When we think of Contemporary art exhibitions we often think these are in cities such as London, Berlin and New York and that visitors to art galleries are frequented by the eyes of art lovers and collectors. Yet here at Lichfield Cathedral a rare and unique display of art has been offered to Staffordshire (the creative county) by Peter Walker an international artist and Sculptor who has brought his collection of work back to his place of birth to allow opportunity and access to the visual arts for all.
In this exhibition entitled ‘A City as Sculpture’ Lichfield Cathedral’s magnificent and sacred Gothic architectural structure has been enveloped by Sculptures, paintings, light and sound installations and drawings by the artist. The work has filled this splendid space and whilst being respectful to its surroundings has let visitors see works of art that would not normally be viewed here. The visitor is first captured on entry to the Close by the giant abstract horse’s heads and bulls figures that adorn the outside grounds of the Cathedral. The viewers are heard asking, what is it made of? Is it carved stone is it made of metal? Why are they here? How did they get here? Can we touch them/ photograph them? Never has the area seen sculpture presented at this scale. On entering the grand Cathedral doors the visitor is then taken on a journey through art from realism to abstraction. They may think that the sculptures and paintings that adorn the corridors, nave, north and south transept and Lady chapel may be made by different artists as the accumulation of works are vast and show different styles and forms yet this is the extensive nature of Peter Walker’s artistic ability.
Art can be a spiritual and sensational experience and as viewers attended the exhibition they spoke of being moved. Some shed tears as they stood in front of an interpretation of Mary Magdalene and also a piece entitled ‘innocent victim of War’. They smiled as they saw the sunflower fields of Provence and the Spanish hills here depicted in oils for all to see in the west midlands. They learned of their heritage as they saw the maquette of the statue of Saint Chad and how he brought Christianity to Mercia and how Lichfield City and the Cathedral itself was founded because of Him.
It is such an unusual occurrence to have a large scale exhibit in such a sacred space and for the fact that people were able to witness such different visual artworks never witnessed here before, it was important to observe how members of the community and visitors to the City responded to the pieces because access and engagement with people was key to the artist’s intentions. Often the reaction to works can speak volumes. One lady was observed laying a posy of roses upon the sculpture entitled ‘Last Grasp of Freedom’ showing that the impact and effect this giant grasp of an abstract hand was creating an emotional and moving experience, it became a symbol of contemplation and reflection. Whilst viewing the painting entitled ’Cloud’ one visitor expressed her interpretation that this piece caught her attention as it felt like it was depicting the word of God speaking to her.
Peter Walker originally from Lichfield is the artist in residence for the next five years for Lichfield Cathedral. His extent of work and ability has already been described by several viewers comparable to Leonardo Da Vinci, and his abstract cubist ability to that of Picasso.
The exhibition has showcased over 100 pieces of art and some of the most thought provoking and challenging artworks that local people have never had access to before. With thousands of people coming through the cathedral grounds and attending the Cathedral the exhibition has meant that members of the community and public that visit the area have been drawn to this sacred space whether their reasons are for religious purposes, sanctity and prayer, or as a tourist viewing the heritage and cultural relevance to the City and now those who may never have stepped through the historic Gothic wooden doors have been able to come through to observe the surroundings in a different way and to have the chance to see the beauty and creativity that lies within.
As Peter Walker works alongside the people of Lichfield City and it’s visitors as he continues to develop the statue of St Chad which shall be permanently homed in the Cathedral grounds, he is an artist that is able to direct focus and attention towards the splendour that exists in the area and to show that art is for everyone to have access to and be part of. Bridging the gap between the artist and the viewer is a rare ability as all artwork is subjective and open to interpretation, yet having the capability to allow all to have access and learn the language of art is important. The Very Revd Adrian Dorber, Dean of Lichfield Cathedral, has supported Peter Walker in his understanding of the importance of creativity and with this acknowledgement has paved a way forward for the community to embrace and be included in the imperative aspects that art offers in the development of the City and its engagement with people.
by Kathryn Walker MA FRAI