than the church. Why not join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month – and we can keep supporting great projects like this.

Hi Angelina. Who are you and what do you do?

 I’m Angelina, a wife and also a mother to a strong-willed beautiful 4-year-old girl named Halcyon. I’m an Australian who moved to the UK 10 years ago. 

I am a self-taught abstract artist, only having begun my art journey in early 2021. It was because of Halcyon. We were painting stick figures and green giraffes. I am a woman of purpose so I thought, why don’t I get my own canvas and paint beside her. I thought I couldn’t paint until then. Sure, I’m trained in fashion design and graphic design and am also an illustrator but I didn’t know how to paint… it turns out I was trying to paint faces and landscapes which I’m no good at! 

Until now it’s been part-time, as my daughter has only been in nursery part-time. Now she’s in school full-time, I am focusing on my art a bit more. 

Through our patrons scheme, we are supporting you in an upcoming exhibition you are part of. Can you tell us more about this?

Sputnik helped me to participate in an exhibition in London recently, where I was an honorary prize winner from last year’s competition: the Holly Bush Emerging Female Painter prize. 

I won the Tim May memorial award within last year’s prize, yet because of lockdown restrictions, we never held the exhibition—I only received my award via Zoom. So with this year’s competition, although my entry only reached the longlisting stage, I was allowed to have my painting Wonder in the exhibition.

It was so nice to meet last year’s prize winners, as well as this year’s too. The Holly Bush art prize champions women artists and I think there was about 11 awards within last year’s prize. In 2021, I was lucky enough to gain a £1,500 cash prize which helped to fund my art further. 

Wonder was inspired by the song Wonder by Hillsong as it made me imagine what the creation of the world was like. The energy of the spoken word. I imagine it being full of electricity, excitement and power. 

Your use of colour is striking in your work. You obviously care about colour! Do you think that God cares about colour too? What do you think we can learn from the colours he has built into our experience of reality?

 Don’t get me wrong, black is powerful too, and the use of monochrome in paintings can still be beautiful. But when vibrant colours are used (especially gold… I’m kind of obsessed. I don’t know why, it just seems magical), it becomes therapy. I love colour theory and the meaning behind it. I paint for my moods, blue when I need some calm, bright yellow when I’m feeling optimistic and excited and so on. 

Yes, God made us in His image and if He can make something as awesome as the earth and all of the galaxies, then certainly we were born to create too… yes, even the non-creative people (they just do it in a different, more analytical way). I guess He wants to teach us to take time for inner care. If we are constantly serving and working, we burn ourselves out. Besides worship, He wants us to literally stand in awe of the creation as it benefits us and our health. 

Abstract art is an artform that is often seen to place the meaning very much in the eye of the beholder. Do you try to communicate in your work and if so, how?

Sometimes I intentionally set out with a theme in mind before I paint, eg: Wonder, Joy around being happy etc. Other times I just want to create but I don’t know what or why. I just start to paint. Later it actually helps me to understand what I was feeling eg: passion or calmness etc. It’s like a dancer, sometimes they can plan a routine but sometimes it’s the most improvised pieces that are the most beautiful. 

To stay connected with Angelina and her work, you can follow her on Instagram, or check out her website.

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India Johnson’s tactile poetry is in dialogue with the past

Thanks to our community of Patrons, we’re helping to fund a research project by typewriter artist India Johnson. One of her inspirations is Dom Sylvester Houédard – a monk, theologian, and concrete poet. India discovered that DSH’s archive of work had recently been transferred to the exact town where she lives – giving her the unique opportunity to delve into his work first-hand, and produce her own artworks in response.

We love to support artists like India, who are engaged in deep dialogue with culture and their chosen artistic practice. Why not join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month – and we can keep supporting great projects like this.

Hi India. Can you introduce us to yourself and your work?

My background is in hand bookbinding. My first formal bookbinding study was at the LLOTJA Book Art Conservatory in Barcelona. Eventually I landed at the University of Iowa Center for the Book in 2017 for graduate studies. I still live and work in Iowa. 

In graduate school, one of my professors took us to study some early christian books in libraries in Chicago. They were some of the oldest and most beautiful manuscripts I’ve handled, written in Greek. Handling a prayer book from the middle ages can be a very intimate and meaningful experience, even if you can’t read the text. Touching these precious, ancient devotional books prompted me to shift my focus from bookbinding to making contemporary pieces. I wanted to make work that echoed the experience of holding a sacred book in your hands. 

I work with delicate materials, mostly paper and cloth, to create sculptures, books, and textiles–often with christian texts. Throughout the pandemic, I’ve mostly been working with text from the Book of Common Prayer, which was compiled during a plague. I also like to work with the King James translation of the Psalms. It’s the first example of blank verse (poetry without rhyme or meter) in English. My work visits and re-visits these canonical texts because mystical and spiritual experiences happen both despite and within established social structures.

I prefer to exhibit my work in settings where it can be handled; mostly churches and libraries. How much of reading is touch?

We are delighted to be supporting you on your new project through our patrons scheme. Can you talk us through it?

Many of my pieces use a process for running cloth through a typewriter. The artist who most directly inspires this work is Dom Sylvester Houédard (abbreviated as ‘dsh’). He was a Benedictine monk and a poet. dsh is best known for a body of intricate, abstract typewriter art produced from the 1940s to 70s. When I first looked into dsh’s work, all image credits pointed to a private collection, the Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry. I decided to plan a visit–and discovered the collectors had just donated the entire archive to the university in the town where I live. What are the chances? It felt like more than a coincidence. Sputnik is funding a few months of research sessions with Dom Sylvester’s papers, which include beautiful examples of his typewriter art, as well as some correspondence and scholarly writing. I’ll be producing artwork in response to Dom Sylvester’s archive; the medium will be typewriter on textile. 

Dom Sylvester sounds like a fascinating man. What drew you to him for this project?

When I first started making typewriter art, I would be at the machine for hours, typing the same fragment of text over and over again. Even though I was working with familiar texts, like the psalms, through all the repetition, the language would become totally abstract for me. More abstract than I knew words could be – being something rather than meaning something. I really came to understand prayer first and foremost as an experience of language. Dom Sylvester’s typestracts show how language can become a thing in itself. When we push words past what they mean, past signification, we come to understand something about the relationship between embodiment and transcendence. One thing that’s become clear since starting my research is that the typestracts are generally smaller than I thought they would be. The paper is very light–almost translucent, but not quite. The typestracts feel so delicate and intimate and focused; they’re a wonder.

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Land, place, and beauty in forgotten things: the work of Luke Sewell

Through our Patrons Scheme, we support Christians who are making engaging, powerful art or who are using their skills to serve their local communities. This term, one of our grants has gone to Birmingham-based printmaker Luke Sewell, aka @lukeprints.

We’ve had the great pleasure of watching Luke’s skills and career develop first-hand, and when he came to us with a new project based around a GK Chesterton poem, we couldn’t resist. You can watch our interview with Luke below, or keep scrolling to read Luke’s deeper thoughts on his journey so far.


I’ve been making linocut prints for just over four years. I bought a starter set so that I could design an invitation for my wedding in Christmas 2015, inspired by the work of Sputnik’s own Ben Harris, and by deep and long-buried memories of carving blocks in secondary school.

I dusted off the gouges in 2017 when I was doing a Museum Studies masters at Birmingham School of Art. Most of my fellow students were studying some kind of fine art and I just wanted a simple, embodied process that would give me a creative outlet. My boss at work gave me a smartphone at the same time, which gave me access to plenty of inspiration from contemporary printmakers such as Lou Tonkin, Harry Brockway, Kathleen Neeley and Nick Morley on Instagram. The Kathe Kollwitz retrospective on display at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery at around the same time was also very formative.

The enforced lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 turned what was a hobby into a vital discipline that filled large amounts of free time, gave me purpose and to my great surprise and pleasure became something that could at least financially sustain the cost of the materials required, with a little change. All of this has occurred in parallel with my almost-ten-year involvement in Sputnik, as art has proved increasingly vital to understanding and practising my faith.

The enforced lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 turned what was a hobby into a vital discipline

The question of what draws me to Tolkien is an enormous one, which I could and probably should write on far more extensively. Tolkien’s friend C.S. Lewis writes about being too old for fairy stories, before eventually being old enough for them again. Over the last couple of years I’ve grown old enough for Tolkien’s work to undergo something of a renaissance, particularly in awakening a desire for the sacramental. The sacramental imagination in Tolkien’s work changes the way you see reality. It makes the world more real. Trees are no longer just trees, nor rocks simply rocks. Bread and wine will never be merely food and drink again. Middle-earth rescues us from the prison of a flat, material world and points us to something higher, nobler, more beautiful – and ultimately true.

He does all of this not through a series of persuasive arguments or essays, but adventures and myths that are participatory, immersive in their consistency, enormous in scale and beautifully sorrowful. Tolkien’s treatment of loss, death, decay, defeat and hope without guarantees has helped me survive the last year after a sudden and devastating bereavement and I believe his perspective is increasingly vital for Christians and Christian artists preoccupied with a sentimental and often shallow positivism.

Tolkein’s treatment of loss, death, decay, defeat and hope without guarantees has helped me survive the last year after a sudden and devastating bereavement

The work I make is only a small symptom of way Tolkien has lifted my focus to the sacramental, to wonder over ideas. Like Saint Gregory of Nyssa said, “Ideas create idols. Only wonder leads to knowing.” Hopefully the work is illuminated by that focus, but I imagine it will take time – much of it so far has been quite a derivative method of meditating on some of the stronger images from Tolkien’s work and tracing where they have come from; Tolkien was an excellent subcreator (to borrow his own invented term), reusing and repurposing ancient images and patterns embedded deep in our collective subconscious to create something that is nevertheless vibrant and alive.

My current work concerns itself with another modern mythic story deeply connected to the soil we find ourselves on (if you, like me, are reading this in England). G.K. Chesterton’s 1911 epic poem The Ballad of the White Horse is about an end to the world, which is a theme I’ve always enjoyed. We are often vain enough to think that the end of our world is the end of the world, but many worlds have come and gone whilst the sun continues to rise. How do we understand our faith if the ending of our world isn’t what ultimately ushers in the Second Coming and the Age to Come?

It’s also about a gathering doom and how we might go about living under that kind of foreboding without knowledge of what the future holds. Much of the time Christian hope seems to be defined by an eschatological certainty of what the future holds, whether that be over the longest, eternal arc or considerably shorter ones if you belong to a tradition that continues to deal out Jeremiah 29:11, or prophetic encouragement of the prosperity that awaits us in the coming season with cheery abandon.

Chesterton outs hope based on certainty of the future as definitively pagan. Christian hope is set apart by the fact that it makes no such assurances about what awaits us, true faith instead being sublimely painted by Saint Mary’s beautiful, mysterious and troubling words to Alfred;

“I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.

“Night shall be thrice night over you
And heaven an iron cope
Do you have joy without a cause,
Yea, faith without a hope?

My wife Emily and I have recently welcomed our first child into the world; a son called Edmund. As we collectively face a future of climate breakdown, the dying throes of a deeply flawed economic structure, transhumanism and increasing political authoritarianism, how do I reckon with the decision to bring a life into such a world, a defiantly hopeful act that a good friend described as “the badass opposite of suicide”? How do we partake of the joy of giants; the joy without a cause?

I don’t know. But The Ballad of the White Horse at least encourages us to explore the question. It does so with wit, some stunningly beautiful use of the English language and the sense that it will require more from us, the Church, than the belief that God will make the bad and uncomfortable things go away if only we pray and believe hard enough.

If that onslaught of wisdom wasn’t enough for you, you can follow Luke at @lukeprints. Why not join us in supporting fantastic artists like Luke, by joining our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month? Find out more right here on our website.

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For installation artist Jill Woods, light is the medium

Through our Patrons Scheme, we support Christians who are making engaging, powerful art or who are using their skills to serve their local communities.

This term, one of our grants has gone to Jill Woods, an installation artist. We caught up with Jill to find out about more about her journey and her latest installation.

HI Jill. Could you give us a bit of introduction to your art journey?

It’s been a ‘long and winding road’! I loved art at school, but dropped it to do science subjects at A level and then went on to do a science degree.

Throughout university, I continued to make things – clothes, cards and gifts for family and friends. That approach continued for many years – just dabbling and enjoying exploring my creativity, visiting art galleries and learning about other artists. I did a number of workshops, mainly involving textile techniques, and I was part of a creative group with friends taking a creative approach to the meditative practice of Lectio Divina. 

I explored doing an Art Foundation course when my two children were small, but it wasn’t the right time. It wasn’t until 2018 that I finally felt it was a good time to push the door. I managed to get in to my local college (at 54, I was the grandma of the group) and I absolutely loved my time on the course. I was really drawn to installation art for the potential it has to be multi-sensory and participatory, and to the use of light and shadow in exploring ideas of spirituality.

I wanted to carry on by doing an undergraduate degree, but I could only get funding for an MA, so I leapfrogged into a part-time MA in Textile Practices at Huddersfield University where I continued to explore light as a medium within installation art.

We were delighted to be able support you recently, through the Sputnik Patrons Scheme, for your piece at the LIGHT:space exhibition in Stockton. Firstly, can you tell us about the exhibition itself.

The exhibition was developed by Wild Vision Collective, a group of 4 artists who had come together at the beginning of the pandemic to encourage each other. They had a desire to reach out prophetically to speak hope to the community of Stockton using art. Following on from a successful Pop-up Gallery in one of the empty shops in the Wellington Square shopping centre, they proposed a light trail using more of the empty shops. This would be COVID-safe as visitors would be outside looking in and social distancing could be observed. Their proposal was accepted, they obtained a small amount of funding from the local Arts Centre and the LIGHT:space Art Trail was born. I heard about it through their Curatorspace open call.

So, what about your piece in the exhibition? Talk us through it.

This was the very first time I had exhibited because there had been no end of year show, so I was really excited and nervous. My piece is called ‘The Light Shines in the Darkness’ and it is based on the final piece I did for my MA, adapted for the window space I was given. It uses light and reflective materials, stitch and wire knit to encourage a meditative experience for viewers. As well as using light as a medium, I am interested in the structure of DNA and chromosomes and the role they play in the structure of life and identity. 

The piece consists of multiple stitched floor-to-ceiling hangings made from silver mylar and dichroic film strips, loosely based on a stylised DNA molecule. There are also tubular pieces of knitted stainless steel wire to represent the banded appearance of chromosomes. The hangings are lit so that the reflections created are captured on the walls, ceiling and floor and these move in the air currents created by a fan. To me, coming from a faith perspective, this speaks of how the light of God illuminates us and makes us each unique like the reflections created – we are not just the result of our DNA because God takes what we are and makes something wonderful. The title comes from the opening verses of John’s gospel which I felt were appropriate for the time in which I was working during the COVID pandemic.  I am very grateful for the funding I received from the Sputnik Patrons Scheme which has enabled me to purchase new lighting to replace the battery-powered lighting I had used originally and improves the sustainability of the work.

Find out more about Wild Vision Collective and the LIGHT:space exhibition here, or follow Jill’s work on Instagram.

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David Doran makes the everyday feel iconic

David Doran Mr Porter The Workplace

Professional illustrator David Doran has an unmissable, iconic style, influenced by – among other things – travel posters of the early 20th Century, traditional printing techniques, and modern painters from Rothko to Matisse.

Doran lives and works in Falmouth, where he shares a studio with his brother (painter Jon Doran, who we recently featured in our first Sputnik anthology) – having graduated from Falmouth Uni in 2014, turning a few heads in the process. While his work has kept its hand-drawn charm since those early days, it’s quickly developed to include digital methods too, resulting in devastatingly clean, impactful visuals.

Illustration is hardly an easy field to break into, but Doran has quickly racked up an impressive resumé of clients, from The New Yorker to BAFTA, with editorials, book covers, and agency campaigns; while still finding time for his own personal projects on the side. His multi-tasking abilities may boggle the mind, but his success is not so surprising, given the quality of the work. David’s illustrations give credence to the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words: they have undeniable communicative power, grabbing the eye and expressing a mood in one swift delivery.

Don’t miss David Doran kicking off our brand new ‘Spotlight On..’ series in 2021 – with a live talk and Q&A discussing his journey and practice. Get tickets here!

You can see more of David’s work at, or follow him on Instagram

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What did Sputnik fund in 2019?

Artists need funding. In most jobs, you get remunerated directly for the work you produce, by the people who you do that work for. This is just not how it works for many artists. We work multiple jobs; we dilute our work to make it more marketable; we get by on very little; or perhaps we give up.

Even artists who are well-established, well-respected, and living off their craft, often have to find alternative methods to fund the more interesting areas of their practice.

This often means relying on patronage in some form. Nowadays, in the UK, the government are the chief patrons of the arts, through different funding bodies like the Arts Council.

But in years gone by, the church played this role too. They don’t anymore, and we’d like to change that. So in 2017 we started our Sputnik Patrons Scheme, and 2019 was the year when the scheme started to really kick into gear.

Through the support of our patrons, last year we funded 11 projects to the tune of over £5,000. Here’s a very brief overview of where that money went.

A Rap Album Launch Party

You can read more about Mantis’ triumphant album launch in Jonny Mellor’s highlights of 2019, but in short, it was a masterclass in hip-hop, and an absolute pleasure to be able to provide funding and manpower to make it happen.

Here’s Joel Wilson’s review of the album itself, with a few more links to Mantis’ work.

Training a storyteller to serve families and children through Theraplay

Anna O’Brien is a Birmingham-based storyteller, and last year she was looking into developing a therapeutic storytelling course for Parents and Carers.

Sputnik funded her to get trained in an approach called Theraplay, which has already helped her to further serve members of her community. This interview will tell you more.

Still from ‘Victoria’ by Juan Pablo Daza Pulido

A documentary about a Columbian refugee

Juan Daza is a Columbian film maker and photographer, based in Edinburgh. Since September 2018, Juan and his wife Maria have been working on a documentary, Victoria, which tells the story of a Colombian woman who has been living in exile in London for more than 20 years. After being kidnapped and abused by an armed group in 1992, she fled to the UK in 1997 where she now works actively as a peace builder helping other Colombian women who lived through similar situations.

Through the Patronage Scheme, we helped push this project over the line, so that it premiered at the end of November.

We’ll have more information about this project soon, including ways that you can see the film for yourself.

A Christian arts charity who support local musicians

Impact was formed by Oasis Church in Birmingham a few years ago, to show the love of Jesus to local musicians. The original intention was simply to give local acts well-promoted, well-organised, well-paid gigs and honour them more than other promoters would often do.

This has grown into a residency scheme, through which the Impact team take on young Birmingham bands, record an EP and organise a launch night for them. Although some of the artists involved have been Christians, the focus is on those outside the church, and it is one of the best examples we’ve seen of a church looking to show love to, and serve, their local artistic community.

Money from our patronage scheme went towards funding an extra part-time member of staff, to help them develop the residency programme further.

A pop punk album

Mike Lawetto is a musical chameleon, known to constantly switch genres from pop, to dance, to worship, to Christmas carols!

However, last year, on the back of extensive coverage on Alex Baker’s Kerrang Radio show, he released an album with his rock band, Well Done You, which has already led the band to some excellent support slots for some giants in the pop punk genre.

Sputnik were delighted to help him complete this project. Find out more here.

This is England exhibition by Benjamin Harris

An Exhibition exploring nationalism and the concept of Englishness

As one of our first patronage projects, we commissioned Benjamin Harris to make work for a fine art exhibition. In April, at The Holy Biscuit in Newcastle, this plan came to fruition with This is England, a collection of work exploring nationalism, Englishness and the cross.

As a young man who grew up and still lives in the Black Country, Benjamin is no outsider to such discussions and his perspective on these vitally important social issues, as well as his formidable skill as an artist and deep rooted Christian faith, made for a fantastic exhibition.e

Hannah Rose Thomas Yezidi Women: ISIS Survivors Art Sputnik Faith
Panels from ‘Yezidi Women: ISIS Survivors’ – Hannah Rose Thomas

An art book for an artist/activist

The majority of our patronage-related work at Sputnik HQ this year has been spent on a project that is still brewing.

Sputnik is overseeing and funding the creation of an art book by London-based painter and activist, Hannah Rose Thomas. Her portraits of oppressed women in some of the most dangerous parts of the world have got her on to Sky News and recently she was named in the Forbes 30 under 30 list. Her last four exhibitions have been at Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, Lambeth Palace and the European Parliament HQ.

While this project has been slow to see the light of day, our work with the artist has opened up all sorts of exciting possibilities that we hope to tell you much more about in 2020, when the book is published.

Mr Ekow Sputnik Collective Faith Art

A hip hop music video

Chris Gaisie, AKA Mr Ekow, is a rapper from South London. Chris applied for a grant to help him create a video for his excellent single ‘I Am Hip-Hop’. The video is nearing completion and he’ll be releasing it in the New Year. Once again, we are delighted to be able to help build a platform for an excellent piece of music, and support one of our favourite artists get their music out to a wider audience.

Sound equipment for an installation based on The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Matthew Tuckey is a sound designer and sound artist, living in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He is presently creating an abstract soundscape inspired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

In the development of this intriguing project, we have helped Matt purchase a microphone that is so specialised it can record sounds inside a cow pat! Another one to look forward to for 2020.

A Passion Play in Edinburgh

Our home city of Birmingham was so blessed by Saltmine’s public Passion Play this year, and Sputnik are delighted to be able to help fund Cutting Edge Theatre to do a similar event in Edinburgh next Easter.

The theatre company are involving a number of community groups to retell the Easter story in an accessible manner for a modern day audience, and it’s a brilliant opportunity to engage the Scottish capital with the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

You can find out more information about Cutting Edge here.

Joel Wilson Birmingham Film Maker Sputnik Faith Art

An Album of Alternative Rap Lamentation

Just before Christmas, we were able to offer funding to one more project that will again come to life in 2020. Joel Wilson is a rapper and film director, and next year he is releasing his first album since 2008. Details at present are sparse, but it would be fair to say that it is not likely to be a happy album, presenting a no-holds-barred response to these strange and concerning times in which we find ourselves. In the artist’s own words:

I’ve heard a lot of people recently saying that they wish there was more space within community life to lament. My sincere hope is that this recording will also help people grieve, lament and process some of the unprecedented stress, sorrow, confusion and pain of everyday life.’

The early demos sound fantastic and we’re so grateful to be able to help bring this project to life.

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What’s So Interesting About the Reverse of a Painting?

When perusing the TATE Liverpool’s permanent modern art collection, I love to think on how the paintings are hung. A number of famous paintings are sandwiched in a clear acrylic, bordered by a steel frame. These paintings (see George Grosz’s Suicide, 1916) are suspended in the middle of the gallery spaces rather than being fixed to the white walls.

This display method presents the works, not as two-dimensional portals or windows to look through, but as sculptural works: an object in itself, to be examined in its materiality. In this we see something of the philosophy of the modernist movement; an emphasis on materials, techniques and processes in response to the new landscape of modern life. The canvas is not a window into another reality, but a surface to be acted upon.

Examining the unseen face

George Grosz’s Suicide is one such image. Disturbed by the horrors of the first world war, Grosz turned to political and satirical cartoons that ‘expressed despair, hate and disillusionment’.

George Grosz’s ‘Suicide’ at TATE Liverpool.

Unlike the canvases held fast to the wall, one is able to orbit the work and examine the physical properties of the pictorial and non-pictorial areas. For someone who is quite fond of Grosz’s work, I feel like a fan, enjoying all the unseen details that we are not usually privy to. The age of the wooden frame, the stamp of the manufacturer, the tickets of the auctioneers and the markings of careless manhandling all add to the mystique of masterpiece.

Having examined Suicide numerous times in books and catalogues, I find myself so much more interested in the unseen face of the painting, the reverse. This ‘unseen’ is what gets us geeks going. Whether it is Drake’s old lyric notebook selling for more than my salary, or Nike releasing a series of Air Max 1s inspired by Tinker Hatfield’s original schematic sketches of the shoe, the art viewing pubic thrives off the restricted initial sketches of an artwork in its infancy – or as Nike have shrewdly branded it ‘NOT FOR RESALE’.

In the second half of the 17th century, the fantastically named Flemish painter Cornelius Norbertus Gijsbrechts, an old-school trompe-l’oeil master, depicted the reverse of a painting in 1670 (appropriately titled, Trompe L’oeil: The Reverse of a Framed Painting). Though this painting does not specifically address the charm surrounding the celebrity object, it does certainly draw our attention to the unseen support – the artistic underbelly of almost every famous canvas.

‘Trompe L’oeil: The Reverse of a Framed Painting’ by Cornelius Norbertus Gijsbrechts

Picking up on this, in recent years artists and curators alike have turned to the unseen painting as an art piece in its own right. In 2015 contemporary artist Paul Litherland created a series of photographs showing the reverse sides of artworks drawn from the collection of the Leonard & Bina Ellen Gallery, Concordia University. The images reference the trompe-l’oeil tradition which depicts objects in an incredibly lifelike manner as to cause the viewer to question what is real and what is illusion.

Litherland’s official webpage explains,

“He [Litherland] shares in an overarching interest in the gesture of elevating the mundane material support of an artwork to the status of art, and thus flipping the normal status of the front and the back. He also engages with the trompe-l’oeil tradition, which confronts viewers with the pleasures and questions that come from mixing up the “real” and the “representation” of the real.”

The photographic reverse of a painting plays the part of the pictorial window, portraying something which is not really there. One 2016 Milanese exhibition titled ‘Recto Verso’ focused solely on the power and allure of the reverse of the painting in both traditional and contemporary art. This exhibition brought together a range of works that look at the unseen support and structure of the painting, questioning how the art object carries its celebrity status and how the spell can be broken when the vulnerable substructure of the canvas is exposed.

From the ‘Recto Verso’ Exhibition

Revelation and Disillusionment

When one finally encounters their idol, in whatever form it takes, there can often be a sense of disappointment and disillusion and yet for others an intensification of their delight. Whether it is releasing that the Mona Lisa is not much bigger than an A4 piece of paper, or the reality that Lady Gaga is only just an inch over five foot, when a person or an object fails to meet up to our expectations we can be left feeling bereft. On the other hand, when we have a sense of sharing or partaking with something which is exclusive and unseen, our enjoyment of an object or person can increase.

Have you ever been hit by one of these contradictory reactions? Enamoured that the often unobserved is laid bare before you or disenchanted as the magician’s secrets are all revealed?

So what about George Grosz? In viewing Suicide and other works, I felt the privilege of seeing the side of work that often only the gallery handlers get to see. To imagine the story behind the artefact. Where did Grosz buy the canvas? What was his mental state like when beginning? Did he have to return to the work when struggling with his ill health?

Yet, as with Grosz (and much European art of the period) there is a sense of defeat in seeing the artefact in its entirety. No magic, no mystical allure, just some wood, staples and canvas.

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Enter the Chaiya Art Awards 2019/2020

The Chaiya Art Awards is a national art award celebrating the intersection of art and faith.

It’s no small perk to be recognised in this competition. Finalists are exhibited at the OXO Gallery in London, and a generous £10,000 in prize money is given to the first place winner.  

Last year saw the first round of entries and winners for the award, exploring the theme: Where is God in our 21st Century World? Sputnik’s own Luke Sewell visited the exhibition, and noted the display of technical excellence on the part of the artists involved, who articulated theology and the nature of God into a 21st century context. Some came from a Christian worldview, but plenty of others brought their own approach.

Now Chaiya Art Awards is back, welcoming a new round of submissions exploring the theme ‘God is’. Work is judged according to theme interpretation, originality, technique and emotional impact.

The award was established in 2017 by Katrina Moss. Though it’s still a young event, Katrina has big aims, hoping that the Chaiya Art Award can become an important event in the national artistic calendar. The long term aim is to reignite conversations of spirituality, placing them back in the mainstream of the art world.

It’s exciting to see more opportunities being created to intersect conversations of faith and art. We imagine that God Is will attract a broad range of artists.

If you want to get involved yourself, read more details over at the Chaiya Art Award website.

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The Sputnik 2018 Review

2018 has been a strange year. Brexit, Teresa May and Trump have stolen most of the headlines. England did adequately in the footy. That actress from Fringe got married to someone or other. Basically, the earth orbited the sun.

As for events in Sputnik-ville, it’s been an exciting year, but one with its ups and downs too. I thought I’d do something of a review and run you through 10 highlights and 1 low light just before we move seamlessly into 2019. (And just so you know, I’m not even going to include the work we actually funded this year- that will be another post).

So what were the highlights? Well, in no particular order...


1. We started a new Sputnik Hub in Edinburgh

2018 has featured all sorts of Edinburgh related goodness for me. Let’s see, there was a Faith & Arts Day, a Hub launch, another stunning Christmas video, new friends and the first time I’ve ever got to meet a Christian surrealist (the brilliant Stephanie Mann). There’s too many cool Edinburgh related moments (or people) to do justice to here, but don’t worry, it’s not the last you’ll hear of those guys.

Read more here.

Mr Ekow Strange Ghost Cat fest

2. Mr Ekow and Strange Ghost showed the Catalyst Festival how it should be done

Catalyst Festival 2018 was such a highlight that it appears three times in this list. The first is Strange Ghost and Mr Ekow’s after hours show on the opening night of the festival. I was delighted when Mr Ekow and Strange Ghost said they’d both play at the festival. My excitement grew exponentially when I heard that Mr Ekow’s set would be a collaborative effort. The end result was the best gig I’ve been to this year, raising the bar to us all regarding tightness, skill and how to completely captivate an audience.

I had some other reflections off the back of the gig, too.

Tongues Glasgow Music Sputnik Faith Art

3. Tongues became one of my favourite bands

When I first visited my friend Luke Davydaitis in Edinburgh, he mentioned a guy he knew from Glasgow who was part of a band called Tongues. Their 2015 single Religion instantly caught my ear, building from an old school electro sound to an emotive synth rock crescendo, all underneath Tim Kwant’s arresting falsetto. My word! However, it was this year’s Fight EP that has really won me over. Not Like The Real Thing is my favourite track of the year, bar none. And we got to feature it on our 2018 Sputnik compilation album (if you’ve not heard it, it’s another great reason to become a Sputnik patron).

Tongues. were our Artist of the Week in October, too.


4. Tanya C topped off our first internship year with a stunning performance at her book launch

If we’d imagined the perfect person to become our first Sputnik intern, I think we’d have imagined someone very much like Tanya Chitunhu. She was patient, hard working and willing to try out new things. And, of course, she’s got the skills that pay the bills. She crowned off the internship with an outstanding performance at her book launch in July, and since then has gone on from strength to strength. She’s even been made into a hologram in one of her recent collaborative projects (Tanya tells me it’s not like Princess Leia at the beginning of Star Wars, but I don’t believe her)

Read Tanya’s reflections on her year as our intern, here.

5. Ally Gordon won 5,000 Christians over to contemporary art

When Ally agreed to exhibit at the Catalyst festival, I knew that the exhibition would be fantastic but, I must admit, I was slightly concerned how it would go down generally. I mean, most of the festival goers had come to hear Heidi Baker, not to muse over a collection of exquisitely painted illusions, referencing Umberto Eco and exploring how images shape our perceptions of reality! However, a combination of Ally’s excellent body of work, his incredible skill of articulation and his gentle and gracious manner won over pretty much everyone.


6. Dutchkid got to number 1 in Lebanon…

And into the South African top 40. And racked up over a million streams. And sold out their debut show. Not bad for your first release! If you’ve not heard it yet, Empires is 5 tracks of pristine synth pop that has managed to constantly slap a smile on my face all through the year. Seriously good work guys!

Dutchkid were also our Artist of the Week back in September.

7. Mantis kept getting better and better

I’ve always held Mantis’ skills on the mic in high regard. He’s been responsible for some absolute bangers (Assassins and Bodyguards, Drunken Mantis, Mind of the Master – I could go on!) but even the best MCs have to slow down sooner or later. At least that’s what I thought. In the last couple of months, Mantis has dropped two videos, and they feature two of his best tracks yet. The new album is out early 2019, and if RIP and Steelwire Technique are anything to go by, it will bring in the new year with style.


8. Luke Sewell’s patient craftsmanship started to gain some attention

It is always a pleasure to meet people who simply love to create and patiently and quietly apply themselves to learning their craft simply for the joy of it. Luke is one of those people. Baker and trainee museum curator by day, 2018 saw his photographic skills and burgeoning expertise in lino printing come into their own. My favourite work of his were the prints that featured in Huw Evans’ poetry collection, Minor Monuments, but perhaps my fondest memory of the year was his print of Aston Villa cult hero, Juan Pablo Angel, that Villa’s official Instagram picked up. Juan Pablo’s response? An understated ‘I like it, pal!’

Follow Luke on Instagram, here.


9. Huw Evans produced the ultimate memento mori

My good friend Huw was diagnosed with cancer in 2017 and no amount of creative productivity is going to make that all right. However, it has been truly amazing to see his response to this diagnosis. He has gone into artistic overdrive, finishing off a few novels, some books of children’s verse, and publishing a poetry collection. As if that wasn’t enough, he also put together a one man show, which he debuted at the Catalyst Festival. Not Long Now encapsulates his response to his terminal diagnosis in a moving, profound and often very funny memento mori.

See my other reflections on Catalyst Festival, here.


10. Duncan Stewart encouraged us to greater dependency on Jesus

I’ve known Duncan for some time and admired his work, but I hadn’t met him until last January when I hosted an artist talk he was doing at Woodside Church, Bedford. I was so encouraged just by his friendliness, enthusiasm and overflowing love for Jesus, but his presentation was a particular eye opener. He vulnerably presented the insecurity of the artist’s life, not as a drawback of the trade but as a blessing, as it leads us to a greater dependency on Jesus. Amazing art. Amazing insights. Definitely one of my favourite evenings of the year.

Read more on that here.

And all of that in one year. Not bad. Not bad at all!

…and the year’s low point

However, balanced against these highlights, it is important to also mention the definite low point of the year. In May, my good friend and one of the founders of Sputnik, Jane Rosier, passed away. It wasn’t a surprise as she’d been ill for some time, but it didn’t make it any easier. Jane was an inspiration, an encouragement and a joy to know.

Jane knew acclaim in life as a ballerina and painter, but at the end of her funeral, the mourners joined together in applause, not just of her talents, but of her whole life. It was a life lived faithfully following Jesus and bringing happiness into the lives of those she met, and amidst the sadness, it was truly humbling to reflect upon her life. A life well lived.


I guess we can be guaranteed that 2019 will have its own unique highs and lows. The main thing that I like to pray for is that, through the ups and downs, we’ll know God with us in the things we are doing. In all my work with Sputnik this year, I’ve definitely known his presence and favour and I’m trusting God for that to continue in 2019.

I hope you experience the same.

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Christmas Art 2018: Alternative Stained Glass Windows from St Pauls Auckland

If you want a taste of high quality Christmas art any year, you’re probably best to start by casting your eye towards St Pauls, in Auckland, New Zealand.

Every year, James Bowman and the SPAM (St Pauls’ Arts and Media) team pull out all the stops, and for about the last decade they have set something of a benchmark for churches regarding how to creatively and innovatively enjoy and express Christmas.

This year, the team eschewed their usual Christmas video for an even more ambitious project instead. We caught up with James Bowman to find out what they’ve done.

Alt Carols St Paul's Auckland Sputnik Faith Arts
Stained glass imagery at Alt Carols, St Paul’s Auckland

Hi James, what’s your 2018 been like?

SPAM’s year was mostly centred on STAINED, our multi-faceted community arts event that drew from, and gave to, St Paul’s Auckland’s 31 historic stained glass windows. We started with three Historic Stories presentations where we looked deeply into what was behind the glass. This was followed by an eight week Art Course, with the course art being added to works from our wider community for our weekend-long Exhibition. There was such a wonderful range of involvement and we raised more than enough money to restore our existing windows. We also sowed the seeds for future stained glass windows to be added to our building.

What has SPAM done for Christmas this year?

We wanted to create something non-filmic for this Christmas. Alt Carols is a show St Paul’s puts on for people keen on an alternate take on Carol Services, especially aimed at high schoolers, students and 20-somethings. Our last two films were created to play at Alt. This year we wanted to project imagery during the musical reinterpretations of five existing carols. As we’d been focusing on stained glass, we decided to reinterpret familiar window themes. In addition to the scenes slowly revealed on a huge screen above the five bands or artists, Thomas Bilton projected STAINED fluid art pieces with gentle animation directly onto the church interior.

Alt Carols St Paul's Auckland Sputnik Faith Arts
Live imagery at Alt Carols, St Paul’s Auckland

Can you talk us through the new project?

We chose five traditional window scenes that linked to the songs: the Annunciation, the Angels announcing Christ’s birth to the Shepherds, the Nativity with the Holy Family and Angels, the Magi following the star, and the Holy Family Travelling to Egypt. Inspired by the work of artist Kehinde Wiley, we came up with scenes that would have familiar historic window compositions and content, but be cast, dressed, propped and located in unexpected contemporary Auckland. We needed visual clues to look like stained glass, but aimed to surprise our audience, inviting them to reconsider the familiar narratives, in the same way our carols do.

ALT Carols Windows

We cast from within our church community and Eleanor Calder photographed them around our city with producer Lauren Aitken. Using techniques I developed for my editorial and advertising photoillustrations, I re-worked the shots into their final compositions, with additional imagery, like wings created from a single feather. The frames contain parts of St Paul’s historic windows, the halos are a design created for a STAINED artwork by E. Kim, inspired by our rose window, and put back into our church building in the final image. Historically, Jesus’ halo contains a cross, so we used St Paul’s new logo symbol for him (resulting in pretty cute ears in the Travelling image). The colour palette also draws from our new identity and its symbolism, the colours of our Advent Candles and twists on traditional stained glass palettes.

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Sharon Boothroyd exposes uncomfortable questions

Sharon Boothroyd Subtext of a Dream Sputnik Faith Art

Sharon Boothroyd is a London-based photographic artist whose work has been exhibited worldwide in many prestigious festivals and galleries, and is held in public collections such as the V&A Library, the Yale Centre for British Art and PhotoIreland Foundation.

Sharon also lectures at the Royal College of Art, where she is undertaking a PhD – and unsurprisingly, one of the first things you notice when talking to Sharon is her immensely deep and appreciative knowledge of her discipline, and wider art movements in general.

Sharon Boothroyd Photography SW Sputnik Art Faith
From ‘SW’

What stands out beyond even that is the beautifully empathetic nature of her work. One of the goals of her PhD research project is to reduce stigma and raise public awareness of psychosis; she describes it as an ‘urgent feminist enquiry’ seeking to subvert the gender power dynamics in the usage of labels such as ‘hysteria’ and ‘madness’. The ongoing process, as we learned from Sharon’s visit to the Birmingham Sputnik Hub, is also a research project into the world itself, the abuses of psychotherapy, the complicity of art in the mistreatment of women: and into Sharon herself.

But you needn’t be an academic to understand the power of Sharon’s work. A recent project, SW, is a simple documentation of the characters, buildings and wildlife that make up South West London; capturing respectfully the simple dignity of everyday ‘others’ in her local community. Even her more abstract or experimental work has, at its heart, a raw human-ness and humility, a breaking down of artifice in the pursuit of honesty, be that painful or otherwise.

See more of Sharon’s work at her website.

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Give someone a bundle of mind-bending faith-soaked art this Christmas

This year, we fully launched our Sputnik Patrons project: with the help of our Patrons, we funded several artistic projects by Sputnik practitioners. Midway through the year, our Patrons received the first-ever Sputnik Anthology, which is our bi-annual gift to those who support the arts this way.

While we work on the new Anthology for the New Year, we’re giving a one-off opportunity for you to buy the original Anthology package – a killer Christmas gift for your loved ones!

Sputnik Patrons Faith Art Anthology Namiko Lee
Sputnik Poetry & Visuals Vol. 1

Poetry + Visuals Vol. 1 is a tasty coffee-table book featuring poetry from a variety of Sputnik-affiliated talent, as well as 11 pull-out postcards of visual artwork from around the network. For the next 3 weeks, it’s £10 to buy. Get it here.

Sputnik Sounds Vol. 2 is a blast of electronic pop, rock, ambient and hip-hop: eclectic cuts from some of our favourites in the Sputnik community. If you snap it up now, it’s £5. Pick that up here.

You can also grab both together at a package-deal rate of £12. Of course, if you really want to spread some Christmas cheer, why not pay for somebody’s Sputnik Patrons subscription for a year?


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David McCulloch makes high-concept art feel inviting

“I am convinced that art is a relationship and not a commodity. This effects my decisions, motivations, output and income.”

Dundee-based conceptual artist David McCulloch (‘Cully’, to those in the know) is a maker and a curator, using multi-media formats and experimental galleries in the hopes of rediscovering a healthier role for artists in society: one defined, perhaps, by connection and communication, rather than a commodified experience within a ‘white cube’.

David’s work takes many tones: in Father and Son (video below), David’s own father and son are part of a ‘performance’ where they look at, and are interviewed about, Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ, investigating knowledge, interpretation and faith through three generations. In the darkly comic Last One Standing (featured photo) a giant stone ‘book’ strung precariously from a scaffolding is imprinted with the slogan ‘You could die reading this’.

Whether it’s his own work, or involvement in wider circles with Nomas* Projects and Sharing Not Hoarding, David’s approach is both generous and generative; he lives up to his own artistic creed by creating work that manages to be inviting and personal while still being deeply conceptual – a harder feat than it looks.

Check out more of David’s work at

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Stephanie Mann’s art defies the senses

Stephanie Mann A Dig Site Sputnik Faith Art

‘I do things involving things’. Edinburgh-based artist Stephanie Mann once described her art practice this way, and true enough, her bright and surreal work often defies easy description.

While Mann’s background is in sculpture, the main body of her work consists of photographs and videos, often featuring a dazzling array of brightly coloured objects with contrasting textures, at times being placed, pushed and manipulated by the artist herself.

Stephanie Mann Balancing Summit Sputnik Faith Art
‘Balancing Summit’ by Stephanie Mann

Her preoccupation throughout much of her work is on the subconscious; on what can be found there and how to unearth it (a process she acts out in her 2013 video ‘Sand Hands’). Whereas many explorations of the subconscious may focus on the darker side of life, Stephanie’s playful surrealism is refreshingly innocent and childlike, yet built around a deep familiarity with still life tradition and sculptural principles.

In 2013, she worked on a short film commissioned by the BBC in Japan and she has had solo exhibitions in both Summerhall, Edinburgh and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. She presently works out of her studio at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop.

Stephanie Mann Exhibition Transparent Tortoiseshell Umbrella Sputnik Faith
Exhibition documentation from ‘The transparent tortoiseshell and the un-ripe umbrella’, Glasgow Sculpture Studios.

You can see more of Stephanie’s work on her website

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Lakwena is brightening the world around her

Lakwena Visual Art Mafalda Silva Photography Faith

South London visual artist Lakwena is slowly transforming her home town – and other cities around the world – with her huge, kaleidoscopic murals, breathing life and energy into everyone who walks by.

It’s impossible to miss Lakwena’s work – it’s as eye-catching as it is uncompromising, a supremely confident matrix of bright colour, inspired by (amongst other things) messianic theology, mythology and Afrofuturism. Entwined with the colours are the messages – The Power of Girl. The Future is Gold. Do not relent in doing good. In a recent interview with Elephant magazine, Lakwena describes her work as a connection point to the spiritual world:

“I want [my paintings] to have something of the gospel in them… I want my life to have some good news in it. Adverts shout a mythology that if you buy a product your life will be complete. If I put a painting up then I’m doing the same.”

Lakwena Clinique Visual Art Painting Faith Beauty
Photo: Benjamin Madgwick for
Lakwena Mural Visual Art Ferdinand Feys
Photo: Ferdinand Feys

The expressive, eye-popping, myth-making work has caught its followers: Lakwena has been invited to create murals and installations in Miami, New York, Las Vegas, Arkansas, and her work can frequently spotted bursting through the grey in London suburbs. And for the thousands who walk past her work in different cities every day, Lakwena is an unseen force making her world a better place to be.

Follow Lakwena on Instagram, here.

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Marksteen Adamson brings a generous spirit to photography

In Artist of the Week, we celebrate faith-driven artists making quality work for universal audiences.

Photographer Marksteen Adamson is a force to be reckoned with. Previously the Global Creative Director of Interbrand, overseeing massive branding projects for well-known names, he set up Agency ASHA in 2002, as well as photography training programme Nimbus, and the Big Cold Turkey Foundation, set up to support youth suffering from either their own addictions or those of someone close.

As part of ASHA’s work, the PEEL project works with young people as a means to help their mental health, self-expression and sense of self-identity, through a mixture of poetry and photography. The results so far have been fantastic – both in terms of the work produced, and the response to the programme.

Sputnik Marksteen Adamson PEEL Poster Art
Displayed work from the PEEL project

With all these projects under the belt you might forget that Marksteen is also a brilliant photographer – and disarmingly humble about it, as if it’s an afterthought. And on the one hand, it’s true that Marksteen continually puts others first, using his time and his skills to celebrate their development rather than his own. But it’s also his creative zeal that underpins all his strategizing, and makes him an inspiring figure capable of driving forwards massive projects.

Unsurprisingly, you’ll often find him being a guest lecturer or conference speaker, writing articles, or appearing on radio or television. We don’t know where the man finds all the time, but his generosity and skill make him a great example of how faith and art co-exist and interact.

Check out Marksteen’s work here, or the PEEL project here.

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Hannah Rose Thomas’s stunning portraits demonstrate art as advocacy

Hannah Rose Thomas Portraits Fine Art Sputnik Faith

Hannah Rose Thomas is an English artist creating stunning portrait paintings of refugees, whose work has been shown at the Saatchi Gallery, the Houses of Parliament and Durham Cathedral.

As part of the process, Hannah has organised art projects in Kurdistan with Yezidi women who had escaped ISIS captivity, and for Rohingya children in refugee camps on the Myanmar border. We asked Hannah to talk about her journey a little – if you’d like to find out more, see Hannah’s website, and follow her on Instagram.

You’ve said you’re influenced by Islamic art and poetry – and of course you’re an Arabic speaker. Where does that connection with Middle Eastern cultures stem from?

I studied History and Arabic at Durham due to a desire to understand different cultures. Arabic is a beautiful language, and the written script an artform in itself.

I first travelled to Iran when I was eighteen years old, and was captivated by the breathtaking beauty of the mosques of Isfahan and Shiraz. I draw inspiration from Islamic art and poetry to celebrate the rich cultural heritage of the Middle East which is so often forgotten and overshadowed by war.

You’ve been involved with humanitarian work for some time, and presumably painting for a while too. Have they always felt connected, or was there a particular event or story that caused you to bring them together?

I have always loved to paint ever since I was very young, but my interest in portraiture began as a result of my travels and humanitarian work in Africa and the Middle East. While living in Jordan as an Arabic student in 2014, I had an opportunity to organise art projects with Syrian refugees for UNHCR – an experience which opened my eyes to the magnitude of the refugee crisis confronting our world today. I began to paint the portraits of some of the refugees I had met, to show the people behind the global crisis, whose personal stories are otherwise often shrouded by statistics.

My unusual position as an English artist who is fluent in Arabic has enabled me to cross cultural barriers and communicate their stories, and I’ve been deeply moved by the stories of the refugees I’ve had the privilege of meeting. Each person I have spoken with has a story of suffering and remarkable resilience. It was to share their stories that I began painting their portraits.

Hannah Rose Thomas Yezidi Women: ISIS Survivors Art Sputnik Faith
Panels from ‘Yezidi Women: ISIS Survivors’

I love these words from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” What does it truly mean to imagine yourselves in another person’s skin, to feel what they feel? How can we begin to imagine how it feels to flee our homes and the unimaginable horrors of war? There is nothing more important than empathy for another’s suffering. We have to feel compassion for one another if we are going to survive with dignity.

“I don’t think I could go to these places if I didn’t have art as a way to process and express all that I have seen.”

The ‘art of empathy’ is a concept that has been on my heart while painting the portraits of Yezidi women and Rohingya women this last year. Often tears would fall while painting and thinking about their stories and ongoing suffering: the paintings are a way of offering a prayer for them to God.

I don’t think I could go to these places if I didn’t have art as a way to process and express all that I have seen. My work has taught me to look for the sacred beauty, dignity and value of the human spirit, even in places of darkness and suffering. I hope that these paintings remind us of our shared humanity and that we have more in common than what divides us.

Hannah Rose Thomas Yezidi Women Project Sputnik Faith Art
A Yezidi woman, former ISIS captive, paints a self-portrait

Who’s the primary audience in your mind: the portrait subjects themselves, or the folks far away?

The hope was to use the art projects and paintings as a tool for advocacy and a way to bring their stories to places of influence in the West. This year the paintings by Yezidi women from an art project I organised in Northern Iraq last year were shown alongside my paintings in the Houses of Parliament and DfID.

Ever since I was young I have wanted to be a voice for the voiceless somehow, and never imagined it could be through art.

The start of your process is so personal; have you also been able to share moments with your audience, to witness their reaction to your work?

There have been many times when people I’ve spoken to have been visibly moved by the paintings. I think that this is because a portrait painting is intensely personal, and also it provides space for people to contemplate and reflect. We are so frequently bombarded with tragic stories in the news that I think we become a little numb; however a portrait painting can bring us face to face with the human stories behind the refugee crisis, which makes it much more real.

The MPs and Peers who visited my exhibition Yezidi women: ISIS Survivors  in the houses of Parliament March 2018 were profoundly moved, and as a consequence the plight of Yezidi women was raised in the House on a number of occasions, including a mention by Theresa May during PMQs.  •  @hannahrosethomas

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Luke Tonge makes the print medium sing

Luke Tonge Graphic Design Visual Sputnik Faith Art

In Artist of the Week, we celebrate faith-driven artists making quality work for universal audiences.

Birmingham-based designer Luke Tonge is a man of many, many hats: chiefly a freelance graphic designer, Luke also lectures at BCU, art directs The Recorder magazine for Monotype, and founded CRTD, a network for Christian creative professionals to connect with one another.

Most recently, Luke was one of the directors of the inaugural Birmingham Design Festival – a stunning spread of talks, exhibitions and workshops across the city, over 4 days, drawing in huge, influential names and sponsors, and injecting some serious creative pride into the local design scene. It’s hard to overstate what Luke and his team pulled off – this was truly something for the city’s creative community to shout about, and most of the festival was totally free to attend. Check out Creative Review’s interview with Luke and co-director Dan Alcorn, here.

Birmingham Design Festival Thom Bartley
Photo: Thom Bartley for Birmingham Design Festival

The shiny new design festival aside, Luke’s work speaks for itself. He’s a man who makes the print medium sing, with a style that tastefully balances cleanliness and chaos – the right white space here, the right 120-pt typeface there – and a knack for celebrating and incorporating others’ work, as he does so well in The Recorder.

It’s symptomatic of what makes Luke such an asset to Brum at large: so good at connecting and collaborating, that you could almost miss the raw talent pulling it all together.

Luke Tonge Graphic Design Recorder Sputnik Visual Faith Art
Spreads from The Recorder.

Follow Luke Tonge on Twitter (his digital stomping ground of choice) to have a chance of keeping up with the man’s output and various projects.

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Ruth Mary crafts beguiling, unorthodox jewellery

In Artist of the Week, we celebrate faith-driven artists making work for universal audiences.

Though a part of Sputnik for many years, we still felt honoured to have Birmingham-based jewellery-maker Ruth Mary running a ‘small business’ workshop at Catalyst Festival this summer. When it comes to making a living in the creative industries, Ruth has wisdom to spare; her home-run jewellery company was featured in the Guardian’s top 100 small businesses last year, and she was invited to speak at the Women in Business Expo 2017 at Birmingham Council House.

More to the point though, Ruth’s work is stunning: a genuinely unorthodox form of jewellery that is the result of her self-taught expertise as both a silversmith and lace maker. Ruth’s design concepts are hand-stitched in thread, then recreated in precious metal: the end result is both beguiling, and evidently popular!

Ruth Mary Jewellery Sputnik Paisley Necklace Gold
Paisley Handmade Silver Lace Necklace, by Ruth Mary Jewellery

We also hugely appreciate Ruth’s openness about her route into the industry: she trained originally as a chemist, but a bout of serious illness prompted a change in direction. No doubt it’s Ruth’s faith, in part, that enables her to be open with her story, where the pressure on the self-employed can be to present everything in the most positive light possible. It’s beautiful to see God work in her life this way, but Ruth’s work is worth celebrating regardless: a talented and unique craftsperson making waves in her industry.

You can see more of Ruth’s work, and order her jewellery, at her website.

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Samuel John Butt brings love everywhere

Welcome to our new feature, Artist of the Week, in which we celebrate faith-driven artists making work for universal audiences.

SE Londoner Samuel John Butt is a photographic artist whose work has been featured on the pages of i-D magazine, used as album artwork by Michael Kiwanuka and hung on the walls of a small selection of galleries in East London. He’s currently working on a series of experimental floral images, and learning to write poetry. He’s also been developing a brand and clothing range called ‘More Love’, a way to cultivate and communicate the love that originates from God.

Samuel J Butt Can We Start Again Please Sputnik Faith Art
From SJB’s exhibition ‘Can We Start Again Please?’

It’s easy to be intimidated by the successes and the considerable talent of someone like Sam, but his humility and honesty in person debunks any Instagram fallacies before you even start. Being a photographer in the pressurized maelstrom of London is far from easy or glamorous, and it’s a vocation that has forced Sam to continually reevaluate what is important, what he can hope to achieve, and the best way to take care of himself and others.

Unsurprisingly, his creative process is well-thought out: earlier this year we featured his in-depth interview with Kodak on why he continues to use film, and the inner process that informs his work. You can see plenty of his work on Instagram or his website: from intimate, humanizing portraits and diaristic snaps to beautiful, abstract images.

We were privileged to feature an exclusive piece from ‘Experiments From the Garden’ in our first ever Sputnik Poetry & Visuals anthology – pick up a copy by joining Sputnik Patrons!

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Namiko Chan Takahashi is a master of portraits

Welcome to our new feature, Artist of the Week, in which we celebrate faith-driven artists making work for universal audiences.

Singapore-based, award-winning multidisciplinary artist Namiko Chan Takahashi is one of Singapore’s most accomplished portrait artists; her work is found in many private international collections as well as in public institutions such as the Istana and the National Gallery of Singapore.

Sputnik Patrons Faith Art Anthology Namiko Lee
Namiko Chan Takahashi’s ‘Beyond Belief’, featured in Sputnik Poetry & Visuals Vol 1.

Namiko specialises in seeing the Imago Dei in every person, and portraying their dignity and beauty in her oil paintings. For example, in 2015 she launched the 10,000 Profiles Project, rendering 35-minute profile portraits of friends and perfect strangers, in order to explore the assumptions we make about people when we first see them; eventually God worked through the project to serve the Orang Asli – the indigenous people of Peninsular Malaysia.

Along with her husband – prize-winning poet, community organiser and ethics lawyer Aaron Lee – Namiko runs the Laniakea Culture Collective, and is regularly invited to conduct painting and art exploration classes for the public. As if this wasn’t enough – she now directs, teaches and dances with Singapore’s first branch of a Hawaiian Hula dance school. In short, Namiko is an astoundingly talented, hard-working and empathetic artist doing fantastic things in Singapore.

We were privileged to feature Namiko in our first ever Sputnik Poetry & Visuals anthology, alongside her husband – pick up a copy by joining Sputnik Patrons!

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Develop your craft, study the Bible & work with us as a Sputnik intern

Would you like to spend a year developing your art practice, getting to know the Bible better and working alongside the Sputnik team in Birmingham?

We are offering up to three Sputnik internships, starting in September 2018, linked in with the Newfrontiers Impact training program.

What does the year look like?

Developing your own art practice.

Spend time working on your own artistic projects, with supervision and mentoring from artists in your field. We’ll help you strategise and find some key goals to accomplish by the end of the year.

Studying the Bible.

There will be 30 days of practical theological training throughout the year, as well as an accompanying programme of study – in association with Newfrontiers’ Impact programme.

Working with the Brum Sputnik Team.

You’d be working closely with Jonny & Jemma Mellor, and the Brum Sputnik team to broaden your creative horizons and to help with the week by week running of the Sputnik arts network.

Getting stuck into a local church.

Part of the year would involve serving at Churchcentral, Birmingham, and getting stuck into the wider church community.

Who’s it for?

This is potentially for any Christian who is serious about their creative practice, and who wants to create work for a universal audience (not just for Christians).

The internship will be based in a church from the Catalyst Network, but you don’t have to be from a Catalyst church. You just need to love Jesus!

While we will take applications from creatives of any discipline, the internship would be best designed to serve writers, musicians, songwriters, rappers, photographers, graphic designers, fine artists or filmmakers. (If you’re not sure whether you fall into any of these pigeonholes but are still interested, contact us directly through Facebook or Twitter, and we can talk it through).

Applying for the internship

The cost for the year will be £1,350 (for the residential training). We will need to see examples of work, and there will be an interview. Check out the application form for more details.

Be advised, you’ll have to arrange a means of funding your living while interning with us. The internship is technically full-time, but if you’re working a part-time job we have a certain amount of flexibility to make that work for you.

The deadline for application is 20th July.

So, are you interested? Download the application form here.

Featured image: students at Leeds School of Theology, another training programme affiliated with Impact & the Catalyst Network.

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London’s D&AD Festival addresses how ‘Creativity Shapes Culture’

D&AD Design Festival Sputnik

D&AD (Design and Art Direction) is a British educational charity, well known in the design and advertising worlds for their prestigious and fairly picky awards ceremony. They also run the D&AD Festival, taking place this year at the Old Truman Brewery in London from the 24-26 April.

The 2018 Festival’s theme is how ‘Creativity Shapes Culture‘ – exploring, amongst other things, how those in the creative industries might make positive change in the world, make culture more inclusive, and take ownership of their social influence. It’s a theme that will feel altogether pretty familiar to regular Sputnik readers, since it’s pretty central to our raison d’être; it also seems like a savvy decision for a year where the political and social influence of marketing and technology are coming under a lot of scrutiny.

Tickets for the renowned festival might stretch your pockets a bit, but the discussions look great. And we’re not above enjoying a moment of vindication.

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Dora Votin translates grace, loss and beauty into abstract paintings

Dora Votin On the Road to Damascus Sputnik Visual Art Faith
Please could you introduce yourself- who are you and what do you do?

I’m a Hungarian artist, a painter, born and raised in Budapest. Me, my husband and our three children moved to Budaörs in 1999, on the southern outskirts of Budapest. My workshop is there, too.

I had worked as a background painter for a cartoon animation company for years, and I was really happy to be there. After our three children were born, I became a freelancer. I studied drawing, painting, typography – and later, liberal arts/religious studies and philosophy.

You work in several different styles. Can you tell us a bit about these?

How I work, what I paint, what kind of texture I use depends on what I want to express. The way I put down the strokes – especially if I use thick paint – can add extra message to the picture. On the New Song series, I gave strength to the brush strokes, but the Threshold series are the opposite in terms of technique; I only used a few gesture-like brush strokes, and few colours.

My plank-pictures series is a recent favourite, and it uses at least three different styles. One is faint, sensitive drawings adding almost nothing to the wood; one is vivid and colourful; and one icon-like series uses metallic golds and silvers.

The most important thing is that these planks are from building sites: they are old, wasted pieces of wood which are knotted, cracked and stained. They’re wounded, like us.

I don’t cover the injured part of it; rather, I put gold next to the most painful part, to emphasize it. So finally the wounded part of the wood becomes the most beautiful part of the whole. For me, that is how we are changed when we are in God’s hand.


Dora Votin Mozes 2014 Sputnik Faith Art
Mozes, Dora Votin (2014)

Our readership is mainly from the English speaking world, and many of us would not know much about Hungarian artists. Who are your favourite Hungarian artists and why?

Judit Reigl and Simon Hantai would be the most known and famous ones. Reigl’s paintings are really close to my heart. Her works are powerful and reflect freedom and playfulness. There are just too many good painters and artists in Hungary. I mention only few of them.

Some contemporary artist I really appreciate: Eva Krajcsovics, Eszter Deli, Bea Zoltai, Gabor Erdelyi, Janos Aknay, Laszlo Gyemant, Laszlo Feher, Gabor Karatson, Lili Orszagh, Lajos Vajda, Endre Balint, Bela Kondor, Jeno Barcsay. – That is a long long line, already!

“I didn’t expect grace showing up from destruction [in my work]. That was a surprise.”

How does following Jesus make you a better artist and what challenges have you found being a Christian making art?

What makes the better art and artist is me, the real person, growing spiritually while following Christ, learning about God, life, myself and art.

For years I was afraid of calling myself a Christian artist. I felt it suggested my art is more a Christian thing than an art thing, and I didn’t want to reach people from that point. I didn’t want to be an old-fashioned kitsch painter, as I thought of it.

Please tell us about your ‘Removed Pictures’ project. Why did you make this and how did you come up with the idea?

‘Removed Pictures’ was created for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, last year. Thinking about reformation I had a sense of loss as an artist, because of the re-formation of the way of looking at art.

There are seven paintings, each showing a dramatic meeting in the life of Christ. I covered each painting with white wall paint, to experience that loss. The pain of loss was part of the honest relationship with the artworks and the only way of expressing the power of destruction.

What I had not planned was that I found a joy in it, greater than the loss. I realised I got new paintings, different from the originals, built upon them; they could only function because of that original, destroyed base. For me that has spoken about grace and renewal. That was a surprise. I didn’t expect grace showing up from destruction.

What projects are you working on at the moment and what do you hope to achieve in 2018?

Right now I am preparing for the next show. The title will be Scale Change, since I am painting in three sizes – small, medium and big – to discover how I can change the scale of a piece and still preserve its quality.


To see more of Dora’s work, visit her website. (For our English speaking audience, click on the ‘English’ button in the top right hand corner).


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Come to the inaugural Chaiya Arts Award exhibition

Chaiya Arts Award Exhibition Sputnik Faith Arts

The brand new Chaiya Arts Award opens its inaugural exhibition next week: a show of 40+ artists exploring the question ‘Where is God in our 21st Century World?’, bursting with diversity, vulnerability, exploration and fragility.

The exhibition promises a multitude of original and provocative responses to the titular question, through painting, sculpture and video; aimed at the curious and open-minded, for people of all faiths and none.

The exhibition runs from 29 March to 8 April 2018 (11am-6pm, or 8pm on Thursdays), at gallery@oxo in South Bank, London.  Admission is free, and the art is for sale – so if you get a chance, be sure to take a look.

Chaiya Arts Award Exhibition Poster Sputnik

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Samuel J Butt shares all with the Kodak podcast

We’ve featured South London photographer Samuel J Butt before, around his recent exhibition and his excellent work on Stewart Garry’s folk-film album, Sojourner. Sam produces stunning photography in portraiture and abstract imagery – and recently had the opportunity to ‘take over’ Kodak’s instagram feed for a week, posting images and stories from old and new work alike.

Kodak capped that off with an in-depth interview on their Kodakery podcast, where Sam explains why he continues to work with film, and the inner process that goes into his work – something incredibly challenging in the frequently demanding and exhausting media industry.

Stream the interview below, or here on Kodak’s site – and check out Sam’s own instagram here.

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The Financial Insecurity of Artists Debunks the Myth of Self-Sufficiency

Sputnik: The Financial Insecurity of Artists Debunks the Myth of Self-Sufficiency

An artist can lead something of a hand to mouth existence. The stereotype is the starving artist, labouring on their work until their fingers stiffen up completely from cold or malnutrition. Perhaps Von Gogh springs to mind, dying in poverty, having only sold one painting, as something of a necessary prelude to his post-mortem acclaim.

I hope that few of you who are reading this would identify too readily with poor old Vincent, but behind the stereotype, there is a grain of truth in regards to the often uncertain financial position many artists find themselves in, if they are looking to pursue self-initiated projects for large portions of their working week.

I’m constantly impressed by the innovative ways that artists find to fund their work. However, even when these methods are successful, this is still a difficult path that will often make it unclear where the next paycheque is coming from.

Financial insecurity is a fact for even the most skilled artists

Duncan Stewart touched on this in his excellent presentation at Woodside Church last week. Duncan is a painter and sculptor from Port Elizabeth, South Africa, and he talked to us about one of his most successful projects: an exhibition inspired by and put on to coincide with the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. It was an exceptional project full of nuanced spiritual challenges, provocative calls for justice and an intimidating level of craftsmanship and skill. It was also very successful, gaining national media interest and, importantly for the Stewart family, proving itself financially viable. He sold the entire exhibition on the opening night. For many artists, this is the stuff of dreams.

Piece from Duncan Stewarts Football: A Dialect of Hope Exhibition

However, he ended by observing that this was now 8 years ago. Subsequent projects have not reached this level of success and he admitted to finding this frustrating. He, like so many other artists, lives without job security or a guarantee that this will pay the bills month on month. Duncan vulnerably shared the difficulties of this situation. This causes worry. This causes tears.

It was revealing to see that even those of us with exceptional skill and great determination can still find ourselves in this position. If you are pursuing your art as a means of income and finding that this is not leading you to Damien Hurst/Kanye West levels of prosperity and financial security, be encouraged! It doesn’t mean you’re not any good. It doesn’t even mean that you’re doing something wrong. This goes with the terrain. Obviously, we do need to listen to our circumstances and adapt accordingly but it is very worth noting that this way of living is shared by the majority of artists, even artists who would be regarded as very successful.

Painting from Duncan Stewarts Football: A Dialect of Hope Exhibition

Financial insecurity carries an unexpected lesson with it

This is encouraging on its own but Duncan ended his presentation by completely flipping our perspective. This was not an unhelpful drawback of the artists’ predicament, he told us. He considered it a huge blessing. Why? Because it led to a greater dependency on Jesus.

It would be easy to write this off as a trite platitude. The kind of thing you have to say to keep getting church gigs. However, it wasn’t a throwaway comment; Duncan had modelled this dependency all through his story. On his artistic journey, at every stage, he had been listening to God for guidance, praying earnestly for help and obeying what he felt God was telling him to do. This was not just at moments of crisis either, but this lived-out dependency on God was built into his everyday life.

Those of you who don’t have a regular 9-to-5 contract have got something to teach the rest of the body of Christ

Most telling for me was a moment in the Q & A. Duncan mentioned something about his ‘quiet times’ and then commented that setting aside such time was a challenge as he has four children. I joked that, in that situation, quiet times wouldn’t just be a challenge but impossible, taking the phrase literally (ie., it is impossible to be quiet in a four-child household). Duncan immediately struck me with a pretty stern glare, and clarified that this was not the case. Quiet times (ie. devotional times of prayer and Bible reading) may be challenging, but they certainly weren’t impossible, and he made sure that he had them daily.

For those of you looking to earn a living from your art, who don’t have a regular 9-to-5 contract, I want to encourage you. You’ve got something to teach the rest of the body of Christ as you navigate the insecurities of your daily life. For most people, myself included, the security of a contract and set amounts of money deposited monthly into our bank accounts, is seen as a blessing, and in many ways it is, but it certainly means that we are less likely to fall back, desperate and needy on Jesus to look to provide for us. This arrangement can often trick us into thinking that we are the ultimate providers for ourselves and our families, and that we’ve got it sorted. I’ve got to work hard to remember that this is a lie. The Bible tells us that all we think we own has been loaned to us from God to use for his kingdom, and our security is always in his hands. This reality is much more readily accessible for a freelance graphic designer, say, than a shool teacher.

Security can trick us into thinking that we are the ultimate providers for ourselves and our families

So, whatever schemes you are cooking up to make ends meet while still aiming to maintain your artistic integrity, Duncan’s model is a great one to follow. Acknowledge and embrace your dependency on God, and demonstrate that dependency in bringing it all to God in prayer. Jesus said this:

‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?…do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.’ (Mt 6:25-34)

What do we do instead? ‘seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’ (Mt 6:33). Duncan told us that this was one of his favourite verses. No surprise there, then.

Sculptures from Duncan Stewarts Football: A Dialect of Hope Exhibition
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Get Your Free Ticket to An Evening With South African Painter/Sculptor Duncan Stewart

On Thursday 18th January, Sputnik are hosting An Evening with Duncan Stewart, at Woodside Church, Bedford. Duncan, a South African painter and sculptor, is a Sputnik favourite and it is a delight to have him over in the UK.

What brings you to England, Duncan?

Short answer: God. Long answer: I applied to Artrooms Fair 2018, an art fair for independent artists around the globe, and was delighted to be selected to show some of my work here in London.

Talk to us about the exhibition…

For Artrooms Fair, selected artists are given a room at the Melia White House, where they are invited to show whatever work they want. The strength of this concept is that the public get to engage first hand with the artists, and vice versa; it’s also a fantastic opportunity for networking, and making new contacts with galleries, artists, critics etc.

What else are you looking to get up to on your stay?

The scripture I felt God wanted me to hold as I came was from 1 Cor 2:1-5 and, with that in mind, it seems good to connect to all opportunities God opens up, knowing that He is building his kingdom, by His Holy Spirit’s power and for His glory. So I’ve accepted this invitation, and another to be interviewed as part of a panel discussion with Artrooms Fair that I believe may be put on line or broadcast more broadly – God knows.

What else have you got in the pipeline for 2018?

I am excited for 2018. I have two workshops coming up: one is a three-day painting and drawing retreat on the beautiful Bushmens River/Kenton-on-Sea area; then I have been invited to Jo’burg, interestingly enough, to host a workshop for corporate/banking people on the need to be creative, and to overcome fear in the pursuit of meaningfulness and creativity. I’ve no idea what I am going to present, so don’t ask! Suggestions are welcome though. At some point I also want to paint and sculpt and hopefully will be down at the Cape Town International Boat show again later in the year.

If you’re in London over the weekend, the Artrooms fair will be at Meliá in Regent’s Park (here are all the details). And if you can make it to Bedford on Thursday evening, book your free tickets here.

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See The Liturgists’ series of visual meditations on the Joyous Mysteries

For those unaware, The Liturgists is a mainly-online community led by writer “Science Mike” McHargue and musician Michael Gungor, which has grown out of their Liturgists Podcast. The Liturgists’ discussions often revolve around faith, art and science, particularly trying to gain an appreciation for the breadth of Christian faith and thought outside of one’s upbringing and culture.

As such, the podcast has a huge listenership among ex-Christians, non-Christians, struggling believers and everyone in between. Their new Christmas series of videos, ‘The Joyous Mysteries’, is arguably the Liturgists at their best: an inclusive, poetic and surprisingly Catholic invitation to Advent-related meditation.

Four visual artists created pieces based around ‘The Joyous Mysteries’, a Catholic term for a series of events before and during Christ’s life; the videos document their process, while outlining the “imago divina” methodology of meditation through art, before leaving it up to the viewer. In all, it’s an intriguing and thoughtfully curated series that gently suggests the deep truth behind some joy-filled mysteries.

See the introductory video, below:

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Does The Bible Shape Your Creative Practice?

For me, each of the Sputnik Birmingham Hub get-togethers have been special events. Oh, to have the ability to teleport various creative friends, far and near, into our living room so that they can get a touch of the magic vibe.

This time round the featured artist was my friend, author and singer/songwriter, David Benjamin Blower. He kicked off our session by performing his latest album ‘The Book of Jonah’ in its entirety – just him and his slightly wonky guitar.

What really struck me as David sung, stamped, wailed and whistled his way through this story, about a man traveling to Mosul to reason with extremists, was how terrifying Jonah’s prophetic calling was. No wonder he ran in the opposite direction.

The songs, part-spaghetti western, part apocalyptic folk, are interwoven with readings of the biblical text in the King James Version and surprisingly these are not at all incongruous. The songs were able to galvanize my empathy for Jonah and Nineveh in a way that the text alone hasn’t done and as David whistled the closing theme my appreciation for and understanding of the Book of Jonah had increased.

David Blower plays the Book of Jonah at Sputnik Birmingham Hub
David Blower playing the Book of Jonah

With no fanfare or warning a lounge-full of people had just experienced a dramatic, powerful piece of Biblical art, a real life example of creative work, which actually included readings from the Bible that had avoided corniness, sentimentality, cliché, on-the-nose-isms and clunkiness.

David talked a little about the making of the record, acknowledging N.T. Wright and Alastair McIntosh who narrated the recording and the other musicians (some of whom were in the room) who’d helped make this tale of imperialism, grumpiness and repentance come to life. ‘This is probably the most collaborative album I’ve ever done’, David stated.

The question was posed to the group: how closely does your art relate to Biblical texts? This set off a lively conversation about inspiration. Our creative practices are all quite distinctive. Some of us have an eye on the text as we work, others just ‘make’ with the truths, questions and paradoxes of scripture flowing through our creative blood vessels.

How ‘bout yourself? Do the various letters, poems, statistics, biographies, dreams and historical narratives that make up the Bible directly inspire your art?

Birmingham Sputnik Hub
Birmingham Sputnik Hub

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Jessamy Shreeves presents a new kind of Arts Festival

Last week we caught up with Keir Shreeves on the back of his booklet ‘Art for Mission’s Sake’. However, Keir is only half of team Shreeves. Jessamy Shreeves is an artist and the founder of Christian arts festival ‘Thou Art’, and today, it’s over to her.

Hi Jessamy, who are you and what do you do?

I’m someone who is having a messy but fun go at following Jesus. At this stage of my life, I’m also doing a lot of following toddlers (I have a busy three-year-old who I’m always chasing, mostly with my 4-month-old baby dangling in one arm). I studied History of Art and English Lit at Edinburgh University but always got a bit of cash in from painting (mostly portraits). Via art school, a digital start up and trying my hand as a headhunter, I then found my way towards fundraising, which I now do for a number of charities as a consultant. I still paint though – a few commissions, but mostly for pleasure- or because I get itchy fingers if I don’t!

How do you and Keir work together in your artistic pursuits?

Our mutual interest in creativity and faith is one of the things that drew us together. We first went on a date after getting to know each other when I was organising an exhibition in the church where Keir was working. He came over and said “I’d love to take you out for lunch” and I turned to the whole hanging team and said: “Everyone, Keir is very kindly taking us out for lunch!”

Broadly speaking Keir’s the thinker and I’m the doer. Keir’s got a perfectionist streak whereas I just tend to go for things and hope that optimism and a few late nights mean I’ll pull them off!

When we first met we realised we both have bi-polar bookshelves. Stuff like The Art of Looking Sideways by Alan Fletcher, Buckminster Fuller books & Scottish Colourist catalogues on one side and the Bible, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Phillip Yancey on the other. Until recently there hasn’t been much to plug the gap- but now the tide is turning and it feels like the arts are coming back into playing their part in announcing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Thou Art Festival

Tell us about ‘Thou Art’. What is it? How did it come about? How is it different from other exhibitions/festivals?

Thou Art is part exhibition, part gig, part festival- a general celebration of creativity and its source.

Beauty has always helped me connect with God. When I was at university I found other people who felt the same, so we ended up doing a few exhibitions of the art we’d made and inviting our friends who weren’t into God stuff to see.

Thou Art was a natural extension of this- putting our art into God’s epic art work (a stunning, wild garden) so you might find a Nick Fiddian-Green huge bronze head of Christ amidst the bluebells, bump into an insightful portrait peeping round a tree, spot a bike-powered cinema in a bush or hear some fresh new music as you enjoy a local cider.

“The tide is turning – the arts are coming back into playing their part in announcing the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

There seem to be loads of festival type things for Christians and obviously lots which are in no way Christian, but there doesn’t seem to be a space to just ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’- to hang out with people who are trying to love like Jesus did, to experience art work that points to God, to be in a place that is beautiful but comfortable, normal but prayed in, and open oneself up a bit.

Thou Art Festival

How do you hope that the world will be a little different through ‘Thou Art’?

I guess just a little more colourful, creative and open. At the last Thou Art, an atheist friend of mine was moved to tears looking at a sculpture down by the lake. I don’t know what was going on for him but I hope it was a helpful release of emotions and engagement with his feelings at the very least.

For those who aren’t into God stuff, I hope it’s a chance to encounter something of God’s love, beauty & truth- whether that’s through the people, the artwork, the music or the garden itself. And for those who already know and love Jesus, I hope that the arts help them find new depths, get beyond the rational and into a new place of freedom, acceptance and joy.

Thou Art Festival

How can artists get involved with ‘Thou Art’?

Have a look at and if you are interested please do make contact, telling me what you and your work are about and pinging a few images and the curating team and I would love to have you involved I’m sure!


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Lost Da Vinci becomes most expensive painting ever sold

Leonardo da Vinci’s long-lost ‘Salvator Mundi’, a painting of Jesus Christ commissioned over 500 years ago, has become the highest-valued work of art ever sold at auction. Unusually, the painting was sold as part of a contemporary art sale, and has a back-story of theft, amateur patch-ups and scandal worthy of a Donna Tartt novel.

It’s a buzz-worthy story for a number of reasons, but it also gives us a lot to unpack. Yes, someone paid over $400 million for a painting of Jesus – but it’s safe to assume they’re paying for da Vinci, not the subject matter. And of course it’s not exactly Jesus, anyway – it’s another unhistoric portrayal of the much-misrepresented rabbi. Is it just a valuable asset for a rich buyer – or does it really hold some kind of special substance and mystique? Does any of this matter? Let us know, below.

Leonardo, as you may know, had a long and prosperous career thanks to his rich patrons, so this seems a good moment to say joining Sputnik Patrons might help the next $400m masterpiece get made.

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Richard’s Immaculata Cosmica project now available online

Newcastle-based mononymous artist Richard has published his Immaculata Cosmica project online; a collection of collages combining classic images from religious art history with images of space. Richard explains:

Immaculata Cosmica (The Immaculate Cosmos) invites you… to explore that inner universe, the inner cosmos that is within us all and its relation to our creator God in a series of artworks and collaged material that ponders on these questions of 1. What is God doing and creating inside of us? and 2. How does this relate to and connect us to the world we occupy?

Richard’s ‘Pecha Kucha’ presentation of the project was one of the highlights of the arts study day we attended at the Holy Biscuit in Newcastle, and we’re glad to see it’s now available to all. See this intriguing set of image at their online home, here.

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New Photographic Exhibition in London by Samuel J Butt

Samuel J Butt Can We Start Again Please Sputnik Faith Art

‘Can We Start Again Please?’ is a collection of work from the last 7 years of Samuel John Butt‘s photographic career, including experimental studies, commissioned fashion and music work, and self-portraiture – much of it previously unpublished.

Samuel is a good friend of Sputnik and currently a part of ChristChurch London – we previously featured his work as Director of Photography on Stewart Garry’s folk-film album, ‘Sojourner’. In his day job, Samuel has worked with personalities like Pharrell Williams, Blondie and Michael Kiwanuka, and on projects with Tate Modern, Chanel, i-D, Dazed, Clash, Polydor Records and Wonderland.

The exhibition is free, and runs from 15 November – 3 December at Four Corners in Bethnal Green, London – you can also register for a visit on Eventbrite.

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A Handy Introduction to Church & The Arts by Keir Shreeves

Don’t be put off by the utilitarian overtones of the title: ‘Art For Missions Sake: Announcing the Gospel Through The Creative Arts’ is a very succinct but surprisingly thorough introduction to the importance of the arts for local churches. Written by Brighton-based church leader Keir Shreeves, the booklet is published by Grove Books – whose aim is to stimulate and equip Christian community by providing clear and concise explorations of Christian living and ministry.

Shreeves draws from his experience (and that of his wife Jessamy, who runs the Brighton art festival ‘Thou Art’) to tackle the ‘why’, but also the ‘how’ questions for churches thinking about meaningful engagement with the arts. If you’re in church leadership and would like a good introduction to this topic that will only take you about half an hour to read, then this is for you. If you’re not in church leadership, but would like to be encouraged again about the place of the arts in the 21st century church, this may well be for you too. Click away to purchase a copy for a mere £3.95.

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Katriona Beales’ latest exhibit explores digital hyper-connectivity

Katriona Beales - Are We All Addicts Now?

London-based conceptual artist – and friend of Sputnik – Katriona Beales takes a considered look at internet addiction and digital capitalism in her latest exhibition, ‘Are We All Addicts Now?’ The exhibition is open at Furtherfield, London, until this Sunday, but you can also buy the accompanying book here.

This excellent interview by Studio International delves into Katriona’s thoughts behind the project, where she talks about making visible the invisible, drawing the viewer’s attention to pathological behaviours that have been normalised, and the intentionally coercive behavioural psychology that lies behind the simple idea of a device being ‘addictive’.

Watch Furtherfield’s explanation of the project, below:


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New Illuminated Bible by Dana Tanamachi

Joining the recent trend for tastefully-designed, hardback Bibles is the stunning ESV Illuminated Bible, with over a hundred full-page illustrations (in gold, no less) by renowned Seattle-based illustrator Dana Tanamachi. While obviously a project for the Christian market, Tanamachi’s previous work has been featured by Google, The Wall Street Journal, and plenty of others.

Tanamachi and her team describe the seven-month project, commissioned by Crossway, as a throwback to the Middle Age-practice of illumination – the painstaking illustration of Bible manuscripts typically undertaken by monks, which fell out of favour and practice after the Reformation and invention of the printing press.

You can see more about it in the video, below:

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Katrina Moss & The Chaiya Arts Awards

One of the great things about working in the realms of Christianity and the arts is that you get to connect with some very interesting and inspirational people. The other day, I got to add Katrina Moss to this ever growing list. Katrina has just launched the Chaiya Arts Awards, which is an open submission arts exhibition, in a fantastic venue and with a series of very appealing incentives. Seriously peeps you don’t want to miss out on this one. Katrina over to you…

Hi Katrina, please introduce yourself…

I like to try everything and believe life should be lived to the full.  My career has been varied, but my skill base falls into three main categories, event management, selling and design.  I have run big projects from producing a feature film; implementing large healthcare projects to starting local craft fayres. The selling and design skills have complimented and enabled the management side. Administrative skills are of paramount importance as you need skills and vision to think outside of the box, take studied risks and aim high to get big projects off the ground and complete them on time and on budget.  Very similar to those artists require.

Passionate about God, I love finding new, exciting and relevant ways to encourage others.  I believe creativity is embedded in all of us, but for some it is a precious gift and craft that needs to be opened, honed and used to glorify God.

You have just launched the Chaiya Arts Awards. Talk us through it. What is it and who is it for?

The Chaiya Art Awards is the UK’s newest theme based biennial art awards with a top prize of £10,000.  The awards and exhibition will be held at London’s prestigious gallery@oxo on the busy Southbank riverside and will celebrate inspiring art on the first intriguing theme: Where is God in our 21st century world?

It’s about continuing an age old conversation with an age old medium, in a modern setting through contemporary eyes.  It’s about asking a big question and looking for inspiration from the wealth of our nation’s creatives.

How did you get the idea for this project?

I was at New Wine conference in 2016 and was inspired through a number of things, including a piece of art (which I bought), a book I read and my mother’s death to cancer, to ask God for a fresh vision for this time in my life, and the vision for these awards was born.

I know that the plan is to run these awards for several years. Fast forward to 2028, by then, what do you hope will be different because of the awards?

I would like to think that the Chaiya Art Awards would play its part and return spirituality back into the mainstream art arena. We would uncover some gifted and visionary new artists and perhaps kickstart or highlight their careers. This would be accepted as a credible and significant event in the art calendar.

So can you give some tips as to what you’re looking for? Not wanting to give anyone an unfair advantage (okay, then, just a little) but how can the Sputnik readers maximise the chances of getting the prize?  

Degas said “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”  I would encourage all participants to mine the depths of their imagination and fly creatively.  The judges will be looking for originality, technical excellence and emotional impact.  Be authentic and be daring.

You can submit fine art to graffiti, mixed media to textile art, sculpture in any medium, 2D, 3D, video, photography. The art categories are simple. There are none. Your piece can be in any artistic medium but must be able to be displayed in the gallery. You can submit whether a professional, student, amateur, individual or a group.  Be sure to consider the theme and the constraints of the gallery@oxo first.  Visit the website at and secure your place.

* * *

Thanks Katrina. You’ll be hearing much more about this from us at Sputnik, but the deadline for submissions is 31st January 2018, so if you want a head start, I’d get to work.

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Introducing Sputnik Patrons: 4 Projects to Support

Artists need patronage. Christians used to be at the forefront of funding artists in this way. They’re not any more. We’d like to change that.

To that end, we are very excited to announce that we are launching our Sputnik Patrons Scheme. We would like to gather a team of patrons (maybe including you!) to help fund specific projects by Christian artists who are connected with the Sputnik network.

From 2018, artists can apply to receive grants from this fund, but to kick off the scheme we have selected 4 projects that we’d like to make happen in the following year. Money you give into the Sputnik Patrons Scheme this year will help to…

Expand Strange Ghost’s audience

Strange Ghost are the husband-wife duo Christopher & Ayomide Donald, who write and produce politically-charged neo-soul music. In early 2017, they released the excellent ‘Stagger’ EP and developed the Strange Ghost sound into a four-piece band.

Strange Ghost 2017

The money raised through the Sputnik Patrons scheme will help them with strategic marketing, particularly with their live shows through local gig and festival promoters. Live performances will build their fanbase, provide a platform for dialogue with audience members and help fund future releases.

To find out more about Strange Ghost, click here, and you can see/hear their debut EP ‘Stagger’ here.

Put on a Benjamin Harris Exhibition

Benjamin Harris is a hugely talented young conceptual artist, based in the West Midlands. He is planning to put on a solo exhibition in Birmingham’s art district, Digbeth, which will feature both past work and new work, made specifically for the exhibition.

Benjamin Harris 2017

The money raised through the Sputnik Patrons Scheme will be crucial in making this exhibition happen (especially in hiring the space), helping Ben to push along his practice, and engage with Birmingham’s art scene in a dialogue around art, faith and life.

Click here to investigate Benjamin’s work, and here to check out his blog.

Produce an anthology of poetry by Huw Evans

Huw Evans has been honing his craft as a writer for many years, writing scripts and verse drama, children’s books, YA novels and poetry. He is planning to release an anthology of his poetry in the following year and we would love to help him make this happen.

Huw Evans 2017

The money raised through the Sputnik Patrons Scheme will help with the printing costs and to provide Huw with graphic design assistance to ensure the look and feel of the publication comes at least close to matching the quality of the content.

To get a taste of Huw’s work, click here, and check out his blog for more of an introduction to the man himself.

Support Phil and Harri Mardlin’s new writing festival, Stage Write

StageWrite is an annual new writing festival that is based in Bedford and run by Phil and Harri Mardlin in collaboration with No Loss Productions. Writers submit their scripts, 4 of which will be selected and put on over 2 nights in script in hand performances, with the potential for one of the scripts to be fully realised.

Phil & Harri Mardlin 2017

Each piece is followed by a Q&A with the writer, actors, director and audience to give the writer developmental feedback on the work. The aim is to allow the writers to see their work on its feet, performed by professional actors and seen by an audience.

The money raised through the SputnikPatrons Scheme would enable Phil and Harri to pay the actors to properly rehearse and fully realise one of the pieces in the festival, a first for StageWrite.

If you’d like to find out more about Phil and Harri, click here, and for more information about StageWrite, here.


To become a SputnikPatron and make these projects happen, go to our patrons page and sign up for one of our donation tiers.

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Introducing Sputnik Patrons

Christians are very generous people.

This is widely acknowledged by those inside and outside of the church, and rightly so when you consider how much God has given us.

But for most Christians there would be some forms of giving that are seen as more appropriate than others. Giving to your church seems to get a universal thumbs up, as does giving to foreign mission. Supporting individual evangelists is very much par for the course in some circles, while planting churches gets people to reach into their pockets elsewhere. And of course, nobody would question someone who gave in response to a natural disaster or humanitarian crisis.

But as for the arts? Well…

Most Christians have some sort of appreciation for the arts, but in the church in the UK as I’ve experienced it, it would be rare for anyone to put the case for giving financially to ‘the arts’. Funnily enough, I’d like to make such a case here and in the following few weeks, and as I do,also provide a practical way to apply all of this.

How we use our money highlights what we consider important. We’ve been making the case since Sputnik began that the arts are important. We’d now like to join the dots from theory to wallets. So let’s kick things off with three simple reasons why we think Christians should give to the arts…

Art does people good

The arts play a far more important role in our lives than we often realise. The arts are one of the main ways that a culture comes alive. A thriving arts scene sets the tone. It can be the difference between colour and black and white. The arts point towards a transcendence and an otherness in the human experience that has the potential to bring joy and hope, even if the practitioners involved don’t believe in such a reality.

Whether it’s through your Spotify playlist, your Kindle library or the pictures you choose to decorate your living room with, for almost all of us, the arts add significant value to our lives.

Therefore, as we respond to human need in giving our money to relieve suffering (a noble cause), shouldn’t we also give it to attending to general human flourishing and building a foundation for life and vitality in our communities?

Art shapes culture

The arts don’t just bring colour to life though, they also play a vital role in fashioning and shaping the values, presuppositions and ideas that are cherished in a culture. Artists take the big ideas of the thinkers, and they make them accessible to the masses, not just by communicating information to our minds but resonating with us emotionally, so that we are warmed to ideas, whether we agree with them or not.

For a worldview or philosophy to take root in a culture, it needs the arts to prepare the way, otherwise, for all its good ideas, it may well find itself shouting loud, but going completely unheard.

Perhaps that sounds a bit close to home, as Christianity is a case in point here. While many worldviews and ethical positions have engaged with the arts very effectively in recent times, the church has systematically withdrawn from this field.

We need to help a new generation of Christian artists to make art of excellence that has the power to speak subtly and authentically into our culture. To do this, it will take a number of things. One of these will be money.

Artists need patronage

So far, so Sputnik. However these two reasons alone won’t necessarily motivate someone to support the arts financially. I mean (the thought goes), why should we fund artists, when they should be able to fund themselves? Teachers and doctors don’t ask for handouts to help them do their jobs- if artists can’t make a living from what they do or make, surely they’re just not good enough.

This way of thinking isn’t helped by the fact that many people see artists through the lens of celebrity, and therefore assume that to be a successful artist it doesn’t just mean to make a living, but actually to become rich.

While, of course, this may be true for a few, they would be the tiny minority. The reality is that most artists who are producing interesting self-initiated projects are operating in a very similar way. These projects (particularly the ones that may shape culture in the way discussed) are not making them any money. On the contrary, they are trying to fund these through their day jobs- which are often much more mundane.

To put it quite simply, artistic excellence doesn’t necessarily mean getting paid, and artistic integrity often very specifically means not getting paid!

This is why systems of arts patronage are so crucial to the development of the arts. In the past, the Christian church has been a key patron of the arts, but in modern times, the government has taken on this role through grants, lottery funding, etc. Of course, the government is presently finding this burden too great to bear and is slashing arts funding left, right and centre.

artistic excellence doesn’t necessarily mean getting paid, and artistic integrity often very specifically means not getting paid!

I think that all of this may be telling us something: it’s time that the church took up such a role again. And we have a suggestion of how practically you can get involved in that.

Join us as an Arts Patron

In response to all of this, Sputnik is starting the Sputnik Patrons Scheme.

This is a fund set up primarily to help Christian artists get specific projects off the ground: from art installations to book publishing, theatre events to music releases. Each year we’ll commission several of these projects with the help of our network of Patrons, who donate monthly.

Who are in this mysterious network you may ask? Well, potentially, you! Next week, we will be kicking off the patronage scheme and if you’d like to support the arts and see more quality art out there made by Christians, we’d love it if you could get involved.

Sputnik Patrons will receive back benefits for their support, at three levels, gold, silver and bronze. These benefits will be outlined further when we launch the scheme, but in short, the more you pledge each month, the more you receive back.

For 2017-18, we have selected 4 projects that we’d like our Sputnik Patrons to invest in. We will give you more information of these in our next post, after which we’re going to explore this topic more on the blog, especially what patronage is, why it’s necessary for artists and what it looks like in the modern world.

So, we think that the arts are important enough for Christians to support financially. If you agree, why not become a Sputnik Patron and let’s see the church start to step back into its role as a patron of the arts.

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Artists’ Art of 2016

So Christmas is behind us and we are mere days from 2017 and a chance to finally put this strange old year to bed. Now, whatever else you can say about 2016, it has certainly been a year of artistic endeavour and productivity. Therefore, I waited till everyone had got their Facebook top 10s out of their system and then approached a few of Sputnik’s favourite practitioners to ask them what their one favourite piece of art was this year. These are their responses:

Luke Tonge- Stage Four by Touché Amoré

What a year! The ‘piece of art’ that has impacted me most in 2016 is an album by a band I probably wouldn’t even list in my top 20 artists, and who I’ve never seen live, which as a music fan feels odd – but there you go. It dropped into my ears in September and hasn’t left me since. The record is ‘Stage Four’ by post-hardcore LA-based punk quintet Touché Amoré, their fourth full length (the dual meaning of the name – it’s also the highest level of cancer staging — a reference to the fact that leader singer Jeremy Bolm’s mother died of cancer in 2014). For an intense and cacophonous hardcore band such private emotion was only ever going to sit front and centre in their art…and while its not quite a concept album, the theme of grief runs throughout. Stylistically I saw it perfectly described as like “slam poetry set to hardcore.” This is an album of searching, as Bolm sorts through his childhood memories and feelings that have amassed since his mother’s passing. This isn’t a feel-good record, but it’s also not at all as depressing as it sounds! There is hope within. All sounds pretty emo right? Well I guess it is. But it’s full of big hooks, musical cohesion and just the right amount of raw energy to keep you coming back for repeated listens. Pitchfork’s 8.1 scoring review states “Bolm’s hyper-confessional lyrics are a beacon of hope to anyone plagued by anxiety, depression, toxic relationships, and general self-doubt.” and in the year that we’ve all just had – who doesn’t need a bit of that?

You can listen to this brief cathartic 35 minute masterpiece in full here:

Benjamin Harris- Imperial Federation Map of the World (Walter Crane)

At the TATE’s Artist and Empire early this year I came across Walter Crane’s ever-so slightly subversive Imperial Federation Map of The World (1886). This work embodies both what I have begun to study more in 2016 (Politics of Race and Colonisation) and the quiet socialistic defiance within the system (which Crane achieved in his ornate representation of the inequalities of Empire surrounding the cartography). It has certainly been the biggest formal impact on my creative output this year.


Jo Cogle (Joanna Karselis)- Notes on Blindness

What a year for cinema. We’ve had Room, Spotlight, Hell or High Water, Son Of Saul, Love and Friendship, Kubo And The Two Strings, and Hail, Caesar! to name a few, not to mention films I haven’t caught up with yet like Captain Fantastic, Embrace of The Serpent, and Hunt For The Wilderpeople. Special mention for my runner up film of the year goes to Ken Loach’s social commentary I, Daniel Blake; but my film of the year, 2016, is the revolutionary documentary Notes On Blindness.

Notes on Blindness is made up of the audio recordings theologian John Hull created over the period in which he lost his sight. The film uses actors to lip sync along to the tapes, putting the audio alongside arresting visual images of rain and tidal waves and snow to illustrate Aussie-come-Brummie Hull’s story. Although actors lip syncing to audio tapes isn’t a new technique (see The Arbor, 2010), this felt very different to any documentary I’d ever seen before. It was natural, horrifying, and thrilling, honest, raw and brave, all at the same time. Hull’s words have made me completely reassess not only how “blind people and sighted people must see other” in the physical world, but also in the spiritual one. Notes doesn’t shy away from Hull’s Christian faith, and how he wrestles with God as he becomes blind. It ends up being a film about a real man facing real struggle with a real God, and coming through that struggle to find peace. Notes has truly raised the bar for making faith filled films which accurately and honestly depict the difficulties of real Christian life; and it managed to break my heart and put it back together again along the way.

If anyone is interested in finding out more, Hull’s book Touching The Rock is an assimilation of his recordings. For additional viewing, the film’s directors have produced a similarly insightful new documentary called Life, Animated which is about autism and is currently showing in limited screens around the UK.


Chris Donald- Luke Cage

‘Luke Cage’ is far from perfect. Like all Marvel Netflix shows so far, it starts incredibly strong, but the pacing is far too slow, and there are some just-plain-dumb scripting and directing moments. But Mike Colter, Simone Missick, Rosario Dawson and so on brought grace and messy humanity to the reluctant black superhero; and amid the dark cultural brouhaha of 2016, the fictionalised lives of non-white America got airtime, made their mark, and even crashed the Netflix servers – or so the mythology goes. It’s been a year where my heart has sometimes been heavy with what my (future!) kids’ lives and experiences will be, but from ‘Luke Cage’ to ‘Atlanta’, Mike Kiwanuka to Lianne La Havas, it moved me to remember that they will have stories that honestly, artfully, and heroically embrace their colour.


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When Christian Art is Pagan (And Pagan Art Becomes Christian)

We as the Western Church have our own brand of art. It is relatively safe, clean, and historical. Though often kitsch and sentimental, it draws from the giants of western art history like Giotto, Michelangelo, and Rembrandt. A brief survey of art history according to any well-known publisher reveals Biblical scenes and gospel illustrations aplenty.

With this established history behind us it is tempting for both the Christian artist and art-viewer to refrain from engaging with creative culture beyond our little world. Anything outside of the church’s output can be considered ‘worldly’ and ought to be avoided: all the more so if it contains themes or motifs that are distinctively ‘non-church’.

As an example, for many Christian communities Harry Potter is an absolute no-go. Despite the narrative following the chosen one who overthrows the illegitimate rule of the dark Lord, Christians will often complain that there is too much ‘darkness’ in the series. All that realistic talk of magic and ritual is too close to the reality referred to (ED: I wonder whether the same thinking is behind some Christians’ negative reaction to Doctor Strange).

In this post I want to look briefly at the origins of some of the Church’s ‘safe’ art motifs. As we’ll see, ‘Christian art’ is not quite as ‘Christian’ as we often think and this raises some important questions for Christians making art today.

The early church and the artists who laid the foundations for our brand of Christian art were an eclectic bunch of folk whose unity was found in their faith alone. The first artists in the church found themselves in a cultural Babylon. Naturally, styles and attitudes towards art varied greatly, and with no uniform Jewish art source to draw inspiration from, ‘Christian art’ drew heavily from pagan influence.

Though today we as Christians can prefer work that is sanctified by our particular publishing houses or church record labels, the first Christians had no ‘clean’ art before them. All surrounding and indigenous artistic culture was ‘pagan’: it didn’t represent the monotheism they had inherited from Judaism, and yet as the church began to meet in a increasingly pictorial world, murals and icons soon emerged in their communal places.

The early artists didn’t shy away from the pagan art around them but selectively chose elements from the Roman and Greek world to appropriate into their own in order to effectively communicate the new truths of the Gospel through the old systems. I imagine that the norms of the art world were the letters with which the early artists began to write new words.

Many of our current ‘Christian’ motifs actually originate from this early cross-cultural borrowing. The halos we expect to see enshrining the heads of Christ and the saints seem to have been created in ancient Egyptian times to denote Ra as the sun god and found their way into the Middle East through depictions of the Roman sun god Apollo (there is no mention of haloes in the Bible).

The Egyptian god, Ra (with solar disc)

Another interesting appropriation by the early Christians is the Good shepherd motif. Though we can affirm with certainty that Jesus would have been an almost middle aged bearded Jewish man at the time of his ministry, the earliest ‘good shepherd’ images saw a clean-shaven Yeshua in Roman clothing carrying a sheep over his shoulders (even equipped with pan-pipes on occasion). The now certified-Christian image borrows heavily from the legend of Orpheus and possibly the Moscophorus Calf-bearer image, but within its own system of meaning, it referenced the young King David from whom the Christ King descended.

The sarcophagus of Cyriacus, detail of the good shepherd

As the early Christians looked at their surrounding culture they didn’t just see a debauched world in need of salvation but a whole realm of images that could be used to better communicate their message to all nations. It can be argued and has been argued that Roman and Greek art forms were heavily borrowed under times of persecution so that the early Christian congregations would not be betrayed by their catacomb arts. However, even after Constantine’s conversion, pagan motifs were being assimilated into the church’s oeuvre: for example, winged angels only appear in Christian imagery after 313AD.

But the likenesses didn’t just stop at the visual. The early artists were also theologians who found similarities in the Christian, Jewish, and Pagan stories. In Greek mythology Endymion was a youth who perpetually slept under the protective love of the goddess Selene. Depictions of Endymion soon became the prototype for images of Jonah lying under God’s protective gourd: this then evolved into a reference to Christ’s descent into hell and his story of salvation for the Gentile world.

One of my favourite works of the early church is found on the floor of an early Basilica in Aquileia (Italy). The image sees the whole story of Jonah depicted as one scene, the prophet lay under the gourd while simultaneously being spewed out of a mythical creature’s mouth. The seascape is alive with realistic fish of all kinds, octopi, ducks, and even some fishing cherubs. The vast work would have required great forethought and planning, and though we may not understand all of what has been handed down to us, I can still marvel at this design as a work of brilliance. It is both fully Christian yet fully ‘pagan’ (not-Christian in our understanding of historic Church design).


You may now be wondering where I am going with this. It is not my intention to discredit the early church artists, but quite the opposite. I believe that the versatility of the craftsmen and their openness to the neighboring world helped them envision a universe where all people could find the Christ in all things. It is not universalism or heresy to see the type of Christ in creation and humanity’s interpretations of it.

In fact, C. S. Lewis argues that this is exactly the type of world we should expect to find, writing,

“We must not be nervous about ‘parallels’ and ‘pagan Christ’s’- they ought to be there – it would be a stumbling block if they weren’t.”

Lewis argues that the myths of pagan cultures (and we could add the stories of superheroes and villains of our times) could have acted as a

“preparatio evangelica, a divine hinting in poetic and ritual form at the same central truth which was later focused on and (so to speak) historicized in the Incarnation” (from essays Myth Became Fact and Religion without Dogma).

My questions are:

Is there a place to borrow the contemporary ‘pagan’ images found in the arts in order to more effectively communicate what we have received?

If so, how can we as Christians appropriate from the world around us in order to create words that rightly convey the mystery of the Christ?

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What comes first – your cause or your art?

Photomontage is one of the lesser known skills and disciplines of the artist, within the public eye at least, however it is a skill and discipline that has inspired and influenced me personally far beyond any other specific genre of art as a whole.

The use of images holding multiple meanings, a cut in that chosen place, the position of one image against the other has always brought an instantly accessible depth to the art form that has a force to bring powerful comment and narrative to the audience.

Peter Kennard’s exhibition ‘Off Message’ is to me a bold reminder of this and a nudge to artists with driving force and passion for a cause far greater than themselves.

Kennard is a London based artist whose practice as a political artist and photomontager has spanned nearly 50 years. His work has been published extensively in newspapers and magazines and has been used by activist groups such as CND and Amnesty.

Within a moment of entering the current exhibition at the Midlands Arts Centre in Birmingham you’re looking up at ‘Crushed Missile’ (see above) one of Kennard’s most famous images. Even the most inexperienced of art appreciator couldn’t fail to get the gist! The work is not subtle, and Kennard never intended it to be:

‘It’s important to me as an artist to be like the canary down the mine. Sniffing out danger and coming back up with images that act as a warning. My images are deeply critical of all the status quos that condemn billions to live in poverty while making billions off their backs. It’s art as an ‘early warning system’ or a ‘late early warning system’… we’ve got to hurry.’ 

Art critic John Berger describes Kennard’s ‘terrain as that of the human conscience’ and his themes ‘as nuclear weapons and poverty’ and the underlying arguments behind his work do seem compelling. However, as a great appreciator of Kennard’s work I left the exhibition with another appreciation and in fact a commission.


I went to the exhibition with my family and we chatted through the works on display and as with any good exhibition it caused discussion and debate. My oldest son announced (soon after seeing Kennard’s piece where a soldier is kicking the globe on a football pitch) that he has now decided that when he becomes a famous footballer he will in fact use his huge salary for good and stop to give every homeless person he sees at least 40 pounds! My other half on the other hand felt that the work, although visually arresting, was at times too basic and repetitive in its investigation of the themes.

I however was struck by the sense of a whole life lived for a cause.

Kennard’s cause and not his art comes first. His passions influence all he does and the decisions he makes in his work, from his choice to pursue montage, his production and distribution of his work for free or his lack of change of course or evolution within his work. These are all because he sees his cause as greater than himself as an artist.

As a follower of Jesus, I have a cause that is greater than me as an artist and as a person. I am a way off it yet (which is good because I think I have a bit of catching up to do) but when I get there, will the 50 years retrospective of my life work show such a passion for my cause?

How about you?

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A Tale of Two Crucifixes

For as long as I can remember I have always been a bit ‘picky’ with art. I do not claim to have great aesthetic tastes (my bedroom resembles a charity shop more than a peaceful sleeping space), but as I grew up I found myself strongly attracted to certain artistic styles and equally repelled by others.

This disposition and lack of exposure to much of the world of art led me to see all ‘Christian art’ as tacky and kitsch. Paintings of baby Jesus and his porcelain Mother didn’t register with my experience. I preferred the grittier sounds offered to me by Limp Bizkit and the visual world of Mark Eckō’s Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure (2006) on PS2.

As I became a Christian aged 15, there was no real convergence between my love for art and my newfound passion for Christ for quite some time. I trawled through my school’s art books for something ‘interesting’ as my GCSE’s drew to an end, and there I found Mathis Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece (1510-16). Looking at his crucifixion I was shook by the rawness of this image, appearing so ancient and yet, contemporary.


The altarpiece originally created for St. Anthony’s Monastery (an hospital specializing in skin treatment) depicts Jesus gaunt and plagued, agonizingly stretched across the bent crossbeam. An interesting historic detail is that the Messiah’s blighted flesh has been painted to register with the patients suffering from the plague. This is our Christ, like you and I, suffering as we do.

Mary is no longer a porcelain doll, but a haggard old lady, almost fainting into the arms of the distressed disciple at the sight of her brutalized son. The world has fallen apart and the terrors of human injustice have won. Our God has been slain and we are witness to the dark reign of blind and pitiless cruelty.

Soaking this up from the glossy pages of history, this picture appeared far more divine to me than Titian’s Noli me tangere (1510-15) that sees a resurrected Christ evading the earth-bound pleas of Mary from Magdala. Grünewald had painted a Christ that I could register with and one that met my expectations and my existential experience.

From this point I began to have a growing interest in German expressionism. The next crucifix I will focus on is Otto Dix’s War Triptych (1929-32). Painted to show the true horrors of war, the work lost Dix his respected position as a professor at Dresden’ Art Academy. Dix’s exhibiting of this Grünewaldian passion was a stark rejection of the absurd heroism that had begun to glamorise trench warfare.


We can see the similarities between the triptychs immediately. In the central piece, John the baptizer’s hand still points to the suffering servant while the remains of his body is impaled on the beams of a shelled building. The Christ-figure is slumped upside down, his dismembered head crowned with barbed wire, a viridescent hand paralyzed in mid-air, and his skin dashed with the contemporary plague of gun spray.

Dix doesn’t show us a world in which we see Christ simply struck with our infirmities but one in which we bombarded the image of God in the likeness of man into nothingness. Certainly, more can be said about the details of the two paintings, and I invite the reader to pick them out and comment on them.

When looking upon Dix’s crucifix for the modern man, I knew that this work meant far more than I could articulate. Though many argue that War Triptych is a godless blasphemy to the image of Christ in a post-Christian world, I cannot but see a deeper truth in Dix’s horror. If the German expressionist is guilty of besmirching the image of Christ, how much more are we guilty of that same charge? It is not a blasphemy to dare to paint Christ in this desolate world, but a blasphemy that we have created this desolate world, and by extension, painted Christ into it.

Otto Dix’s triptych comforted my tormented mind in the same ways Fra Angelico’s resolute The Mocking of Christ (1441-3) may have done to many a contemplative saint. But in my home where our hymns were more Nothing Else Matters (Metallica, 1991) than Nothing but the Blood of Jesus (Robert Lowry, 1876) these two German crucifixes spoke to me about a Christ who had truly descended into my world.

It registered. It is, of course, not the complete picture but it was a picture that I could start from. Which artists, movements, or media first caught your attention and imagination? Do you still revisit these works, or have they lost their magic?

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An Interview with Josh Whitehouse (Pt 2)

So, if you caught the first part of our interview, you’ll know that Josh (aka jowybean) has a pretty standard story. Brought to faith through Veggie Tales, brought back to Jesus through My Little Pony. You know, the usual!

As well as catching up on his artistic and spiritual journey though, he shared with me something of the substance to his work, the themes he likes to explore and also how he handles the different challenges that his particular art form throws up for him as a Christian.

Two major themes in Josh’s work are juxtaposition and a love for place and one’s local environment. One of Josh’s favourite pass times is watching youtube videos taken by people driving around major cities in the world. It’s like he drinks in the different environments, architecture and people, then filters them through his world-creating imagination to create new and hybrid cityscapes. Perhaps one will be an image of London and Tokyo combined. Perhaps New York and Amsterdam. Perhaps it will be an African and European city merged together or even a Middle Eastern city, imagined 50 years in the future.


This juxtaposition can be seen very clearly in almost all of us his work as well, as he combines very diverse styles of illustration in single pieces. One of his most recent projects is, a series of comics in an imagined world where humans are all dead, but the internet has become alive. The main character, Cadra, is drawn with a sense of realism, whereas other characters are more influenced by Japanese manga styles, and others will have the wide eyes and podgy noses of Warner Bros characters. And the impressive thing is that these different styles all combine to create a coherent world.

As he puts it:

One of the themes I do in my art is juxtaposition and that doesn’t always mean juxtaposition of subject matter. I’ve tried doing political things but… it was something I never really got a connection with. But if I started doing whimsical things with dragons and ogres next to butterflies- just cute things next to ugly things, that’s the best way I can try to describe it- I got more of a kick out of that… I enjoyed that more..


Now, he’d see the purpose of his art first and foremost as a challenge to people’s creative horizons rather than an attempt to change people’s worldview:

Although I’m not like a deep conceptual artist… I prefer to talk about the world both in the good and the bad, but mostly in a positive light, not always to challenge people in the world but maybe to challenge them creatively. To say to young generations, you don’t need to draw Spiderman characters, or Batman looking heroes or draw Japanese girls in the same uniform to be successful- you can, but it’s better if you try to do something different with it.

But, even with this said, he definitely has the power to communicate clearly through his work. Since starting coming to our church two years ago, he would regularly respond to the Sunday morning sermons by drawing (each piece is started and completed in the duration of the sermon). We then stick these up on the church blog, mainly to encourage creativity in the church and to remind people of the sermon’s message, but increasingly, his pieces contain spiritual insights that add helpful and personal layers to what was said. At our midweek groups, he draws people’s prayers. You know when someone says to you ‘I’ve got a picture for you.’ That kind of thing, only Josh really has a picture for you!


If you have even a passing interest in animation and illustration, you’ll be aware that this genre moves away from cute pictures for children reasonably quickly. In fact, maybe as a reaction against the traditional view of comics and cartoons, there is a deliberate corruption and sexualisation of cuteness everywhere. I personally would find it very difficult to delve deeply into this culture, knowing the temptations that are real to me. However, this is the world that Josh has grown up in, and while he recognises that he has to tread carefully, there is something of an immunity he seems to have developed to some of the culture’s more twisted manifestations.


His work reflects this and if you flick through the second issue of you see this quite quickly. You’ve got prostitutes. Serial killers. A whole scene depicting one character’s prodigal son like descent into depravity. We’ve talked at length about these sort of depictions and I asked him how he would justify such images to a Christian who felt them unwholesome. His point is quite simply that this is the world we live in and to engage with people in this world, we cannot avoid such subject matter:

We live in an age where this is the majority of society’s attitude to material processions and the notion of love, with the wealth of information we have produced in the last decade a lot has come from very weird/dark places that have gone beyond anything you could have discovered from a play boy magazine or risky news report in the news paper. This particular page you mentioned (the aforementioned montage depicting a character’s moral slide) is just a window to highlight these issues, not glorify them or encourage practising them. I think this quote from the page will help sum up my point “But I mistook taking as living, and lived as fully as I could, takin’ what I wanted, when I wanted, however I wanted”

Whatever your feeling about that particular image (you’ll have to buy the comic for that) I think that Josh is absolutely on to something. Christian artists must become better at depicting the ugliness of the fallen world or we will fail to connect with the people who live squarely in that reality. If we simply present a hope to come, without a realisation of the grime that’s here, it will seem to many like wishful thinking disconnected with reality. This is clearly very murky territory, but I think that it’s murky territory some of us have to explore. I think Josh is a great example of someone working right on ‘the line’, and honestly working through how he imbues his art with his faith and deepens his faith through his art and uses his talent to communicate powerfully to those around him.

It is also worth noting that the world of geekdom and comics is not exactly overspilling with Christians.  I asked him about this and he recognised that there weren’t many other Christians around but that people responded to the fact that he’s a Christian positively and with curiosity.

In his work itself, he’s certainly moved past the preachy images of his childhood. (‘…It would be weird to plug every picture (at a My Little Pony Convention) by telling people that Jesus loves them.’) For Josh, the best way he can be a witness in his world and work is to be ‘nice to people, do the best I can and stay very positive.’  He expresses his aim succinctly and simply, but as usual gets it totally on the button in my opinion- he wants people who meet him to go away saying:

‘That Jowybean guy, there’s something about him that was different.’

He’s come a long way since Veggie Tales and I’m very excited to see where he’s going to go next. He’s already working on the third issue of and is also looking to continue working as a freelancer in everything from children’s picture books to comics to animations to continuing vending at geek conventions. The project he is most excited about though is working with local historians to document the story behind towns and villages around Birmingham and further afield (building on his Bearwood Art and History Project). He sums this up like this:

I believe that this ambitious endeavour of mine would be a way of giving a spotlight, not to just me as a creative, but mostly to the unsung heroes that God has made… God has blessed me with a wacky but beautiful imagination and I know he wants me to share that with as many people… both in faith or not.

I couldn’t agree more.

To see more of Josh’s work, check this link. To buy, go here.

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Catalyst Workplace Day: Game changer

Most of us have a strange relationship with paid work. On the surface, most people like to tell you how much they hate their jobs, but dig a little deeper and you usually find that work is normally where people base their sense of meaning and develop many of their most precious life skills. Recently, our conflicting attitudes to work have been drawn out by the clamour of futurists, predicting the rise of machines in the workplace doing us all out of a job.

The popular responses to these predictions seem to have gone in two directions- Yay! Freedom from work. We can choose how to flourish and spontaneously help the communities around us. But wait a minute… will I actually be able to motivate myself to spend my time constructively? Won’t it just lead us to retreat into meaningless cul de sacs of entertainment (that by then will probably revolve around VR machines that we never need to unplug from)?

And there we have the conflict: work is a drag, but perhaps it is necessary for us to flourish as human beings. Or to put it more biblically, work was given to us as a source of dignity and joy, but through our sin, it has been cursed, and now becomes beset by futility, frustration and stress (Genesis 3:17-19)

Therefore, it was a great pleasure to spend the day on Saturday with a load of other eager drones, thinking carefully through the place that work should have in our lives and how as Christians we should go about our jobs. It was the first ever Catalyst4TheWorkplace Day and it was very worthwhile. More specifically, Sputnik had the pleasure of running the stream for arts professionals, and that too seemed to go well, and I thought I’d share a bit of a report, and some observations from the day.

For me, a day like this was always going to be about people. It was great to be able to spend some time with old friends and make some new ones too and sticking such an awesome bunch in one room and seeing what happened was always going to be fun. In all the presentations and discussions, three things struck me that particularly remained with me afterwards:

‘I decided to approach this properly as a career’

Mike French, writer of An Android Awakes, said this when describing his journey towards becoming a published author. God had told him (in the bath if I remember rightly) to go down this career route, and he wasn’t just going to rely on his imagination and natural flair for writing. Basically he signed up for a course with a literary consultancy and immersed himself as much as he could in the literary scene. This may all seem pretty non-exceptional, but I think it is so helpful to hear simple stories like this. A common experience of Christian artists is that others in their churches don’t take their art seriously, however I wonder if actually a lot of the time Christian creatives don’t themselves take their art seriously. If someone feels ‘called’ to become a lawyer, they do a law degree, if they feel God tell them to become a chef, they go to cookery school, however I’ve met loads of Christians who feel that God has called them to be an artist in one field or another and simply assume that that is the end of the story- all they need to do is be creative and their work will change the world. Now often it has to be said, there is no obvious career preparation track available (how do you become a songwriter, for example?), but often the lack of proactivity that follows from such an assertion of artistic calling is simply down to not approaching ‘this properly as a career’. Do you feel God is calling you to be an artist? Approach your art properly as a career. Do you think God may be calling you to be an artist but you’re not sure? Approach it properly as a career- start training/do an internship/apply for that course and see if things click.

‘We like work that is exciting and at times we also like work that is paid’

This quote was from film maker Joel Wilson and it spurred off an interesting discussion about the even more interesting relationship between artists and money. It was fascinating hearing all of the artists on our panel as they talked through their stories. Each one seemed to divide their work in a  similar way- some work that pays the bills, other work that is less financially rewarding but perhaps more in line with what makes them come alive as artists. Daniel Blake subsidising his fashion labels by teaching at the London school of fashion. Phil and Harri Mardlin doing corporate gigs to fund projects like StageWrite, Bedford’s main annual new writing festival. Chris Donald juggling graphic design jobs with running the Minor Artists record label and production company. It would be fair to say that a theme developed as the afternoon passed.

I’d imagine that this will come as no surprise to any of you who have ever pursued your artistic gifting professionally, but if you are looking into exploring this possibility, it is well worth taking note of this reality. In the arts, as well as in other occupations, what is exciting and what we get paid for don’t always line up perfectly. Understanding this from the outset could save a lot of trouble down the line if you are serious about exploring whether your art form may be able to pay the bills at some point.


As we were worshiping all together in the first session of the day, Daniel Blake took the mic and told us how he’d seen a billboard outside the window with #gamechanger written repeatedly on it. He felt that God wanted to bring this to our attention as the day was going to be a game changer for people in how they see their work. This resonated with me immediately and I leapt up to add that I thought that this could be seen even more broadly as a game changer for how we, as a family of churches, even see church itself and how we serve people in their jobs.

As I talked to artists and listened to their stories in the afternoon, I felt struck by the possibility that there was a third game to be changed. In Sputnik, we’ve spent the last four years discussing the big conceptual questions and encouraging artists and non-artists in our churches to see the importance of the arts and work that through in church life. On Saturday, I suddenly realised that the conversation had moved on. Now, we weren’t talking about up in their air ideas and vague notions of validation and affirmation. We were down to brass tacks. We were talking about how we can get paid from this stuff. How we can self subsidise ourselves in our art. We ended the day taking this even further to the question of patronage and whether the church can play an important financial role in this by taking on a role of patronage of individual artists and the arts in general.

I’m looking forward to God changing the game for Sputnik and working more meaningfully with professionals as well as amateurs, helping talented artists learn how to make a living and even perhaps becoming more of a vehicle to enable the church to take up once again its historical role as an important patron of the arts.

That’s a game I look forward to playing and if that resonates with you I’d love to hear if you’d like to play it with us.

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An Interview with Josh Whitehouse (pt 1)

Who are the people in your life who energise you?

We all need people like that. People who inspire us, encourage and provoke us. People who you come away from feeling fresher than you felt before you met up. I have the pleasure of meeting up with Josh Whitehouse every couple of weeks and he is certainly such a person.

If you’ve been involved in Sputnik for any length of time, you’ll probably have met Josh. For Josh, illustration is less a skill, more a superpower. I’ve met many artists who can do things I know I’ll never be able to do, but with Josh, often I don’t even know how he is able to do the things he does. His mastery of his craft is breathtaking, but more than that, he thinks in a way that I particularly appreciate and it means that Friday morning catch ups are always highlights in my week.

On one such morning recently, in the middle of a typically involved and fascinating conversation about Japanese animation, I thought that I should really stop being so selfish and share some of Josh’s insights a bit wider. It was never going to be a particularly linear interview, but via a few Facebook messages, a chat recorded on my phone and some other conversations over coffee, I think I’ve got enough to give you a bit of a window into the world of Jowybean. Next time, we’ll go into some of the themes in his work and how he wrestles with the challenges he faces as a Christian illustrator, today I’ll let him guide you through his rather unique artistic and spiritual journey…


It all started with singing vegetables…

Josh, like so many of us, was brought up with Christianity all around him. However, that is probably one of the sole points of common ground most of us will have with his spiritual journey. Growing up, his faith was seen through a very specific lens: Veggie Tales! Such was the influence of Larry and his talking vegetable chums that, as a child, Josh found church quite dull (I mean, singing cucumbers are quite a hard act to follow) and started life with a strong feeling that there was something intrinsically sacred about vegetables!

The basic foundations were set right there- Christianity and cartoons. Working through how to combine the two in any non-vegetable related way was tricky though. Josh was prodigiously good with a pen from childhood. At 9, he got his first exhibition for Disability Art in London (Josh was diagnosed with autism at an early age) and was the official artist at the opening of Millennium Point, Birmingham, when he was asked to produce an original piece of art for The Queen.

Regarding content, he initially drew what he refers to as ‘propaganda, sort of preachy pictures’– devils getting beat up by angels, that sort of thing. However, even then, his artistic vision didn’t quite fit in with expectations. Sometimes the content would be deemed a bit scary by folk at church, but more generally his drawing was just seen as a bit of a distraction. ‘Why was Josh sitting drawing and not listening to the preacher?’ That was how he felt people responded to him in church. They didn’t get what he was doing and more than that felt that his art was somehow unhealthy, and partly because of this, he stopped going to church as a teenager. (Josh was keen for me to point out that another contributing factor to his church absence was a burgeoning obsession with Sonic the Hedgehog which was taking up a lot of his time!)

And perhaps there were unhealthy elements to his work. Josh is the first to admit his own weaknesses and his work (and the imagination behind it) has been a blessing and a curse:

‘For much of my life I felt I was a cartoon character trapped in a human body, I felt I wasn’t real- a Roger Rabbit type character…’

When I first met him, I remember talking at length about how he feared that he lived too much in the imaginative worlds he created and not enough in the real world. I understand his concern, but to be honest, having heard about some of the worlds he’s created, I’d probably quite like to live in them too! It’s always reminded me a bit of JRR Tolkien, who not only constructed the entire history of Middle Earth while writing Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, but created the elvish language too.


Brought back to faith by My Little Pony?!

Whereas Veggie Tales provided Josh’s Christian foundations, his route back to Jesus was through another animated series, and this is a little more surreal. Josh was brought back to faith through My Little Pony.

When I first met Josh, I discovered almost immediately that he was a Brony. Bronies, for the uninitiated are adult male fans of My Little Pony, and I do use the term in the plural, as Josh is far from the only one. When My Little Pony relaunched in 2010, its TV show ‘Friendship is Magic’ was primarily aimed at young girls, but it unexpectedly gained an eager audience among young and middle aged men (as well as women). Maybe it’s a cosplay sort of thing, maybe it’s just a strange offshoot of geekdom, but whatever it is, it’s a thing, and it seems to be the thing that God used to bring Josh Whitehouse back to faith in Jesus.

The world it was based in, the way it was told, and just the visuals- it just had this essence of heaven in there, and at some point I suddenly started hearing God again, coming through there, through the interaction between the characters, the storylines and even the catchy songs, to the point that even some of my pony pieces actually have names of Christian songs in there… And again I do feel strange even now as a Christian talking about this and saying that ponies was a way of sort of getting back into talking with Jesus but in a way that was where the faith grew.


As well as kickstarting his faith, MLP provided Josh with his widest platform as an artist. He is a renowned MLP fan artist and regularly displays and sells work at conventions across the world. But to label Josh, or jowybean to use his artist moniker, simply a Pony artist, would be a huge discredit to him, whatever you think of Hasbro’s colourful horses. Next time, I’ll divulge a little more why that might be.

In the mean time, check out his work. Perhaps his instagram is a good place to start.

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Re-presenting our Communities

In my community there is an owl called Perry Chocobow Swanet. It was commissioned as part of Birmingham’s ‘Big Hoot’ in 2015, which aimed to celebrate the diversity of Birmingham and its different communities through giant customised owls, as well as celebrating a kind of civic unity. Without the paint, the owls were essentially uniform.

I have mixed feelings about Perry Chocobow Swanet. All of the different motifs depicted on the owl are explained on the Big Hoot website. I understand the references, but I don’t feel that Perry the owl represents them. When I chatted to the artist, who’d visited different parts of Perry Common to come up with the design, I found that he had similar frustrations.

In visiting so many different groups within the community, who all had very strong ideas about what the owl should represent, the final design ended up looking like ‘something that could belong in any park anywhere’. In attempting to satisfy the diverse outlook of a community, the owl said nothing distinctive. The intriguing name, which was apparently chosen by children at a youth group I volunteer at, was quietly ignored on a local press release about the owl, which referred to it simply as ‘Perry’.

As part of a collective of artists, and as part of the community of the church, I find the challenge of representing a people fascinating. It sounds really difficult.

A couple of years ago, I came across an artist whose body of work accomplished this really well. KC McGinnis is a friend (and a photojournalist) from America. Hailing from Iowa, in the Mid-West, KC’s work frequently represents communities in the States in a way that is striking, unique and incredibly reverent; three words that probably couldn’t be used for the Big Hoot project. I sat down with him over Skype to ask some questions about how he looks to represent communities through his art.

Most of the communities KC has photographed are local to him, but different. These include Iowa’s Iraqi and Roman Catholic communites, as well as what one might view as a more ‘traditional’ picture of rural America.

I ask how KC approaches a community as a photographer, and how he goes about being an ‘outsider’. KC says that accepting you are foreign is an important step. Photography is inherently autobiographical. You are present and so people are different. KC embraces this autobiographical element, attempting to be fair in what he represents, but not trying to blend in. Having some knowledge of the community helped, though. Knowing how mass worked, or learning some Arabic enabled small talk and engagement.

Representing is a good verb, says KC, because he aims to re-present. Although he wouldn’t identify as a ‘representative’ for these communities, KC instead aims to say ‘this is what I interpreted with the tools available to me.’ He then asks ‘is this voice fair?’ A photo can be stylised and effective, but for KC, the fairness of the voice is a deciding factor. He references a series of photos he took of a GOP rally with a harsh flash that made the most of a gathering storm in the background. The image was striking, the symbolism clear, but KC and his editor decided they were unfair. And so the photos didn’t get published.

My thoughts turned to PJ Harvey, whose album The Hope Six Demolition Project, released in April of this year, attempted a cross between song-writing and journalism in documenting housing projects in Ward 7 of Washington D.C., a city KC incidentally moved to shortly after our interview. Ward 7 was a community to which Harvey did not belong, and though the album drew generally positive critical reviews, it backfired spectacularly in the projects it attempted to document, where PJ Harvey was accused of desertion, described as ‘inane’ and worst of all, as ‘the Piers Morgan of music’.

I ask KC if strangers have ever reacted negatively to his work. ‘Oh yeah’, he says. There was an Iraqi man whose hair was receding. When this was made evident in a photo of KC’s, the man objected, believing the photo was taken to make him look bad. We live in a snapshot culture, says KC. Intentionality is unexpected, and so people can be annoyed if a photograph is not overtly formal or spontaneous. People think photography exists to either make you look good or exploit you, and as a result the photographer is themselves both trusted and distrusted.

I’m also intrigued to understand KC’s identity as an Iowan. Though worlds apart from Birmingham, Iowa is often dismissed in familiar disparaging tones. It is renowned for its corn, and when I tell Americans that I’ve been there, most respond with an incredulous ‘why!?’

For KC, Iowa is home and he says that the best storytellers are always the locals. Preconceptions about Iowa generally include corn, farmers, and weirdly, food on a stick. I ask KC if he tried to combat these assumptions. He says that he can be a bit defensive, but that ultimately stereotypes are there because elements of them are true. He instead sees Iowa as a microcosm of the United States, with sustainable energy, agriculture, faith and the loss of rural life all important national and local themes.

KC is currently working for USA Today in Washington D.C. You can have a look at some of the work described here on his website. Hopefully this can provide some insight into how we re-present our city, the church, our neighbourhoods, whichever community you are a part of. How can we tell local stories in ways that are striking, unique, beautiful and fair?

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Political Posters and a different kind of kingdom

Earlier this year Wolverhampton Art Gallery played host to a V&A collection titled ‘A World to Win: Posters of Protest and Revolution’. The exhibition chiefly looks at posters that have contributed to historical and perceptive change in the general public.

The power of many of the posters lies in their ability to combine text and image in a way that brings about a powerful message that elicits some form of response: many beginning and ending with a shift in ideology, others often calling for a radical and concrete commitment to the cause.

The exhibition did require a small amount of reading (all essential information was provided in the exhibition itself, no real understanding of political history was necessary), but if one really engaged with the work, A World to Win was a weighty marvel. By no means attempting to answer questions about the relationship between art and protest in the abstract sense, the exposition did have a nice little feature that explored the transformation of ‘protest posters’ into a viral phenomenon.

The Church has more than played its part in this history. Having both stood in the position of the authoritarian oppressors and the dissenting revolutionaries, we have played the game, and arguably, we mastered it in its earliest forms!

Was not Protestant Reformer Martin Luther one of the first to fully utilize the power of print technology to “mobilize, educate, and organize”? Luther also used cartoons and caricatures created by Lucas Cranach in his pamphlets, books, and posters

Has not the book of Revelation often been interpreted as the polemic of an aging and imprisoned apostle against the tyrannical Roman Empire? The apocalyptic literature was certainly not created to legitimize the contemporary order: its symbols and images utilized popular emblems in the subversive story of the imminent downfall of the powers and principalities (as it is still today!).

Before print, Jeremiah was creating some radical political statements against Ancient Israel’s corrupt government using very physical means. Soiled loincloths, broken flasks, and wooden yokes are all part of the prophet’s oeuvre in his protests against the nation’s immorality.

Though these are not all examples of ‘posters’ in the strict sense, they are certainly the supporting media of a type of ‘campaign’, not purely ‘religious’, nor purely ‘political’.

I am not suggesting that our art should now all become poster based and illegally pasted on the side of governmental buildings, no less that my post on Cildo Meireles’ Ideological Insertions is advocating printing bible quotes on Coca-Cola bottles. But what I am suggesting and asking is how much should a Kingdom inspired art practice seek to couple image and text, word and flesh, to mobilize, educate, and organize people, not ‘into the Church’ but ‘in step with the Kingdom in our midst’?

Where advertisements have the power to lull an unsuspecting public into a position of continual and mindless mass-consumption: I do not believe it is our role to be publicizing a nice religious product to purchase. Rather, how can we, learning from the history of campaign call out for an unwavering commitment to a different kind of kingdom?

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Michelangelo, Character and Community

At the age of 72 Michelangelo began work on a pietà (a work depicting Jesus dead after being taken down from the cross), probably for his own tomb in Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.


Unlike his previous pietà which depicted Mary holding the body of Jesus across her lap, this one showed Mary and Mary Magdalene on either side of the dead Christ. Behind Jesus, passing him down from the cross was the hooded figure of Nicodemus, his bearded face based on Michelangelo’s own.

Michelangelo never finished the sculpture: after eight years’ work he took a hammer to it. (There are many theories about the destruction: it might have been frustration at flaws in the marble block, or concern that the identification with Nicodemus would result in problems with the newly established Roman Inquisition). The fragments were gathered and reassembled, and now the unfinished pietà is displayed in the Opera Duomo Museum in Florence  together with two marble panels carved with Michelangelo’s sonnet 65 in Italian and in English.

Here’s the English version:

On the Brink of Death

(To Giorgio Vasari, Sonnet LXV)

The course of my life has brought me now

Through a stormy sea, in a frail ship,

To the common port where, landing

We account for every deed, wretched or holy.

So that finally I see

How wrong the fond illusion was

That made art my idol and my King,

Leading me to want what harmed me.

My amorous fancies, once foolish and happy

What sense have they now that I approach two deaths

The first of which I know is sure, the second threatening.

Let neither painting nor carving any longer calm

My soul turned to that divine Love

Who to embrace us opened His arms upon the cross.

It was the middle stanza that caught my attention: how wrong the fond illusion was that made art my idol and my King, leading me to want what harmed me. This is Michelangelo acknowledging the tension between total dedication to his art and the working out of his faith. For me, those lines set out the distinctive challenge for any artist of faith: to create the deepest, strongest work, putting our whole selves in, but at the same time to acknowledge that art is not ‘it’, is not everything.

How do we do that? Let’s get two small things out of the way. First, religious subject matter doesn’t get one off the hook: Dante spent a lot of his Divine Comedy getting back at the people of Florence. Secondly, neither does an attitude of ‘oh that’ll do.’ As if somehow the fact that art is not ‘it’ excuses the half-hearted, the half-baked and the half- … yes, well. It does not.

So what will help? The exact answer is going to be different for every artist, but there are two things which I think move towards an answer: character and community.

Character, because that is the internalised result of the lived life of faith, which enables the artist to make good judgements: at a minor level, to make the proper choice between a poem and a prayer meeting (some days it may be the poem, some days the prayer meeting). At a higher level, for example, to acknowledge that a particular project needs to be shelved or abandoned or radically refocussed.

Community, because that brings the accountability beyond the individual conscience and raises questions beyond the immediate concerns. I know that I have benefited from reading and considering some of the posts on this site. And preferably a community of artists, as they will understand the specific issues better than a community of, say, management consultants. Outside of a community we are thrashing about on our own in a very large sea.

I’m not saying those two on their own will makes us as good as Michelangelo (I wish), but they may help us produce our best possible work without messing up ourselves or the lives of those around us.

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Art is the product of thought, practice and years of dedication

One of the explicit goals of this year’s Sputnikzone at the Catalyst Festival was to show something of the work behind the work.

This emphasis was specifically to clear up the common misconception that artistic works of value simply materialise out of thin air. They are products of thought, practice and usually years of dedication. We wanted to help upcoming artists just starting out to know what lay ahead of them- the responsibilities and the joys- and also for churches in general to understand that if they want to value the finished product, they must also value the dedicated labour that will necessarily precede it.

This is especially important in churches like those in the Catalyst sphere of Newfrontiers (our gang!) When I reflect on my experience of charismatic Christianity, I recognise that so often, there is a love for the spontaneous and an expectation of God’s dramatic, instantaneous intervention, but this can lead to undervaluing the necessity of putting in the work, of perseverance, of the hard slog. I mean, if the gifts that we value most highly can simply be deposited on us by the Holy Spirit at any given moment and entirely by grace (gifts of the Spirit like those listed in 1 Corinthians 12 for example), there is surely limited point in putting time into developing other skills and talents. If our hope for the turnaround in our nation’s spiritual climate rests squarely on Revival, why bother working hard to get involved in every area of our society to slowly and patiently influence and transform? Although these conclusions do not automatically spring from the premises, this thinking seems to be quite common. I personally think we should value the gifts of the Holy Spirit more than we do, and I regularly pray for a dramatic and sudden intervention of God in our times. However, as with so many things, this is not an either/or, and as one side of this equation has been promoted so vigorously in our churches, I’m more than happy to redress the balance somewhat.

The mindset creeps in: if our hope for the turnaround in our nation’s spiritual climate rests squarely on Revival, why bother working hard to get involved in every area of our society to slowly and patiently influence and transform?

As Christians, we must be those who are willing to give our lives for the kingdom. Please excuse the non-artistic digression, but take the gaining of wisdom as an example. In James 1:5, James instructs his readers that if they lack wisdom, they should ask God and ‘it will be given to you.’ I’ve often heard this Scripture used as a foundational verse about how to to get wise. How do you do it? Ask God, and he’ll give it to you. Bish bash bosh! Microwave wisdom that springs from a moment’s prayer, rather than a lifetime’s labour.

Proverbs gives a very different picture. How do we get wisdom according to the book of Proverbs? Well, it starts when we’re children, at which point we need training in which way to go (Prov 22:6). From that point, we give careful thought to the paths our feet should take by learning how to control our tongues, our attitude to money, to work, to how to get ahead in life. The key word is ‘learn’ (1:5, 24:32, etc) . We learn at first through ‘the rod’ and then as we become wiser, through rebuke (25:12), advice (12:15) and instruction (1:8).

And of course, learning takes time. James 1:5 points us to the fact that God in his grace can help us when we’re in a tight spot as an exception to the general rule, but the rest of his letter, which is basically a remix of the Old Testament proverbs, points us back to the same foundation for wisdom. Wisdom is learnt through a life lived pursuing it, not received on the back of a moment’s prayer in an intense spiritual experience.

This really shouldn’t take us by surprise. Nobody would advise a student preparing for an exam- if you lack knowledge of your subject, simply ask God and it will be given to you. The same would go for a sportsperson who wants to get into the olympic team. We revise, we practice, we prepare, we learn. And funnily enough, the same is true for artists.

Therefore, at the festival it was great to highlight artistic motivation through the exhibition and reveal what drives people to make work in the first place. I was also delighted to have two seasoned craftsman, Rob Cox and Chaz Friend, creating live pieces throughout the festival, so that people could see in real time, the work involved. The most instructive thing in this regard though was Rob’s ‘A Walk Through Isaiah’ exhibition. Rob had created a print for every chapter of Isaiah and for the first time ever, at the festival, the whole body of work was exhibited.

Rob is no hobbyist! He is a man who has given his life to developing his art practice, and his passion for his art form and expertise in his field spill out of him in even the most fleeting of conversations. Hopefully, walking round his exhibition, people will have discerned the dedication, blood, sweat and tears that went into this fabulous project. In case this went below the radar, myself and Phil Mardlin paid Rob a visit just before the festival, to try to capture something of the process that goes into creating a Rob Cox print. Here is the result, which we showed in the madebymotive exhibition.

So, if you’re just embarking on your creative journey, please take note that you’ve got some work to do! It is a genuine joy to learn your craft, but there is a responsibility to dedicate yourself to this pursuit. To become an expert in your field. To experiment with different techniques and identify which ones you will master. If you’re serious about becoming excellent, formal education may be helpful (depending on your discipline). There are no short cuts and I’m afraid praying for ‘anointing’ won’t get God to do the work for you. Please do pray. Pray for the strength to persevere. Pray for wisdom to know your capacity and how you should be using your skills. Pray that God would keep your eyes on him as you navigate the potentially perilous waters that most art forms present. But then learn, prepare and practice. Put the work in! And have fun while you do it!

And if you wouldn’t consider yourself an artist, but would like to see more excellent artists in your church, give artists the space to do this. I’d give a special plea to church leaders:

  • Don’t try to fill your artists’ timetables with church activities and responsibilities and understand when they say they can’t commit to this group or that serving opportunity. This won’t be true for everyone, but it is very possible that those people who are spending their evenings and weekends reading, writing, painting, drawing, acting, or generally ‘being creative’ are not engaging in a frivolous hobby, but learning a craft.
  • Don’t overly emphasise the bubble of Christian culture- excellent authors will not grow out of Christian paperbacks, songwriters will not develop the expertise necessary to speak into our culture from a diet of contemporary worship albums.
  • Be careful about platforming instantly accessible art in your meetings and through your church communications that is made by people who have not sufficiently learnt their craft. There may be short term benefits from showcasing such art, but if the artists we exhibit on the walls of our buildings, in our Sunday meetings and through our evangelistic events are full of the Holy Spirit, but don’t have a depth of experience and expertise, we are actively downplaying the importance of craftsmanship and those in your congregations who have spent decades on their art will feel devalued and misunderstood. And they will probably leave. Or get grumpy. Or both.

For previous reflections on the festival, try this link. Next week, I’ll explain why we try not to talk too much.

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madebymotive: Jon Doran

It was great to connect with some new artists for this exhibition, most notably Ruth Naylor (whose piece, Swanpool was on display) and Jon Doran.

Since studying Fine Art at Falmouth, Jon has exhibited from the south coast up to London and even across the channel. It is fair to say that his award winning work is pretty in demand, so it was an absolute pleasure that he agreed to let us exhibit his piece- Nearing The Cascades- in the madebymotive exhibition.


It was also great to hear a bit about what motivates him to do what he does, so I thought I’d give you both (picture above, motive below).

 Why do I paint? Well, firstly I paint because I’m fascinated by the process and always have been. The journey an image takes as it is constructed of slabs, streaks, and washes of colour is an exhilarating process to orchestrate. I find a satisfying sense of freedom through the action of conducting brush stokes and marks, and exploring the possibilities that arise.

I also love to look at paintings, as a whole, in their completed states. It’s amazing that a painting is simply pigment on a surface arranged in a particular way, but also so much more than that. One person’s simple and sensitive arrangements of tone and light have the possibilities to bring others to tears, as I have seen. I myself have been deeply moved in the first moments of viewing an artwork. 

But as well as for the love of it, I also feel a degree of responsibility that compels me to work hard and be part of the larger art world. Art opens up dialogues about meaning, existence and what it is like to see through one particular set of eyes; endless journals, reviews, and documentaries show this. It is a desire of mine, and what I feel to be a calling, to be part of and to contribute to that debate bringing my particular experience of reality, to the marketplace of ideas.

For more about the exhibition, check out this link.


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madebymotive exhibition, Catalyst Festival 2016

At the recent Catalyst Festival, we put on the exhibition: madebymotive. It acted as a cracking centrepiece of the SputnikZone this year and thank you so much to all the artists who exhibited as well as Chris and Hannah at Creative Arts Network for their help.

What’s funny about doing these exhibitions at the Catalyst Festival is that we work hard to make sure that they are designed not to primarily appeal to the people who are actually at the festival! I find something about the idea of Christians entertaining Christians slightly pointless, and while we hoped that people enjoyed the exhibition, its primary purpose was to make a statement about what ‘Christian art’ is and isn’t.

But I do recognise that such an obtuse strategy does need a bit of explanation, so I had to produce a write up explaining the gallery. For some reason this year I found this particularly tricky. However, I got there eventually and thought I’d stick it up here as in the end I think it explains our general ethos pretty well (and it makes me feel better about the 7 or 8 drafts that I ended up rejecting):

 In the SputnikZone this year, we want to talk about motive.

Perhaps a good place to start then is by telling you about ours. Our motive in putting on this exhibition is to highlight the important role of the arts and to showcase some Christians who we think are making the kind of art that has the power to speak into a society that is no longer listening to our preachers, our theologians and our apologists.

Some of the artists submitted work to this project (as part of CreativeArtsNetwork’s madebymotive project late 2015) and others were approached specifically for the exhibition. Our final selection was made, not because we thought this work would connect with people who might go to a Christian festival (ie Christians!) but we felt it would be likely to connect with people who are not here, who don’t know Jesus, who won’t naturally turn up at our meetings or come to our Alpha Courses. They may not all be explicitly about Jesus, in fact very few are, but let’s face it, not every lesson a Christian teacher teaches will contain a gospel presentation, not every patient a Christian doctor treats will be prayed for, not every deal a Christian business person makes will come with a personal tract. Very few will. We are called to be in the world, and be excellent at what we do in the world.

However, the thing about art is that artists who excel in their craft have the ability to communicate in a very powerful way. Excellent art communicates to people’s minds and hearts and shapes the very way they live. Excellent art also tends to be authentic, so a skilled artist will end up communicating their passions naturally through their work. Therefore, it would be very difficult for an artist who loves Jesus to not let their faith shine through at some point.

For that reason, we want more Christians to be making excellent art. 

So, if you are creative and are wondering if you should pursue your artistic leanings, we hope this exhibition inspires you to put time and effort into learning your craft. If you wouldn’t consider yourself creative, we hope this exhibition shows you something of what makes artists tick. They have many reasons for the hours they spend at their work. Some of these reasons are overtly spiritual, some are not. But all are valid as these guys look to become excellent at their art forms and potentially gain the ability and opportunity to communicate the good news of Jesus into people’s lives who presently will not hear it told to them by more straightforward means.

Alongside some reflections on the festival (and the ones that preceded it), I’m going to showcase some of the work from the exhibition too, alongside the artists’ motive statements. Some of the work won’t be quite the same as seeing it in the flesh, but it’ll give you the right idea.



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Interview with Photographer Simon Bray

Originally posted on Creative Arts Network.

Hey Simon, tell us a little bit about yourself and your work..

Hey! I’m a landscape and documentary photographer based in Manchester. I also manage The Anchor Coffee House, which is owned by Vinelife Church, which is an absolute pleasure. I moved up here from Hampshire nearly 10 years ago to study music and now I take pictures and make coffee, which is a really nice balance. I’m married to Sarah, who studied textiles down in Falmouth and is now training to be a midwife, so essentially, two southerners living in Manchester who’ve taken their time working out what they want to do in life, but we’re getting there!

What made you want to become a photographer?

I’m not sure I’ve ever been asked that before! I’ve always enjoyed creating, and up until a few years ago, I’d thought I’d end up being a musician, but when I started experimenting with cameras I discovered that I see things differently to other people. I enjoy the process of creating something concrete that was tangible, a moment in time captured, but the photographer has license to create something literal or true or to create their own take on events through creative techniques. There is a huge responsibility on the image maker to create something that they can justify, but that depends on your motivation. My landscape work in inspired by God’s creation and I feel a need to capture that in images that I hope others can enjoy, which comes with a certain amount of artistic license. My documentary work requires a brutal honesty, that’s not to say I can’t work creatively and use metaphor in order to build a story, but I have a responsibility to tell the truth and not embellish anything because of my own motivations, and then my commercial work is created for someone else, so I have to understand what they’re seeing and interpret that through my images.

We love your current project The Edges of These Isles, what was the inspiration behind this project?

Thanks! Tom and I got to know each other whilst undertaking a Three Peaks challenge (Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike & Snowdon in 24 hours) and we’d both independently decided that we wanted to focus on landscape work, so we thought, why not go exploring together! We asked friends to recommend some of their favourite locations from across the UK, and over the past couple of years, we’ve been visiting them in order to create work that will be exhibited in Manchester at The Whitworth in September. So far, we’ve been up to Lindisfarne, Buttermere, Glen Coe, the Brecon Beacons and the Gower Peninsula, all of which have been inspiring and exhausting in about equal measure! Our final trip is the Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland next month, then it’s on to preparing for the exhibit and designing and printing the book. We’ve just started up an instagram account so everyone can see what we’re up to!

What has it been like collaborating with an artist on this project? Has this altered your practice in any way?

It’s an intriguing combination, not something that I’ve seen much before really. On our first trip up to Buttermere, I set up my camera by the water and took a few shots, then turned around ready to move on and Tom was just about getting his sketchbook and chalks out! So I ended up sitting in that one spot, watching the light to change, and the shadows move across the lake, giving me time to experiment with some different filter combinations, it really helped me consider the images I wanted to create. We also get to have these long winded in depth conversations on our huge journeys whilst listening to our niche ambient electronic record collections, which goes a long way to informing the decisions we make about the work we’re creating and how we want the viewer to engage with it. Tom work’s with homemade pigments, paint and wax to create these amazing, and often abstract, impressions of the landscape before him, which may well be influenced by a mountain ridge or the mist or a tone, where as my photography works on a much larger and more scale and is very literal, so I’m looking forward to our editing process and seeing which pieces work well together and how they inform one another.

Who or what has been the biggest single influence on your way of thinking?

I can’t draw on one influence really. I try and soak up as much photography work as possible, read journals, go to shows, have conversations with other photographers and people involved in photography, and each of those aspects will help build my understanding of the medium and inform how I create images. I’m always trying to develop my eye, my understanding of what a photograph can be and appreciating how the viewer may or may not respond, because my emotional attachment to an image that I’ve created can be vastly different from theirs. I try to avoid imagery that is on trend, I want the work that I go on to create to last a lot longer than I do, so I’m exploring different means to encourage a deeper appreciation of my subject matter that allows the viewer to truly engage. A lot of it is about educating yourself in understanding what has gone before you, being able to appreciate the constant evolution of photography and also why people connect with an image. The fact that an image from Ferguson shot by a bystander on an iPhone can end up on the cover of TIME tells you all you need to know about how photography is changing, and the new generation of photographs is appreciating that you can be just as inspired as an image your find online that someone with no public profile has taken, just as much as something by one of the greats.

What do you currently shoot with?

I’ve never been that fussed about gear. I’ve got a Canon 6D and a Fufi X100s which I can carry everywhere. I’ve toyed with film, I’m currently trying out my dad’s old box brownie with some medium format film, which is really new to me, but is helping me slow down when I take my images, which is something I’ve tried to do, but which digital just doesn’t give you space for. I think as soon as I’m shooting a documentary project that is just stills, medium format will be the way forward, to help me build a stronger aesthetic to my work and be more considered when working.

Your Loved and Lost project is really touching, what was the biggest challenge working with such an emotional concept?

Thank you. Loss is not an easy subject for most people to talk about, which is the reason I wanted to start the project, to open up that conversation. I’ve had to have a lot of meetings with medical and mental health experts, read up on the subject and process my own experiences, having lost my dad to cancer, in order to build the project to where it is today. The greatest challenge for me is working with the participants in order to gain a true understanding of the depth of their experience of loss whilst also making it a constructive and, if possible, a positive experience for them. I’m just about striking that balance, but I have a few ideas on how the process can be improved. If it can be a cathartic experience for the participant, that’s great, and if what they are sharing can inform and comfort the viewer, even better.

What are you currently fascinated by and how is it feeding into your work?

I’m currently working with a new collective on a project about fashion, so I’ve got my head into the ways in which uniform forms identities and how people build their own uniforms for work or social wear in an attempt to stand out or fit in. It’s great to be working with a broad variety of other photographers, even though none of us started out with a strong interest in fashion, we’ve talked about it for hours together and those conversations have begun to inform what we’re researching and shooting, which is really exciting.

What are your top tips for people just starting out as photographers?

Keep exploring and taking images! I’ve spent years refining the type of work I want to take, the aesthetic I want to create with different styles of work and building up an understanding of the medium in order to try and create work that the viewer can connect with in a meaningful way. I don’t know if I’m quite there yet, it’s a long game! I’ve never studied photography, so I had to learn about the history, the work of great photographers and try out loads of different techniques through trial and error, lot’s of things didn’t work out, and it’s especially frustrating when a commercial job doesn’t go as smoothly as you’d like, but you learn each time and grow for next time.

All images © Simon Bray

Find Simon on Twitter @simonbray, Instagram @simonbray and at

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If art has a function, it is much broader and richer than the church imagines

At our last Birmingham Sputnik hub gathering, we had the pleasure of a visit from Ally Gordon. Ally is a highly respected contemporary artist and the co-founder of Morphe Arts and after an invigorating afternoon, I instantly wanted to share his wisdom to a wider group than those who could fit into the Wilsons’ living room! This article seemed like a good place to start- originally posted on the Evangelical Alliance website a few years back, and reproduced (and very slightly abridged) with permission…

The story of art is rich with those who have glorified God through excellent art from the painterly genius of Rembrandt and Cranach the Elder to the musical magnificence of Mendelssohn and Bach. There is no shortage of believers who wrestled with the significance of what they made before the glory of their Creator yet today there are few Christians of evangelical faith on the national arts platform. One can’t help but ask why?

James Elkins, professor of art history at the Chicago Institute of Art writes, “contemporary art is as far from organised religion as Western art has ever been and that might be its most singular achievement.” Why do so few Christians enter the arts today? Why don’t artists like coming to church? Perhaps we are still experiencing a cultural hangover from the Enlightenment or still working out our reformed theology of images. As people of God’s Word we might feel a bit sheepish when it comes to pictures. We value clarity, especially in preaching, but art is anything but clear, often mysterious and at times a bit emotive.

The Dutch art historian and jazz critic, Hans Rookmaaker, suggested two possibilities in Modern Art and the Death of a Culture (pub. IVP 1946), “The artist who is a Christian struggles with great tensions. An artist is expected to work from his own convictions but these may be seen by his atheist contemporaries as ultra-conservative if not totally passé. On top of this he often lacks the support of his own community, his church and family.”

Rookmaaker wrote over half a century ago but his words are still prophetic to our times. Since artists often find themselves on the cutting edge of philosophical and critical thought, those who confess faith in Christ swim dangerously against the tides of prevailing worldviews in mainstream society, perhaps most severely against the thinking of militant atheists such as Dawkins and Jonathan Miller whose influence is felt as sharply (if indirectly) in the arts as it is in the sciences. At the same time, many artists feel unsupported or unappreciated by their church family. Art is sometimes considered to be an unnecessary decadence or indulgence. One art student told me her pastor asked how she would feel if Jesus came back to find her painting pictures of daisies – what, after all, is the value in a painting of flowers when there are millions yet to hear about the gospel? In my experience, such extreme discouragement for young Christian artists is rare these days but there is still a great need for encouragement.

God’s Word is rich in its instruction and example to those who make art. In the broadest sense of ‘art’, the bible is a magnificent artistry in its own right, bringing together creative writing from a plethora of writers, each bringing their own style yet representing generations of culture and historical insight. The bible is unique art in being rendered by human hands yet divinely inspired (breathed-out) by God’s Spirit (2 Tim 3:16). Consider the great art in the erotic poetry of Song of Songs, the captivating stories told by the prophets and Christ himself or the apocalyptic imagery of John’s Revelation: images of catastrophe to rival any Hollywood epic. Think of the deep poetic despair and joyful elevation expressed by the Psalms and lyrics that inspired Bono of U2 to describe David as “the greatest blues writer of all time”.

In the bible, creativity is the first thing God chooses to record about his character, “In the beginning God created” (Gen 1:1). God’s creation was “good’ and “very good”. From the beginning God is interested in the aesthetic dimensions of living, declaring that the trees are not only “good for food” but first, “pleasing to the eye”(Gen2:9). As those made in God’s image the act of good creativity is merely a very human experience and the artist should not feel a need to justify his art by scribbling bible verses in the bottom right hand corner of her painting or crow-barring a gospel message into his script. Biblical artists such as Bezalel and the Psalmist David were recognised by God for their artistic excellence and Bezalel being chosen by God for his “skill, craft and knowledge” (Ex 31:3) in design.

The Christian is free to make art in whichever discipline, medium or genre he chooses and there really is no such thing as “Christian art” just as there is no such thing as ‘Christian medicine’, ‘Christian food’ or ‘Christian plumbing’ for “the earth is the Lords and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1) The diversity of subject matter available to the Christian is as rainbow rich as the creation itself. As Paul wrote to Timothy, “everything God created is good and nothing is to be rejected” (2 Tim 4:4). There may not be “Christian art” but there are Christian approaches to making art. A good starting point is the question, “how does art function in the Kingdom of God?”

The apostle Paul writes, “In whatever you do work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord and not for men” (Col 3:23). We graft hard for the glory of God in whatever arena of the arts he leads us to. As with every act of service to Christ, making art requires prayer, study and the renewing of our minds through the power of God’s Spirit and his word.

When we ask how art functions in the Kingdom of God we are assuming art has a function (and beyond making walls look pretty, although there is much benefit simply in this). Art can open a window for the viewer to see the world in a way they have yet to experience. The artist can show us something of God’s creation or the fallen nature of the world. Artists can build bridges with those who don’t know Christ by exploring ideas and themes that are common to our daily experiences and the gospel.

Contemporary American artist, Betty Spackman writes, “we make art to remind us of the invisible and to heal our forgetfulness”. Art serves as visual signposts towards what lies beyond peripheral vision or to the realm of ideas and concepts. A painting is more than a collage of pigment and chemicals on canvas but also a window to reveal how the artist sees the world. As such, art is a good vehicle for exploring the Christian worldview. In a similar way, art is well suited to help us document and remember the past, art can help us grieve or lament and it may trigger the memory of important events, people or conversations.

Artists can tell stories through their art. All stories fit into the greatest story of the gospel and some artworks will explore grand and profound themes such as the existential questions, “why are we here?” and “what is the purpose of life?” Others will explore more modest ideas such as “look at that fading flower”.

For pastors wondering how to encourage artists in your church perhaps a good starting point would be to ask them seriously about their work. Ask them how their art functions in the kingdom of God?” Ask them what ideas inform their art and who inspires them. Avoid questions like, “do you do landscapes or portraits”, “what are you trying to say” or “tell me what its about”. An artist takes much time deliberating on the aesthetics of their work to help you engage with their work sometimes in a non-verbal way. Quite often the greatest Christian encouragement for an artist is when other believers appreciate their work enough to buy it. This may be the single most helpful act of support you can offer.

If you are a Christian and an artist may I point you towards the writing of Dr. Francis Schaffer and Dutch art historian Hans Rookmaaker. Rookmaaker’s Modern Art and the Death of a Culture was a breath of fresh air to me as an art student and I still return to Schaffer’s “Art and the Bible” when I need a little spiritual encouragement. More recently writers such as Calvin Seerveld, Steve Turner, Betty Spackman, Hilary Brand and Adrienne Chaplin have also written well on the subject (most their books published by IVP or Piquant).

You can also check out what Morphe are up to here or more specifically, Ally’s book- Beyond Air Guitar. To understand that this guy doesn’t just talk the talk though, check out Ally’s own work. 

Finally, these two posts were originally posted on the Evangelical Alliance website (here). Thanks for the permission to reproduce.

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Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: Exploring Our Tradition

Christian artists ‘have not only an amazing heritage, but also a tradition’.

When I read that line in Jeffrey Overstreet’s interview with Terry Glaspey, I knew I had to see if I could reproduce the interview for you guys.

Glaspey has recently released the book 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know. The book is an introduction to the stories behind a whole load of artistic creations made by Christians over the years and a chance to get inside the minds of artists such as Rembrandt, Bach, Bunyan, Flannery O’Connor and loads more. What a result!

Overstreet’s interview with Glaspey is packed with such helpful insights that I hope it will tide you over until you get round to buying the book yourselves here! We’ve included an extract from the interview below, with permission.


I imagine you learned a lot in the research process. Which entries gave you the greatest sense of discovery and enthusiasm?


There were so many fascinating discoveries I made along the way. Of course I knew a great deal about many of the artists, writers, and painters going into the project. But as I was trying to narrow my list (while at the same time as I was trying to expand the diversity it contained) I got a chance to find unexpected depth of faith commitment in a number of artists.

For example, though I had long admired her novels, I really didn’t understand the depth of Jane Austen’s faith until I began to read some biographies and discovered references to some prayers she had written for use in her family’s devotions. When I tracked them down I found the prayers to be not only beautiful (as would be expected), but also very confessional and heartfelt and self-revealing. In fact, when I discovered that these prayers were not widely known, I contracted with a publisher to print a small volume of her prayers, to which I added an introduction and biographical sketch. It has been published as The Prayers of Jane Austen.

“We are too easily satisfied with fast food entertainment and diversion when there are gourmet meals of creativity available from the master chefs of the imagination.”

Other discoveries, such as the stories behind James Tissot’s collection of paintings of nearly every event in the life of Jesus, the profound spirituality of the great African-American painter, Henry Ossawa Tanner, and the quirky delight of Howard Finster’s folk art were among my favorite new encounters.


Did you find, when you started out, that you had a list much longer than 75, and had to narrow it down? Or did you have to build your way toward 75?


Well, it was never a problem of finding enough masterpieces to include. The hard thing was to decide what had (sadly) to be left out. My general ground rules for inclusion in this particular project were that:

  1. The creator self-identified as a Christian. Some of them are Protestant, some Catholic, some Orthodox, and some rather unorthodox. Some, like Emily Dickinson, struggled between faith and doubt, but seemed to be people for whom faith ultimately got the upper hand!
  2. I only included one piece by any one artist. It was very difficult in some cases to make that choice. You could have chosen other representative masterpieces for Rembrandt, Chesterton, El Greco, and others which would be just as good a choice. But I had to pick one, and my reasons sometimes had to do with the wonderful stories behind particular works.
  3. The work needed to be a work that has been acclaimed outside of the Christian world. I was looking for works whose greatness was not due just to a message, but to the quality of their craft and the creativity of their vision.

I have actually, just for fun, created a second list of 75 more masterpieces, which maybe I’ll post on my website at some point. I want to explore some of them in the same way in the months and years to come. I’ve written a piece on the painter, Emily Carr, and have done extensive research on Arvo Part. I’d like to explore faith in the tradition of the blues, the connection between the theology of the Franciscan movement and a new realism in early Renaissance painters, and add another icon or two to the list. That is just the tip of the iceberg. So much worth exploring!


Today, those films, books, albums, and paintings that tend to be labeled as “Christian art” are critically maligned. But these selections you’ve made seem to be appreciated across cultures and generations. Why do you think that is?


The problem with much “Christian art” in our time is that it veers too close to being merely propaganda. Preaching has its place. But that place is in the pulpit, and not so much in creative expression. The best art is not primarily about delivering a message but in evoking the right kinds of questions from those who view or read it or listen to it.

Also, I think a lot of faith-based art is so concerned with driving home its message that it neglects to be realistic about the human condition and human motivations. It is either an imagining of what we might wish the world was like (the saccharine little villages of Thomas Kinkade, which are pretty as decorations but tell you almost nothing interesting about the real world) or the triumphal art that aims to show the superiority of Christianity over every other way of viewing the world (such as the bombastic preachments and uncharitable dismissal of all competing worldviews you’ll find in a movie like God is Not Dead). I’m not saying that someone might not get a bit of comfort from a Kinkade landscape or a bit of confidence from a Christian movie, but it isn’t going to offer the depth of insight that a great painting or a great film might.

“A lot of faith-based art is so concerned with driving home its message that it neglects to be realistic about the human condition and human motivations.”

We are too easily satisfied with fast food entertainment and diversion when there are gourmet meals of creativity available from the master chefs of the imagination. Nothing wrong with a little fast food, but I think our palates are enriched by better fare and our souls are more nourished by more complex fare. And much of the great art is a little more demanding — it demands closer attention, more thought, and even a little patient contemplation. The question is, are we willing to expend such effort?

My take is that if a creative person has laboured long over their masterpiece, we should at least be willing to expend a little effort in trying to open ourselves up to it. Sometimes we’ll still walk away shaking our head. But sometimes, with just a little effort and patience, a work of art will open itself up to us and maybe make a last change in us.


I recently saw a quotation of Emily Dickinson challenged by a Christian who pointed out that Dickinson’s poetry reveals doubts about, and dissension with, Christian faith. That person responded saying that we should not waste time “slumming it in secular minds” when we have the beauty of the Scriptures available to us. You’ve included Emily Dickinson in this collection. How might you respond to that rather critical response? What are the rewards of meditating on the work of artists whose ideas about faith may not align with our own?


What I love about Emily Dickinson, Graham Greene, and several others whose work is featured in my book, is that they are fellow-strugglers. They do not traffic in the much-too-easy triumphalism that is the limitation of many Christian artistic creations. They knew themselves too well to try to sugar coat their writings. They are honest about the struggle of believing and living out the demands of the life of faith. Sure, we need works that provoke celebration and worship, but we also need works that are honest about the dark night of the soul, about our doubts and struggles and our wrestling with God.

Frankly, the Scriptures are not at all hesitant about letting us see the struggles and failures of the great people of faith. As “people of the book” we know that the real human story is one of dogged pursuit of God while at the same time battling with our own sinfulness, failure, fear, confusion, and the complexity of our mixed motives. This is a world of darkness and evil, while at the same time a world of wonders–a world filled with what Bruce Cockburn has called “Rumors of Glory.” The best art reflects these tensions.

We need works that are honest about the dark night of the soul, about our doubts and struggles and our wrestling with God. Frankly, the Scriptures are not at all hesitant about letting us see the struggles and failures of the great people of faith.


There is such a wide variety of works represented here. Are there common ideas, though, that the collection as a whole might impress upon readers to help them discern the art that is worth meditating on from the art that might not be worth so much attention? Are there common ideas that come from this collection that might influence artists as they think about their own work?


One of my deepest hopes for this book is that it will inspire today’s creatives. We have not only an amazing heritage, but also a tradition. Today’s artists, writers, musicians, and film makers can nourish themselves with the work of those who have gone before them and then bring forth their own unique take on that tradition. The tradition should inspire, not inhibit.

I remember hearing a live concert recording from Neil Young in which a frustrated audience member, who had evidently heard one too many long guitar solos for his taste, shouted out: “It all sounds the same.” Without missing a beat, Young responded, “It’s all the same song.” In a certain sense, all creative artists are playing variations on the message and the human experience that is part of the tradition to which they belong.

This interview was originally posted on Looking Closer on 14th January 2016 and Jeffrey Overstreet has kindly allowed me to reproduce it here. For the original unabridged version, click here.

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Cildo Meireles and Creating Cracks In The Current Order

“Art shapes thought, and thought shapes life”: The Sputnik maxim speaks not just of the ‘fine’ arts such as painting and sculpture but also of all types of art; high and low, public and private, global and local alike.

From the images that dominate billboards to the tunes that hum out from the radio, our cultural furniture helps shape the way we think, both collectively and individually. It becomes our language, our words, and our means of understanding and interpreting life itself. This is by no means a purely negative phenomenon, without these systems of cultural significance and value judgements, we would have no readily available means by which we would measure worth.

All cultures have ideological circuits in which certain ideas and ideals are upheld, and other concepts are rejected. To use an example from within Christianity, certain church denominations will sing their own songs, build their own kind of buildings, publish their own brand of books, and ultimately uphold their own ideology. I became a Christian in a Pentecostal church and am attending a Pentecostal bible college: from the index of books in our library through to one of our lecturer’s own rendering of church history, our culture is saturated with this denominational stance.

The same would be true in wider culture. The books we read, the songs we sing, and the media we watch all contribute to the ideological circuit we are operating within.

Though ideological circuits are by no means ‘closed’, they certainly do legitimize their own orders, and therefore refrain from questioning their own authority. Though an abstract reality, the circuit is upheld through concrete and physical means; art, music, advertising, and so on.

Cildo Meireles’ Insertions into Ideological Circuits (1970) sought to insert ruptures into these systems of circulation. The Banknote Project printed politically volatile anti-US messages onto US dollars and Brazilian bank notes in both Portuguese and English such as ‘Yankees Go Home’ and ‘Straight Elections’. The mobile graffiti attached itself onto the symbols of cultural power, and were unknowingly circulated around, under the nose, and in the guise of the dominant order.


The Coca-Cola Project similarly printed such statements onto glass coca-cola bottles that were recycled back into production. These symbols of the American dream thus became vehicles of the subversive messages that sought to undermine their hegemonic control over cultural manufacture: a witty take on the ‘message in a bottle’. Meireles’ resistance art attempted to, in a brief moment, destabilize the ostensible reign of American capitalism oppressing the Brazilian artist’s homeland (the Coca-Cola bottle had become an image of US imperialism in Brazil.)

Ultimately Meireles points to the existence of these controlling circuits, and also to their passivity to the individual agent. There are cracks in the current order: the objects that embody unquestionable cultural authority temporarily became messengers of treason to their consumerist kings. In this, Meireles looks to an exchange of information independent of a centralized system of production. By transmitting an opposing message through hijacking the (literal) currency of cultural exchange, the artist is able to demystify the claims to absolute authority.

As implied above, Western Christians, with our sanctified radio stations, denominational publishing houses, and holy film industries tend to create our own ideological circuits that can be equally unforgiving to the external. And so, as Christians who engage in a culture with an alternative (dare we say, defiant) perspective, how are we to make inserts into the ideological circuits around us? We, with Meireles acknowledge, “the container always carries with it an ideology”, and so how are we to insert the ‘counter-information’ of the Kingdom? For example, the Kingdom principles of love and the absolute value of the human being in the face of a demoralizing system that further impoverishes and punishes the poor for being poor?

I do think that it is of interest that biblically, Yahweh is seen to wrestle with the circuits of language by modifying phrases in cultural circulation through the prophets (“the children’s teeth are set on edge” in Ezekiel 18 and Jeremiah 31). Doesn’t Jesus deliberately re-assemble the law in the Sermon on the Mount as well (You have heard it was said… but I say to you…)?

As Christian artists who believe that we live in a world under the ideological influence of the “god of this world” (2nd Corinthians 4:4), is our response to create our own circuit in which we isolate ourselves, or are we to make insertions into dominant ideological circuits around us? If so, how are we to subvert the current system?

What I am speaking of here is not the poles of east and west, north and south, capitalism and communism, or even sacred and secular, but the divisive “the Kingdom is like…” that seems to cut through all of these binary opposites. The ‘us vs. them’ dichotomy simply is not part of the dialogue; rather it is ‘us and Him’.

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Anya Gallaccio and These Beautiful Changeable Things

Christian theology has the tendency to exalt the abstract and immaterial over the corporeal and transitory parts of creation. When I was baptised, a scripture from Second Corinthians was given to me that spoke about how “the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18). This understanding, when not tamed or tapered with an understanding of the full bodily incarnation of Christ can become dualistic and dichotomising (God “up there” far away, and us “down here”).

Here at Sputnik, we fully hold to the idea that “thought shapes art, and art shapes life”. The heaven-up, earth-below theological-thought-attitude that holds an inseparable chasm between ‘heavenly realities’ and ‘earthly things’ has undoubtedly infiltrated our art. The almost alien-like faces of Byzantine iconography stripped of any imperfections bears witness to this. When our understanding of life is stripped of all materiality and ‘flesh’, our art follows suit. Historically, we seem to have forgotten about the God who descended into clay, and then used dirt to restore sight to the blind.

Certain modernist artists have attempted to make their visual-theology more ‘earthy’ and have succeeded in their representations (Graham Sutherland, or Otto Dix are great examples). What I would like to ask in this short post is whether we should be going further than simply allowing some earth into our timeless representations?

Where film necessitates considerations of time and change in art, standard pictorial representation generally seeks to freeze it, glossing over it, and preserving the static. ‘A good painting is one that stands the test of time’; symbolically and physically. Should our creations continue in their insulation from time and mutation though? Are we to keep making monuments to eternity? Or does the unique incarnational story of Christ instead push us to become partakers in the mutable creation? Are we instead created to be collaborators with a fluid cosmos?

Anya Gallaccio is one of the generation of Young British Artists whose direct engagement with cultural materials and objects created both a sense of immediate recognition (the work is not too abstract, it is created with tangible objects that are instantly recognisable,) and contemplative dislocation (the work is somewhat transformed and ‘edited’, creating a realm of possible understandings of a given artwork) within the viewer.

Gallaccio’s most widely recognised work, currently housed in the Tate Britain, is Preserve ‘Beauty’ (1991-2003), a four panelled composition of 2000 gerberas encased in glass, fixed against the gallery wall. During the installation of this work the flowers wither and die, leaving stains on the gallery wall. What begins with a fresh smell and vibrant colours finishes with an odour of decay and an image of putrefaction.

Though Gallaccio’s wider body of work deals with natural processes of transformation, from melting 34 tons of ice from within with a 1.5-ton boulder of rock salt (intensities and surfaces, 1996) to the erosion of a 60-ton column of locally quarried chalk wrapped in plaster at sea off the coast of Hull (Two sisters, 1998), I find Preserve ‘Beauty’ particularly instructive because it actively speaks in to the aforementioned dialogue. The material and very ‘stuff’ of Gallaccio’s art is the changeable; the mutable objects through which Augustine claims we see “the God who made things, through the things which He made.”




This work serves as a soft critique of the institution (Tate) that it currently resides in. When ‘beauty’ is preserved, it dies. How can we then, as Christians and as creators cooperate with the transformability of nature, as agents of change and metamorphosis? A friend of mine described this different approach to participating in a changing creation rather than stagnating it and trying to ‘eternalise’ nature as the difference between a still pond and a flowing river.

A ‘good’ portrait sketch freezes and immortalises an ever-changing biological form. Is there a space for an art form that instead takes pleasure in the divine authorship of what St. Augustine aptly calls “these beautiful changeable things” in his Easter sermon of 411AD? Perhaps Gallacio’s work points us in the right direction.

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Suffering and Healing in Arie A. Galles’ Fourteen Stations

Arie A. Galles’ (1944-) Fourteen Stations drawings take a radical departure from the customary representations of Christ’s Passion stations. Traditionally, viewers meditate upon a series of works that trace Christ’s physical and mental agony from condemnation through to resurrection. I would like this post to open a dialogue into how unorthodox approaches to the Passion can deepen our understanding of people, place, suffering and healing.

Station 7 – Dachau” 1999 47”1/2” X 75” Charcoal and Conte on Arches

Galles’ painstakingly mimicked aerial photographs of Nazi concentration camps based on Luftwaffe and Allied reconnaissance film. The meticulous drawings reproduce the mechanical photographs in incredible detail; the stations that were to be the final stations of millions of transported prisoners. There are four theological themes in this work I would like to contemplate.

Firstly is the theme of Kaddish; the Jewish burial prayer exalting God and yearning for the establishment of his Kingdom which is embedded in Hebrew and Aramaic through the series. Galles himself confesses, “The most sincere and honest way I know how to pray is through my work, So many people died in these camps, and there’s no one to say Kaddish for them.” In this we find a paradox; how can these depictions of the some of the cruelest and most heinous places in history come together to glorify the seemingly all-too-quiet God? The burial prayer reads, “May there be abundant peace from Heaven, and life upon us and upon all Israel”. The charcoal sketches proclaim a sense of immovable hope in death; quite characteristic of the historical Jewish faith, and the hope in the cross; possibly an aesthetic theodicy?

The most similar Biblical source to this enacted/embodied Kaddish would be book of Lamentations, traditionally ascribed to the prophet Jeremiah. The dirges and final psalm in the book are exemplars testifying to the marriage of craft and passion; of spontaneity and preparation. In both the Fourteen Stations and Lamentations, the laborious process involved in the works’ creation only intensifies the emotional turmoil portrayed. The artist-mourner writes, that the project “has been the most intense endeavor I have ever undertaken”.

Identification is also big theme in this work. It is most notable that some of the artist’s relatives died in Belzec, one of the camps drawn. The artist identifies the suffering and attempted annihilation of the Jewish people of last century with the crucifixion of Christ almost two thousand years ago. Is this to be read as a theological or simply art-historical theme?

The suffering of Jewish people today is therefore not isolated from the Jewish and Christian biblical accounts, and subsequently our minds are drawn to the Assyrian and Babylonian deportations, and the similar atrocities the people have survived. The ground of Jerusalem on which Christ (and many other patriarchs) suffered, the lost homeland, is somehow identified with these horrific places of utter desolation.

Finally, it is interesting that Galles spoke of a particular feeling of objectivity. Galles says he experienced the feeling of being “strapped to the belly of a bomber, looking down.” The aerial, God’s-eye view portrays an apparent scientific objectivity through which the viewer can leave with a haunting feeling of corporate responsibility. The atrocities are evident, and the passion is factual. The height and dislocation of both the photographic method and the birds-eye geographic view stand in tension with the intensely intimate reality of both the creative method and the on-the-ground systematic massacre.

Galles’ alternative stations come together in the creation of a distinct Passion narrative, one that prays, laments, identifies, and objectively condemns an irrefutable yet unthinkable period of recent history.


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An Interview with Duncan Stewart

About a year ago, my friend Lex told me about a South African artist he’d got to know. I checked out his website and quickly realised that this was not some hobby-ist with a bit of a creative itch. Duncan Stewart is a painter and sculptor whose work is profoundly thoughtful and technically superb. His wide range, both in terms of style (oils, charcoal, bronze sculptures) and subject (addressing social, environmental and theological issues) is as impressive as his craftsmanship.

His raison d’etre, as expressed on the website’s ‘about’ tab also resonated with me:

‘Trust God and live life forward’ encapsulates my life’s philosophy… to do work that opens people’s hearts long enough, through whatever appeal my art may have, that the deeper narrative which imbues all my work, may be both ingested and digested.’

I caught up with Duncan to delve a little deeper.

Who are you and what do you do?

The  short answer is that I am a human being whom God has graciously rescued from eternal destruction, in the process delighting my heart with a restored fellowship with Him and causing the gifts and passion He placed within me to be the vehicles which I now have the privilege of using for His glory and the blessing of others.

Even shorter answer: husband, son, brother, father, painter, sculptor, preacher, prayer, runner, paddler…in no clear order.

How did you decide to make art more than a hobby in your life?

Before Jesus interrupted my life, I never had the faith, vision or even desire to become an artist. I was hungry for the worldly promises of wealth and comfort which the life of an artist seemed completely incapable of achieving for me. Yet I always loved to draw things which ultimately translated into me keeping the flame of art alive through evening courses whilst working in the ad industry during the day. And then one day, God spoke to me from the story of Moses in Exodus, showing me that if I was willing to throw down what I had in my hand – my talents and artistic abilities, He could do in the supernatural what was impossible for me to do in the natural – use my work, my life, to lead others from captivity into freedom, into a promised land. I couldn’t imagine a more meaningful way to spend/invest my life. That moment, compounded by miraculous moments of divine provision and favour on my work, propelled me into the future I am now living but could never have dreamed of.

How would your art be different if you weren’t a Christian?

I think if I was not a Christian, I wouldn’t be an artist. My new identity – the person redefined by Christ on the cross, that person is an artist. The man I was prior to salvation had some artistic ability but the heart and passions, the fear controlling me then would have either sabotaged me or driven my work and my life in the pursuit of selfish pleasure, fame and fortune.

What would you like to achieve through your art in your lifetime?

Honestly, having my life/art play a role in the salvation of souls, millions or some part there-in.

The satisfaction and joy of redirecting vast sums of worldly wealth into the kingdom.

Influencing a whole industry to the truth and glory of God.

Model that the calling/living of an artist is a blessing and privilege, not requiring a host of dysfunctions or being subjected to poverty but rather a fountain of life and creativity and generosity and courage (not that I have achieved this, but I press on…:-)

What would be your advice to any young Christian artists finding it difficult to balance their art with the other demands of life (including church commitments)?

Know your boundaries and don’t be afraid to follow paths that others may judge as selfish.

Invest in yourself, your health, your talent, your education…value who God has made you to be, so that when you come to invest outwards – which is the goal, the outpouring of Christ is from a vessel that is whole.

Lose your religion ( viz. hypocrisy/legalistic spirit)….don’t be afraid to be seen and mix with people who aren’t Christians, true humility is a great weapon/tool for an artist.

Take time to rest, it may take more faith than to be busy but it is vital.

Be strict with yourself in practicing the daily discipline of seeking/being with Jesus.

Store compliments in your heart for encouragement when needed, not in your head which can get too big/proud; store criticism not in your heart where it can poison, but in your head where you can reflect upon it’s value and determine if you need to make correction or if it can be dismissed as irrelevant.

All church leaders I know say that they would like to both encourage artists (and creativity in general) in their churches, however thriving local church based artistic movements are few and far between. What do you think needs to change (in the churches and in the artists) for churches to start becoming homes for genuinely innovative and prolific art collectives?

From my experience there are at least 2 aspects that need consideration; the artist and the church/leadership of their local community.

Church side: I have the privilege of being in an extremely diverse community of people – black, white, rich poor, English and many other languages and nationalities and what I respect so much within our leadership is their vision and courage to create room for every member to explore and find their niche – the role God has uniquely gifted them to perform (1 Corinthians 12), creating opportunities within that for personal expression and challenge whilst recognising that it is God who brings the growth. They don’t always get it right, but one gets the deep sense that they are desiring to please God before man…which for me is key….they call us often into stretching, seemingly inconvenient relationships or tasks, gently but firmly. It is not necessarily always comfortable in our church – which is a good thing. So a leadership that is able to not box or over-administrate a church but desires to see a true reflection of the bride living in harmony with all its various parts… easy in words, so messy in life.

Artists side: What I have learnt is that we are not special, or rather more special, than anyone else. That we need to model the best of being an artist, even if it means giving when it hurts, helping, serving – playing out of position sometimes. We also need to be confident and secure in ourselves and with our leaders to trust them enough to be able to speak out our fears/dreams/frustrations so that they can position us better for success and connect us to a bigger picture. We need to share our gifts and talents (and ourselves) with the body to fulfill our unique God-given calling within and for the benefit and well-being of the whole body.

If you’ve enjoyed our interview with Duncan, please check out his website or like his Facebook page to get regular updates.