There’s something about Mary

I am always delighted when I discover an artist about whom I know nothing, so when I visited the exhibition currently showing at Guildford Cathedral ( by British artist Chris Gollon ( it was a real pleasure.

Although Gollon is an established name in contemporary British art, he is not an artist I have come across before, yet his credentials are impeccable; with a steady stream of national and international exhibitions almost every year under his belt since 1989.  The exhibition at Guildford is titled “Incarnation, Mary and Women from the Bible” and focuses on themes of fertility, infertility and sexuality, not a theme which is generally associated with religious narrative painting.  The imagery itself is sensitively painted, faces showing a full range of emotions from the tranquility of deep sleep as seen in the face of Samson in ‘Delilah’ to the melancholic meditation of ‘Hannah’ who is shown with over-large hands clasped together in silent contemplative prayer.  Gollon has chosen his women well, Mary is the central figure and there are several images of the Virgin and Child and Pieta showing a full range of emotions from the overwhelming knowing of unconditional love experienced when you hold your child for the first time to the grief and complete desolation of the parent whose child dies.

EPSON MFP imageMagdalene at the Base of the Cross (acrylic on canvas, 122 x 61cm)  

 copyright Chris Gollon,  IAP Fine Art and Guy Lockwood

Compare these with the images of St Lucy and my favourite in the exhibition – “Julian of Norwich”, who is shown as a very modern and empowered woman – a scholar. (Julian – her real name is unknown – was born around 1342 and died around 1416.  She was most likely from a noble family and is famous for being the first woman to write a book in English, which was an account of intense visions of Christ while suffering from a serious illness.  It wasn’t until 30 years later however that Julian began to write about the meaning of her visions, and her text underwent several revisions before it was completed, the version known as “The Long Text” consists of 86 chapters and is about 63,000 words long.  A second “The Short Text” version consists of just 25 chapters and a mere 11,00 words!  Gollon depicts Julian sitting before sheets of writings with her pen and inkwell and a pair of spectacles, the symbols of her learning and scholarship.


Julian of Norwich (acrylic on paper, 76 x 56 cm)

copyright Chris Gollon, IAP Fine Art and Guy Lockwood

 Although these paintings are after the religious tradition, they are most definitely not cosy Renaissance style images found on countless jigsaw puzzles and fridge magnets.  These are contemporary, and challenging images  painted in a very modern style making use of aerosol spray paints.  The canvasses are large, sometimes vast – the largest showing isolated figures in the lower third of the picture plane set against a plain background. Even more interesting is that Gollon is able to present the work in such a way that it can be understood by a secular audience.  Until comparatively recently bible knowledge was deeply ingrained in the culture of everyday life and the title of a painting alone would allow people to engage with the work as equals to the artist.  The increasing secularism of modern society means that this knowledge is not so widely known and therefore as the stories are lesser known, the dialogue with the viewer is diminished.  Personally I do not consider myself to be a religious person, but this exhibition has prompted me to make some personal research into the figures depicted and their stories.  Gollon is not known as a specifically religious painter, yet he has completed a commission of the Fourteen Stations of the Cross for the Sir John Soane designed Church of St John in Bethnal Green; instead his work speaks more of a deeper spirituality of life, and this can be seen in his landscape and still life paintings where the emphasis is very much on the “still”.

I will be looking out for future showings of work by Chris Gollon, and his current show can be seen at Guildford Cathedral until 3rd March 2014.  An excellent catalogue accompanying the exhibition is available from the Cathedral shop.


Noah’s Wife (acrylic on canvas 60″ x 24″)

Copyright Chris Gollon, the children of Queen Eleanor’s C of E Junior School, Guildford, Guy Lockwood and IAP Fine Art)


Guy Lockwood photography for paintings by Chris Gollon in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition –

IAP Fine Art representing Chris Gollon –, the Wey Gallery –


About paisleypedlar

Artist, Sewist, sometime Cyclist and Arm Chair Activist
This entry was posted in acrylic painting, Art, art and design, Books, drawing, drawing and painting, education, Fine Art, mixed media collage, Museums and Galleries, oil painting, Out and about, pencil drawing, water colour painting and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to There’s something about Mary

  1. Really interesting piece Gill and these paintings also look fascinating. I’m with you on the Julian of Norwich painting.

  2. Wonderful to read your reflections on Chris Gollon’s work! You might be interested to know that the exhibtion will be on touring to three cathedrals this year – in Norwich in February/March; Chichester in June/July; Durham in the autumn. Gollon is producing some new work for each cathedral including a deeply thought provoking piece called ‘Madonna of the Apple’ which holds together nativity/calvary; sin/salvation.

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