There is a new art gallery in Bayerisch Eisenstein, a small town in Bavaria, close to the glass village of Frauenau, and on the border with the Czech Republic. On three floors the gallery, Kunsträume, offers generous space for changing exhibitions, as well as for showing art from regional, Bavarian and Czech artists, - and because this is a glass region many artworks in the medium glass.
So there is a new art gallery away from the large centres, on the border and spanning the border. It may surprise you then to hear that exhibitions so far have included an amazing show of original prints by Salvador Dalí; followed by a retrospective exhibition of work from the European founder of the Studio Glass Movement Erwin Eisch: And that the current exhibition shows the complete lithograph series of biblical prints from Marc Chagall. My surprise was even greater when I was asked to exhibit alongside Marc Chagall and fill three of the eight room in the temporary exhibition space. I was flattered that the organisers considered that my work would compliment that of Chagall. Of course we both work(ed) on many commissions for stained glass windows for the church. And it was on this point that something really interesting happened at the opening! The collector of the Chagall prints, Heinz Ess, spoke at length about the work Chagall did in stained glass and for church architecture. He explained the integral qualities that lead to the significance of stained glass, beginning with mediaeval art and architecture: the spirituality of coloured light, and the metamorphosis into sacred space through glass, as well as about narration, imagery, the depth and multifaceted of meanings as they were pictured in biblical narratives. Katharina Eisch- Angus, when introducing the work of Mark Angus, also had prepared a similar section of her speech on the significance of church stained glass windows (of which I have made over 300 in Britain, Germany and Ireland).
However, the surprise was of course that the exhibition(s) showed no church stained glass. What was being talked about was not present in the room. This discrepancy set me thinking about the studio glass movement, and especially about the place of the narrative, which is so closely associated with stained glass, in this scene. Stained glass was slow to be embraced by the studio glass movement, and it was specifically excluded from reviews of contemporary glass on
some occasions – and it leaves us to wonder if this exclusion goes back to a hesitance towards narration that can be observed in dominant contemporary art scenes. Both the stained glass of Marc Chagall and of myself is distinguished, on the one hand, by attention to the way that the light entering the building is coloured as it passes through the glass, and on the other by the narrative, the storytelling subject intention where human stories come alive through painting and allow us to interpret our present lived lives through the stories of our cultural past and
of artistic imagination. To give an example, the central part of my exhibition focuses upon the story in Genesis of Jacob wrestling with the angel - an event loaded with ambiguity, and pointing to the need to engage with the stranger, and through facing our fears, to risk transformation and change. For me this defining aspect of narration is most important, and
perhaps it is here that there is an issue with the loved glassiness and abstraction of much studio glass that strives to reach fine art standards by excluding narrative imagery on and through glass. And yet how natural in the Kunsträume exhibition to see fine art (prints and paintings) on the walls of an art gallery, and to hear that these works are the less regularly seen and appreciated artworks of two artists who have a substantial body of their art work on daily
public view in churches across Europe in a technique considered by some as a craft. Of course Chagall is known as the painter, and printmaker, of biblical (Old Testament) themes. But I am equally sure that his name conjures up the actual experiences of standing enthralled in front
of magnificent stained glass windows. Stained glass in churches carries these cultural connections of past narratives and memory, and of present day experience (which in Chagall’s case – as the exhibition shows intensely - embrace the depth of Jewish and Christian mythology, and leading into his presence in the 20th Century to be experienced as a French artist, a Russian Jew, and a Holocaust survivor). For this reason we assume and require this oldest form of glass art, and we delight in the transcendence of time and knowledge carried with this unfolding.
Of course it is not easy to exhibit stained glass in an art gallery with small windows and artificial light. I solved the problem in Kunsträume by exhibiting large panels of Lamberts flashed glass,
acid etched and enamel painted, and illuminated from discreet lamps on the gallery walls. In this way I could bring my glass and paintings together in one holistic expression. In Chagall’s case you only have to look at his lithography in the knowledge of his stained glass windows
to see the thin line that separates his works on paper and his work on glass. His prints employ fields of colour and black the way traditional stained glass uses them, and his amazing subjects (for example “David and Bathseba”, “Paradise - the green donkey” or “King Solomon”), are wonderful prints which could just as easily be details from one of his stained glass windows.
So far the resonance to the two parallel exhibitions, has been very positive, with exceptionally high visitor numbers and great interest. Concentrated looking at dense subject narratives, and reactions of awe and amazement to the beauty and visual impact of the exhibits has been a delight to witness.