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A New Processional Cross designed by artist Brian Catling

News St Martin – Talking Points

Monday 16 September 2013

A New Processional Cross designed by artist Brian Catling

Sculptor Brian Catling (b. 1948) has designed and produced a new processional cross for St Martin-in-the-Fields. The new processional cross is part of the Art Programme that began under the church’s Renewal Project.

Catling was one of four artists invited to propose metalwork designs for the church. After a competitive presentation and interview process he was selected in principle by St Martin’s Arts Advisory Panel. The panel is chaired by Sir Nicholas Goodison and also includes Vivien Lovell, Director of Modus Operandi. The selection was endorsed by the Parochial Church Council.

Members of the advisory panel include Revd Dr Sam Wells, vicar of St Martin’s; Rod Beadles and Ali Lyon, Churchwardens; Eric Parry, architect of the Renewal Project; art historians Wendy Baron and Mary Yule; and Alister Warman, curator.

Catling’s exquisite design references a simple cross, the starting point being two pieces of wood tied humbly together by a length of string – an allusion to St Martin tearing his cloak in two and giving half to a beggar.  Through casting the cross in a strong yet lightweight aluminium and gilding it in white gold, Catling’s original idea is transformed into an extraordinary emblem of the church. Throughout the process the cross has been worked on by hand, creating an original and conceptually complex work. 

Recalling the process of making the cross, Catling states:

‘The privilege of making the processional cross has been overwhelming, both in the excitement of the concept and the enduring nature of its meaning. But also in the anxiety of getting it right. It is difficult for an artist to explain this, but the many hours of wakeful night time dreaming, becomes the forging in the imagination of the meaning of the work. This is as great part of the process as the shaping, casting and balancing of the physical object. But for me it is essential that I have both a hands-on and mindful relationship with the sculptural identity of the cross. Design is not enough, I need the struggle and tension that only ever comes through deep feeling, prolonged thought, and the work of the hands.’

Professor Brian Catling lives and works in Oxford and has exhibited in solo exhibitions and performances throughout the United Kingdom and Europe. He has won commissions for a number of public artworks, most recently in 2006 at the Tower of London, where he created a memorial to mark the site where ten people were executed at Tower Green.

Catling is Professor of Fine Art, University of Oxford, a Fellow of Linacre College, Oxford and an Honorary Fellow of Dartington College of Art. His practice encompasses sculpture, poetry and performance; his most recent book, The Vorrh, was published in 2013.

‘The cross brings together themes of suffering, shame, and glory,’ said the Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Revd Dr Sam Wells. ‘The contorted shape of the wood invites passionate engagement with the horror and  exclusion of the cross, while the gold inspires us to believe that all our human failure and folly will be redeemed in Christ’s final overcoming of suffering and death. I don’t know hat I’ve ever seen a cross that does fuller justice to both the agony and the glory of Calvary.’

The St Martin-in-the-Fields Art Programme was formed in 2005, starting with an Art Strategy written by Modus Operandi and working within the context of the Renewal Project led by Eric Parry Architects. Work by artists from various disciplines has been integrated into several aspects of the building project and external public spaces including the design of the new East Window and altar by Shirazeh Houshiary with Pip Horne, the creation of a new Christmas Crib by Tomoaki Suzuki, and the commissioning of a new poem by Andrew Motion, then Poet Laureate.

The commissioning of the cross has been financially supported by The Jerusalem Trust.

The dedication of the new cross was held on Sunday 15 September 2013.

Modus Operandi Art Consultants, 2013.