Paintings by Caroline Hoskin, drawings by John Broadbent,    poems by Emilie Vince, Salthouse Church, Norfolk 

14-30 May  2011

review by PETER EVANS Llanfrynach, Powys   

This is a unique exhibition, and a model of how to hang art in churches.

For some years now, as congregations have declined, Salthouse, like other churches, has welcomed exhibitions, following a suggestion by the bishop. They are initiated by Margie Britz, herself a local artist with a special interest in natural materials, assisted by the secretary of the parochial church council, Andrew Wigley.

Each summer there is usually one large curated exhibition, and a number of shows put on by smaller groups and by individuals. Many of these are interesting and may be advertised as ‘exciting’. But for such events, artists tend to put forward their own best pieces of work. In the complicated architecture, and the solemnity, of a church, that variety can look merely agitated (even when a curator has set a unifying theme such as ‘Salt’).
There is also the problem that in a church anxious about its viability some of its ancillary functions, such as selling postcards, may distract attention.
For this exhibition, Caroline Hoskin was determined to paint specifically for the church and for its site — not in any religious way, and not to a theme; but attending to the nature of the site, a hilltop looking out over the North Sea; and to the spaces actually available for hanging in the church itself. These are mostly window bays, and screens.
She explored the site — the hill, standing in the sky;  at its foot a colossal bank of shingle; over the top of that, the sea’s edge. Seven canvases, mainly a warm grey, bring the shingle in to the bays along one aisle. Another set bring in the sky’s blue, broken by flocks of dark birds and by white contrails. 
Her paintings carry nature into the church, yet become a part of it, as if this were how a church should always look. 
In the other wall’s window bays, Broadbent’s drawings illustrate events involving gods, humans and the sea. The black and white of charcoal, and his captions, contrast dark language against colourful image. This work respects the Bible and the mythic, but there are irreverent notes:  the feet of Jesus, as he saves Peter from drowning, are laughably adapted to walking on the water, but also point to the cross.
There are two pewless spaces in the body of the church. In one, Hoskin has spread out a 100 square foot photograph by Noah Da Costa of the sea’s surface; in the other, a table spread with six of Emilie Vince’s A4 poems, about her experience of Salthouse and the neighbouring coast. The poems are personal, yet also inside the coastline;  penetrating and sinewy, not conversational. There are also two volumes of an illustrated portfolio ‘artist’s book’. 
These ancillary spaces draw visitors out of the normal round-the-walls drift of a gallery — or indeed of a church, as  Larkin sees in his supreme study of the ecclesiastical, ‘Church-going’. Instead, they begin to read and think, and move into closer knots together, and then back again to the pictures, making the whole negotiation of gallery with church become a collaborative human activity.
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