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Brent cross

Brent Cross

collage on board
150 x 120 cm

Notes on this work

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Meditations [and Variations]

Meditations and Variations on the Cross

In 1988, again from the pages of The Boy's Own Paper, I made a set of three studies of the cross. I tried to work them seamlessly as if they were engravings of my own (rather than, as they in fact were, cobbled from the toil of dead hands). That these crosses were vertical with the bar nearer the top placed them unequivocally in the field of Christian reference. At the back of my mind was the remarkable 7th Century Anglo Saxon elegiac poem The Dream of the Rood, in which the Cross speaks of its honour and pain. I had often imagined translating and illustrating it, and these quiet crosses seemed to indicate an appropriate way of doing so.

These three Meditations on the Cross worked on me as I had worked on them. I placed them where I could see them often and they were so therapeutic as objects of contemplation that I took up the theme once more, making a larger single version. This was followed by two further variations using scraps from a more recent source, the magazine of The Independent. One of these, constructed from bits of black and white illustrations of conflict and the atrocities of war, seemed an apt recycling (as in a different way did the other which was conjured from scraps of advertisements). This black and white version could almost be construed as a documentary photograph of the cross given the quality of tonal reproduction that The Independent provides. The original character and function of the fragments which went to make up these simple but elaborate ikons, while adventitious at the outset, gradually assumed a private importance. The mystical resided in the material.

I decided to make what would be (given the finicky nature of the process) a very large collaged mosaic using in the main consumer advertisements from the Sunday supplements of various newspapers. Somehow, as a half accidental observance, this led me to add to the picture each Sunday morning. Was this chance piety, to make a cross with love and deliberation as a regular Sabbath devotion? Or was it my past reasserting itself, following at my heels like a dog that cannot be shooed away? I began to understand Graham Greene's lapsed Catholics a little better.

This large cross with its fiery border I eventually called Brent Cross, after a consumer Xanadu and nightmare mall in North London. Brent, with its old meaning of 'lofty' and its nearness to old forms of 'burnt' (via brennen/brennan) in which it is cognate with 'brand' (which returns it to consuming, by way of fire) pointed my back to The Dream of the Rood: this probably means that the saga does not end here.

Works and Texts (1992), p. 128-30.