The Captive Figure: Ghislaine Howard's Stations of the Cross

Article excerpt

For almost as long as I can remember, the Stations of the Cross have been an essential part of my visual vocabulary. As a child they were the first images that revealed the problematic nature of human existence and the power of art as a means to express the inexpressible. As I grew older, I came into contact with more emotionally charged versions of Christ's Passion than the ones familiar to me from school and my local church. Especially significant to me were those single episodes such as Rubens's great Deposition and Titian's resonant image of the Entombment. It became my ambition to continue that tradition, by putting some of the emotive power of such images into a suite Of works corresponding to the fourteen Stations of the Cross. I have been considering this ambition for many years; over the last five I have been actively producing drawings and sketches and now Ifeel ready to bring the project to fruition.

(Ghislaine Howard)

Ghislaine Howard has painted a series of larger than life-sized paintings and drawings depicting the Passion of Jesus. The series will be exhibited in Liverpool's Anglican and Roman Catholic Cathedrals where a street lined with banners will link the two exhibition spaces, and at Canterbury Cathedral during the Easter season of this year. The project, sponsored by Liverpool Hope University College in collaboration with Amnesty International, includes education materials, workshops, and a publication to accompany the exhibition. It is hoped that following the Easter season, the works will have a broad viewing including venues in Europe and the United States.

The depiction of the human condition is a constant preoccupation for Ghislaine Howard. Inspired by her work in a prison and a maternity hospital, her artwork in the past suggests a yearning to reveal the human condition and how the human spirit survives in the midst of upheaval. With the Stations she enters the heart of the matter. Although the subject remains deeply Christian, Ghislaine's style removes much of the more explicit Christian symbolism to focus attention firmly on the profound emotion of empathy and a deep identification with suffering and sorrow. The generalised male figure crouched, falling, and resigned becomes every human who has experienced abuse. Therein lies Ghislaine's genius. As we view the pictures our theology becomes more real. Jesus is bearing our pain. But even more profoundly, this unidentifiable figure takes on the pain of the world and elicits in us a faithful response. Ghislaine has succeeded in producing a powerful evangelistic image. It is refreshing in this age of graphic media images to be taught how to see again. The paintings and drawings do not succumb to the cliche of over-personalised expressionism or vague abstractions and the viewer is drawn in by the courage expressed in them.

The paintings and drawings are a representation of violence and suffering, a response to the ordering and application of power and control that is evident in the actions of repressive political and governmental structures. Violence is deeply embedded in human culture and we must be on guard for the abuse of it. The sequence depicted in Ghislaine's pictures is a powerful document of that ubiquitous phenomenon-one repeated in every country. …