Recently on reading a news item in a national newspaper ‘Nudity Rings Alarm Bells at Cathedral’ I was prompted to write about my own experience of exhibiting art in churches since living in Norfolk. I have always felt slightly inhibited by the atmosphere of religious spaces for exhibitions, particularly having only previously exhibited in a gallery environment where I felt free to show work without boundaries or restrictions.
In the newspaper it described the four acrylic canvas works by the artist Joe Greenwood as being ‘ to in your face’ for display at Portsmouth cathedral as part of the summer show by the Portsmouth and Hampshire Art Society. A spokesman for the Diocese of Portsmouth said “ When planning the exhibition the paintings were considered to be suitable but a number of visitors and regular worshippers expressed distress about them” The nude paintings were subsequently removed and returned to Mr Greenwood. How humiliating and ridiculous particularly when one considers the ‘Sistine Chapel’ in Rome.
My work often depicts the human figure, male and female, but I have never exhibited these images in our Summer Exhibition in St Nicholas Chapel for this very reason but more to do with not offending the Friends of the Chapel and visitors as the congregation no longer exists. The chapel I understand is for weddings and funerals. I notice whenever nudes, usually small intimate studies , are presented the curators tend to tuck them away behind a screen not at the front to greet visitors.
The first exhibition I saw on arriving in Norfolk was at Salthouse church part of the North Norfolk Exhibition Project and this felt exciting and not inhibited by the surroundings. All manner of topics and subjects were represented including the human figure on a grand scale. Not always obvious but that was the interesting part. The church lent itself so well as an exhibition space being austere and white without too much ornamentation and offering an insight into the artistic life of Norfolk and beyond.
This autumn our exhibition will be in the Fermoy Gallery at the kings Lynn Arts Centre and a great opportunity to feel free of any restrictions on subject matter. In the past the Summer Exhibition has been held at the Arts Centre and there will hopefully be further opportunities to do so in the future.