Thursday, March 30, 2006

Jim Latter's 'Stations of the Cross'

‘Stations of the Cross’ by Jim Latter is a series of 15 paintings. Each painting relates to a particular point in the journey of Jesus from condemnation to resurrection. The paintings are on display in St Mary le Bow church for the duration of Lent (until Easter Sunday, April 16).

The paintings are incredibly simple. Each shows the same sized rectangle on the same sized piece of paper. Each rectangle contains a cross. The dimensions and proportions of the cross do not vary. This gives the series coherence, strength, and power.

Using only colour, shape, pattern and the relationship between the foreground of the cross and background of the rectangle, the artist manages to convey or suggest something of the essence of each of the episodes in the story of the Passion of Christ, and also something of the essence of the story as a whole.

I visited the exhibition four times. On my third visit I quickly toured round the 15 paintings, making a note into my laptop of what I perceived in each painting. Yesterday lunchtime I went back to note down the titles of each painting. By a nice co-incidence Jim Latter was in the church at the time. He introduced himself, and walked around the exhibition with me.

What follows is, for each painting, firstly the original notes that I took of my perceptions of the painting, and then some of what Jim told me of how he made the painting and what he was looking to convey.

red at the bottom fading in to black at the top. like a sunset or a dawn with light diffusing but it feels like the darkness from the top is pushing down on the red fading light below

Jim’s comments: I paid a lot of attention to the proportions of the cross, and the ratios between it and the rectangle that the cross is contained in. I’ve noticed that most of the crosses you see in churches haven’t got the right proportions. The dimensions of the cross in this rectangle create two squares as background above the arms of the cross, and two rectangles below the arms.

I started by placing masking around the rectangle and over the cross. I painted the background with layers of acrylic paint. Then I uncovered the cross, masked the rest of the rectangle and painted the cross.

the darkness is lightened somewhat. The cross is brought to the fore by evenly spaced vertical lines, like scars that cut across the grain and run down the cross - both its arms and its support. In the background you have green light at the bottom fading into grey at the top.
(taking up the cross)

the cross stands out blue, garish and the lines on the cross are at an oblique angle, all leaning the same way. The background is brown - a light mud brown – but it is scarred by lines, lines that have been made before the imposition of the cross, lines that are interrupted by the cross.
(first fall)

Jim: I masked over the cross and used a ruler and a knife to scour lines into the paper in the rectangle. I did it with a ruler, more or less at random. Then I scoured the diagonal lines onto the cross.

I used a blue oil pastel to colour the cross: it was like brass rubbing, it’s a solid lump of pastel and, the pastel doesn’t get into the channels created by the knife. The scourings into the paper are there to show the pain, I was thinking of someone scraping their fingernails down a blackboard.

the only one where the pain spills outside of the rectangle and reaches into the white space beyond the rectangle. The one where the cross almost merges into the background, the cross is a deeper blue, the background the same blue more lightly applied, it is watercolour and you get the fluidity of the cross and the background joining, spreading, merging, like the baby and the mother in the womb.

Jim: I wanted to show the pure pain and grief of a mother for a child. I thought of tears.
I used a different technique for this one. I didn’t use the masking tape. First I wet the whole rectangle and dripped drops of blue watercolour (like putting in eyedrops). Most of the blue stayed within the rectangle but sometimes the blue splashed outside the rectangle, like tears.

I waited till it dried then I wetted the cross, leaving the background of the rectangle dry. I dropped blue paint onto the cross to make the cross stand out from the background in a deeper blue, knowing that some of the blue of the cross would spill out into the background.

wow. Colours, bright colours. The cross marked out by vertical stripes going from left to right (arm) green black yellow red green black yellow (support) red green black yellow red (arm) green black yellow red green black yellow. The four corners of the background are reading from left to right and top to bottom: black green yellow red. The background corners have diagonal lines each diagonal taking the line from the edges in towards the centre of the cross, the cross of the cross.

Jim: I spoke to Rev Bush (the minister at St Mary le Bow) about Simon. He helped Jesus. Some sources suggest he was black. I wanted to use colours that paid homage to that: I wanted to use Rasta colours.

watercolour again. The cross brown, the background a dull blue. Some horizontal drips of blue flow downwards and change their course as they flow over the brown cross. Several patches of the cross are a darker brown, where the head would be, where the feet would be, where the arms would hang

Jim: Veronica wiped Jesus’ brow with her cloth, when she looked at the cloth afterwards the sweat had formed the image of Jesus’ face on the cloth.

I made the cross wet and applied the brown, then I made the background wet and applied the blue watercolour.

When you wet the paper it buckles, when it buckles the paint runs into hollows and groups in different places: you can’t control how it turns out. The dark patches of brown you see on the cross could have occurred in any pattern, it was beyond my control, I was amazed to see that way the dark patches have grouped suggests the presence of the body of Jesus, like an x-ray.

cross is a blue, a deeper blue than before. Background is brown, a deeper brown than before. The lines on the cross are diagonals moving downwards from right to left. In the background there are lines, interrupted by the cross, entangled lines, lines that form an entangling meshy trap like lots of ropes that keep tripping you up
(second fall)

Jim: If the scar lines on the cross had been horizontal and vertical everything would have seemed stable: I made the scar lines diagonals to show the instability, the falling

watercolour. Cross is brown but invaded by the colours of the background which is a tie died, psychedelic, rainbow of beautiful, peaceful spectrum-like colours.
(women of Jerusalem)

the cross is a duller blue, almost all the blue has faded now. The demarcation between the blue of the cross and the brown of the background is being lost: they are fading into one. The lines of the cross are diagonals going downwards from left as I view to the right. The same entangling, tripping lines.
(third fall)

the mood feels different over here, more serious, less human, less alive, hope has been stripped out. The cross, white, the background black with paler patches.

Jim: The cross is bare, just white, to show the nakedness of flesh. For the background I wanted to create the effect of metal. To show the vulnerability of the flesh against the harshness of the metal.

the cross red the background red. The cross demarcated from the background only by the different orientation of the lines scarring its surface. The lines scarring the surface of the background run horizontally, the lines scarring the surface of the cross are orientated vertically. The lines don’t run as neat parallels: they are entangled lines, like the lines in the paintings of the falls

Jim: I’ve given this painting to the church, so it will stay here at St Mary le Bow when the exhibition has finished.

black. Only black. If you look for a long time, the black of the cross appears to show out from the black of the background.

Jim: I painted the whole rectangle black. Then I masked over the background and gave another coat of the same paint to the cross. So the only difference between the background and the cross is that the cross is painted twice.

some colour is coming back. Pale colour, but pale hopeful colours. The foot of the cross is pink like flesh, the foot of the background is green like grass, pink and green fading upward but the colour of the background at the top is blue, not black.
(taken down)

Jim: for the blue at the top I was thinking of all those renaissance paintings which seem to have a clear morning sky, when it hasn’t got hot yet, when there is still a bit of freshness in the air.

When I painted the cross I had in my mind a picture from an American comic that was passed round my school when I was a kid. It was a pretty nasty comic and one picture showed a picture of a man who had been shot. The man was slumped back on a chair, his arms hanging over the sides of the chair. He had obviously been dead for some hours and the blood had sunk down to the bottom of the arms, so the artist showed the top of the arms as pale, getting pinker as you moved down towards the man’s hands. This was my image of what death was for a long time.

the cross is black with thin, horizontal, evenly spaced, parallel red scars. The background is black with thin vertical parallel scars.

Jim: There is nowhere that the horizontal lines of the cross can go, they are trapped by the vertical lines of the background. I wanted to give that feeling of being closed in, of being unable to move. This is also a nod to the work of Frank Stella, an abstract artist whom I admire.

white. If you look for a while you will see the white cross emerging from the white background and appearing to light up the white of the paper outside the square.

Jim: I didn’t know what to do for resurrection. I spent two weeks wondering around my studio without a clue on how to depict it. Then I thought ‘white’.

I painted the whole rectangle white, then masked out the background and painted the cross again with another coat of white. But the second coat was very light, there is very little difference in weight between the white of the cross and that of background.

When you look at this you are seeing four different whites: the white of the cross, the white of the background, the white of the paper, and the white of the mount.

Some comments from Jim about the work as a whole
When I researched the stations of the cross all the previous work I came across, with one exception, were figurative, depicting in some way the people involved in the story. The one exception was a Stations of the cross by the abstract artist Barnett Newman.

Newman's work simply used geometric shapes, it did not even use the cross. But somehow it worked. I saw it in London when it came over as an exhibition about 5 years ago. I felt that the work gave me 'permission' to do the work without figures. At one point I was thinking of using circles as the basis of the work, but after a time I realised that I needed to have the cross in there.

Some comments from me for Jim about the work as a whole
It seems that most stations of the cross by other artists have 14 stations: is your work unique in adding the 15th station, for the resurrection?
The first time I saw this work it was the contrast between the black of your depiction of death, and the white of your depiction of the resurrection that really sucked me into this whole work. The contrast gives a pure energy to the work, like a star near a black hole.

Does the series continue after resurrection? Does the slight difference between the white and the white mean a new cycle, a different cycle starts anew? Or does the white gradually dissolve into the white?

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Monday, March 27, 2006

Inspired writing

Here are the notes I took at Nick William’s ‘inspired writing’ course on Saturday

Nick’s recipe for writing is to:
• work out what inspires you
• overcome the resistance you feel to writing
• turn up at the page and write
• learn some craft techniques for making the most of your ideas

Work out what inspires you
Inspiration is natural to human beings. The latin origin of the word ‘inspiration’ is to breathe, and it is as simple as that. Inspiration is available to us as human beings living in the world.

Inspiration is an evolutionary force, a force for change in our lives. You may have an idea and think to yourself ‘that is a great idea but I’m not big enough to do/write that’’. Inspiration is the motive force for us to grow to become big enough to express and develop that idea.

To stay inspired we need to stay in touch with the things in the world that inspire us. Our sources of inspiration are like our wells which stop us from running dry. Work out what inspires you. Make time in your daily life for the things that inspire you: if nature inspires you, spend time with it. If you get inspired by art, spend time with art. If you get inspired by dancing, dance.

Nick advised us to look for unexpected source of inspiration, and to trawl our nets wider in search of new sources of inspiration. Nick was surprised to be inspired by Las Vegas, by all the entertainment available there.

I realised on the course that I am inspired by:
  • people who are willing to express and live by their values in life
  • acts of friendship, kindness and solidarity
  • small second-hand bookshops, art galleries and bakers that manage to keep going
  • art
  • conversations or books that cause me to make connections between people, places, ideas ,times and possibilities
  • strong and humorous communities of people
  • rivers and the sea
  • my friends.

Overcome your resistance
Resistance is our attempts to dissuade ourselves from acting on our inspiration. Could be anything from ‘I’ m too tired’ ‘I’m not ready’ ‘I’m not capable’ ‘I’ve got more important things to do’.

The more important something is to you, the stronger will be your own resistance to doing it. Realise that you will resist your own creativity, and be prepared to defend your own creativity against your own resistance.

Turn up at the page and write
Nothing will get written if you don’t turn up at the page and write.

Don’t wait until you have something great to say before you write: start off by writing some crap! Adults have a tendency to think they ought to know how to do stuff. The best way of learning is to try things. When children learn to walk they fall over lots of times and they don’t care, they try again. When adults try something that doesn’t work they have a tendency to say to themselves ‘I can’t do this’.

Don’t wait until you feel inspired with lots of ideas before you write: start writing to unlock your ideas.

Use some craft techniques
Start small. Lower your bars for success. You don’t have to write a book all at once. Start with an article, or a presentation or a workshop.

Craft your writing so that it works for the reader. You don’t have to tell the reader everything you know.

One craft technique that Nick showed us was coming up with some ‘top tips’ and then elaborate on each one: I’ve used it for this blog post.

Be clear about why you are writing: are you writing to entertain, to inform, as catharsis for yourself, to make money? Any one piece of writing may be for one or more of those reasons. We will write for different purposes at different times.

If your writing was just about using craft techniques then you would just end up as a hack and you would not enjoy it. But if you keep in touch with your inspiration then writing will not only be a source of joy but also of personal growth and fulfilment.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Meeting other succesful authors

Yesterday I went to an Alternatives workshop on Creative writing.

The course leader was Nick Williams who has written books such as The work we were born to do and How to be inspired.

The first thing Nick asked to us to do was to introduce ourselves to other people in the room as though we had already published a really succesful book that we were proud of.

I told a tall, quiet chap about my history of Hungarian literature, and how I had written it without ever having read a Hungarian novel. I told him about my research for the book, which involved riding on buses and trams in Budapest and asking people to tell me which stories and characters from their country’s literature had made an impression on them.

He told me about his economics book. He wrote it from the standpoint that resources in the world are abundant, thus overturning the traditional view of of economists that resources are scarce. His book has inspired the creation of many different self-sufficient communities. He is proudest of the one near his hometown in the West Country, which now has over 50 members.

Later on I introduced myself to Maureen who has written a self help book from the different perspectives of the many cultural groups in London.

And I met Stephanie who has written a book about how to connect with people. I told her about the book that I had written on how to enjoy life, with its chapters on how to enjoy watching a cricket match, how to enjoy your lunch break, how to enjoy an art exhibition and so on.

Stephanie and I have agreed to co-operate on a book which will tell you you how to enjoy connecting with people at art galleries, cricket matches……….

(the photo of the tram comes from

Friday, March 24, 2006


I went to see the Dan Flavin retrospective at the Hayward Gallery on Tuesday.

Every piece consists of his arrangement of flourescent lights. The tubes are from a narrow range of colours, a narrow range of lengths. Flavin was influenced by the Constructivists, an artistic movement that grew up in the years just after the Russian Revolution, which mad repeated use of a relatively small set of simple elements, which they combined in different ways.

The flourescent lights provide all the light in the gallery: there is no other sources of light in the exhibition apart from the art (well I did spot a couple of lights on the stairs that must have been there for safety reasons). In fact the Hayward haven't just switched off their own lighting, they have totally removed all their lighting: their are no other lights to be seen. You walk around the gallery bathing in the light of Flavin's art.

The experience started to twig with me when I realised that the walls were different colours depending on where you were looking at them from:. Flavin was painting the walls with his lights. I didn't just have to look at the arrangement, shape, and colour of the tubes themselves: I could look all around me at the colours and the luminescence that I was walking in.

A lot of the pieces are entitled 'monument to' . I found that moving. Flavin is quoted as saying that in calling them monuments he was being ironic because his light tubes don't last anywhere near as long as your traditional stone monument.

Flavin was creating light sculptures which he is dedicating to people: some people he knows, some dead, some alive, some he doesn't know like the Soviet Constructivist V.Tatlin. And he does multiple different monuments: so we think of one main monument someone, but here is Flavin doing 50 monumebts for Tatlin, each composed of a small number of white flourescent tubes, each monument different from the other, different shape, different disposition.

It reminded me of that religious instinct to light candles in a flickering memory to people (as in my wife's Greek church). And I have since learned that Flavin had trained to be a Catholic priest before starting his career as an artist, and had studied Byzantine icons.

Flavin's monument Tatlin is interesting because Tatlin is most famous for designing a monument that was never built, a monument to the Third Socialist International. Well it was never built in Moscow where Tatlin intended. I remember the Transport and General Workers Union had a small one built on the PierHead in Liverpool which my grandad used to take Lucy and I too: I wonder what happened to that: does anyone else remember it?

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Forget about the station, forget about the game

A few weeks ago I got the wrong branch of the Northern Line coming southbound.
It didn't really matter, I got off at Bank and went on the Central Line to Tottenham Court Road and got to Waterloo that way (it was too late for the Waterloo and City Line).

But getting the wrong branch of the Northern Line northbound is more serious. Look at this story that I read on wikipedia yesterday, in the page for 'The game':

"Three young men, following a heavy night out in the west end, accidentally took the wrong branch on the northern line, and found themselves stranded at East Finchley. As they had no money, they decided to wait on the platform until the first morning service to take them back into town. To help the time pass, they decided to play a game, and one suggested that they should try to forget about where they were, and that they were playing a game, and the first one to think about the game, or about East Finchley, was the loser."

This has now been formulised into a game that apparently anyone can play . The object is simply to forget you are playing the game. You lose every time you remember that you are playing, and you should announce the fact that you have lost.

There are some good tactics for winning the game mentioned on the wikipedia site, liking putting post it notes up where your opponents can see them that say 'the game'. But this does cause philosophical problems as you were probably thinking about the game when you wrote the post it.

There is a wikipedia deletion page for the article where there is a debate going on about whether or not to delete the page

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Will you ever play test cricket again?

Andrew asked me that question while I was washing up last night.

Of course I stopped washing up and looked at him, eager to hear more. Does my son think I was once a swashbuckling, globetrotting, batsman, striding out to the wicket carrying the hopes and dreams of my nation, before the call of fatherhood led me to shun travel and stardom in favour of records management consultancy?

Andew's next question dispelled my illusions: will you play test cricket for Battersea Ironsides again daddy?