Robert Wright Artist

Julian of Norwich Festival, Norfolk 2015

Revelations of Divine Love; Creativity and Compassion

Courteous Love

Like Julian's writings where simple words change until they have powerful theological meanings of their own, the painting "courteous love", deceptively simple and naive, draws the viewer into the mysteries of God.

Julian’s own desire to share in the sufferings of Christ, her first prayer for the "mynd of the passion", and the cross she gazed on in her illness prior to her revelations, inspire "courteous love" which rather surprisingly has a reference to Malevich's black cross, although this painting has a bold red and pink cross against a gold background, providing a strong reference to iconography.

Reflecting the tumultuous age that Julian lived in, and her own obvious interest and awareness of colours and texture, "courteous love"" also offers powerful references to the suffering of our own time but does not leave us there, and through hints of compassion, the Passion, and glory, invites the viewer to "know and delight in God."


Lincoln Cathedral, 2015

"my whole life is a search for the truth" ( Thomas Merton )

I have chosen the title Merton and the Search for Truth for this exhibition hoping that these paintings will encourage a radical openness to God such as Thomas Merton tried to live himself. He wrote: "There is in all visible things an invisible fecundity, a dimmed light, a meek namelessness, a hidden wholeness. This mysterious Unity and Integrity is Wisdom...." Hagia Sophia ©

The painter Mark Rothko said that "a painting lives by conversation," and these paintings depend for their success on you. I am seeking to explore complex issues through a medium beyond words, and a painting, if it is good enough, will fill us with mysteries. "What does it mean?" the viewer asks. The painter does not want to reply. Rather, he hopes the viewer will begin to search their own experience as they look at these paintings... and then a dialogue can begin and perhaps we shall whisper, "Oh, I see!"


Further thoughts 2014

In the new twelve paintings I have shown in London in 2014 I have sought to reflect upon the writings of the 20th-century radical contemplative monk, Thomas Merton - theologian, writer, social activist, poet and artist - and upon his search for truth which has always fascinated me.
A complicated, intellectual, sociable and very human holy man, Merton's life can be seen as his living out the belief that ‘if you dare to penetrate your own silence and dare to advance without fear into the solitude of your own heart, ... you will truly recover the light and the capacity to understand what is beyond words...it is the intimate union in the depths of your own heart, of God’s Spirit and your own inmost self, so that you and He are in all truth One Spirit.’ (William H. Shannon, Thomas Merton’s Dark Path, New York: Farrar Strause Giroux,1981, p221) Merton wrote in his autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain that he had learned from his father (who was an artist) ‘that art was contemplation’ and this was confirmed for him whilst completing his master’s thesis on William Blake, when we find Merton saying that ‘Art is the ability to see not merely what is apparent to the senses but the inner radiance of Being.’ That is what has inspired me to paint these images.
Over the last twenty years, my own exploration of abstract painting and contemplative prayer came out of the particular experience of working at Westminster Abbey for twelve years, the writings of the anonymous author of the 14th Century The Cloud of Unknowing and Thomas Merton. My intention is that these paintings will help those looking at them enter the heart of the mystical experience opening an inner door to God and perhaps, for a while, being free for God in their own search for truth.
As the painter and art critic David Carbone has said, "Painters naturally live by seeing; painting is a way of knowing what one feels, what really matters." Although devoid of Christian imagery or iconography these paintings are an expression of Christian faith and, like Cezanne, I would say, "If I did not believe, I could not paint."(Alexander Liberman, 1988, The Artist and His Studion, New York: Random House p.6)
The fact that these are abstract paintings will be a problem for some. The former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has pointed out that a great work of art is capable of several interpretations. But a great work of art looks complete and certainly you cannot create art of great beauty without concentration and intense attention to detail, and to some extent the success or failure of a painting depends on that. The artist wants to feel that he or she has given the painting a conviction that is convincing. Does it, then, make sense to say that a good painting has authority and a clarity that distinguishes it from the ordinary clutter of things? These paintings attempt to appeal to something in our experience that lies beyond words, inviting us to ‘see’ that there are things in our experience that words cannot encompass.
Nineteenth-century Impressionist painting with, for instance, Monet's use of daubs of paint to depict the effect of sunlight on the landscape, and then Cezanne and the Post-Impressionists breaking down the landscape into small planes of colour led into Cubism, with Picasso fracturing his compositions into geometric shapes. We can see a direct link from here into abstraction where artists are interested in these daubs, planes and fractures for their own sake. The early abstract artists explored the implications of the new idea, described by the art critic Harold Rosenberg, as, ‘What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event.’ After World War ll, influenced by the works of Freud and Jung, these artists painted from their interior world and out of a rejection of rationalism. So, the artist Robert Motherwell wrote, ‘The need is for felt experience – intense, immediate, direct, subtle, unified, warm, vivid, rhythmic.’
Part of the excitement for me is that we shall all bring our own experiences to this encounter between the painter, the viewer and our Creator. Whatever my intentions were in creating each painting you, the viewer, will bring your own experiences to bear and the paintings will come alive in the present, changed somewhat by the circumstances and perceptions of those who view them.
So I hope that through prayer and painting I am getting in touch with the ‘isness’ of things, facing the mystery of existence itself and, by attempting to bring together beauty and truth, conveying some aspects of reality, inviting the viewer to encounter that which is deep within the heart of God.
Robert Wright Witney, 2014
Raids on the Unspeakable - 2012
An exhibition at the 9th General Meeting and Conference of the Thomas Merton Society of Great Britain and Ireland where Robert was the conference artist
The Other Side of Silence - 2009
The Advancing Edge - 2007
hArt - 2007
The Enterprise - 2004
"Raids on the Unspeakable" exhibition at the 9th General Meeting and Conference of the Thomas Merton Society of Great Britain and Ireland in 2012 where Robert was the conference artist
We see in Thomas Merton a fascinating paradox between the thinker and the monk. The thinker was rich in ideas, a writer endowed with a profound inner life, an eyewitness convinced that he was playing an important part in our common humanity through his attentiveness to all of Creation. The monk was committed to poverty, emptiness and nothingness with a complete trust that God would shape and guide his soul. Merton’s "studio", the hermitage, was quite simple: brush, plain table, commercial ink and paper but here, working with grasses, envelopes and ordinary "things", he produced works of art carefully, sensitively, attentively. In the poverty of the hermitage, Merton came to grips with what he called "bare attention".
The medieval mystic Meister Eckhart said, "to touch our creativity is to touch our divinity." We tend to think of "real" theology as being only language-based but in reality many of us meet God in our senses before meeting him in words: think of the thrill of a glorious sunset or one of the frequent tragedies we see in the news. Of course, we may not meet God there, and many people never do. But when St John of the Cross said, "God created the arts in order that life might be held together by them, so that we should not separate ourselves from spiritual things," he was reminding us of the truth that Robert Wright also seeks to explore in these intense, intimate paintings, because Robert believes that there is more to being human than language can explain. He hopes that in these paintings there can be some sort of coming together of mystery and illumination.
The artist Kandinsky believed that painting, like music, should be expressive of the artist's "inner life", the deepest intuitions and feelings, without recourse to "reproduction of natural phenomena." So, he said, "one should not approach art by means of reasoning and understanding, but through the soul, through experience." Robert’s paintings, usually bright and colourful, radiate both calm and composure and whilst some may find them too precise, they do speak of harmony and order, as he explores both the inner life and the paint medium itself. And the artist hopes that they reflect something of the paradox of Merton mentioned above. This exploration invites us to use a language with which we are perhaps not familiar. It is in a way ironic to use the visual to describe spiritual matters of the heart, but because the paintings do not seek to represent any particular object, they can, given attentiveness, represent something "other" and are perhaps "large" enough to reflect whatever you, the viewer, bring to them.

The Other Side of Silence at Westminster Abbey's Cheyneygates
The Priest Painter, Canon Robert Wright, one of London's busiest Anglican clergymen exhibited 30 of his powerful iconic and spiritual paintings in a new exhibition entitled The Other Side of Silence at Westminster Abbey's Cheyneygates .By faith Abraham went out
Canon Wright is the Sub-Dean and Canon of Westminster Abbey, the Rector of St Margaret’s Church (in the lee of the Abbey) as well as the Speaker's Chaplain in the House of Commons dealing with MPs and acting as chaplain to 14,000 pass holders and working with people of other faiths in the Palace of Westminster.
Self-taught, Robert Wright has been painting and selling his work seriously since 1998 yet there is a steady demand for his pictures which cost between £250 and £1500.
The theme of the present exhibition is The Other Side of Silence. Robert Wright explains, ‘I am trying to explore some of the deep things in life which we find when we get besieged and under pressure. In my paintings I want to get beyond symbolism to approach people's deeper feelings such as joy, sadness, energy, a sense of possibility and perhaps most of all, stillness. I have been greatly influenced by the work of the American monk, Thomas Merton, for example one of his remarkably thought provoking sentences, "Our real journey in life is interior."
‘I always aim to have my paintings reflect this. Painting is an extraordinarily valuable medium which helps us to understand what it is to be human.’
Over the years Robert Wright has developed a considerable interest in interfaith projects and a number of his pictures have found their way into premises of other religions. Mark Winer, Senior Rabbi of the West London Synagogue has commented, ‘The art of Robert Wright reflects the spirituality and sensitivity of a uniquely modern yet deeply traditional man.’ The American writer, poet and theologian, Bonnie Thurston, says: ‘Robert Wright’s profound and powerful paintings speak to our complex modern society.’
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The Advancing Edge - 2007 following an exhibition held in Hereford earlier in 2007 as part of hArt 2007 The Advancing Edge was Robert Wright's third solo London exhibition.I silence am thy Amen
The Medieval mystic, Meister Eckhart, once said that, "to touch our creativity is to touch our divinity". We tend to think of "real" theology as being only language-based but in reality many of us meet God in our senses before meeting him in words — think of the thrill of a glorious sunset, or one of the many tragedies we see in the news. Of course, we may not meet God there, and many people never do! But when St John of the Cross said, "God created the arts in order that life might be held together by them, so that we should not separate ourselves from spiritual things", he was reminding us of truth that Robert Wright also seeks to explore in these intense, intimate paintings, because he believes that there is more to being human than language can explain. Robert hopes that there can be some sort of coming together of mystery and illumination in these paintings: that we can understand something of what St Paul prays for in the Letter to the Ephesians (1.18): "May God enlighten the eyes of your heart…".
Kandinsky believed that painting, like music, should be expressive of the artist's "inner life", the deepest intuitions and feelings, without recourse to "reproduction of natural phenomena". So, he said, "one should not approach art by means of reasoning and understanding, but through the soul, through experience". For Robert, the "edge" can be a sharp, critical point of illumination and the title the advancing edge suggests an immanent insight, but even here is ambiguity, for it could also mean a gradual, deepening, growing insight.
Usually bright and colourful, these paintings radiate both calm and composure and whilst some may find them too precise they do speak of harmony and order as Robert explores both the inner life and the paint medium itself. In a way, it is ironic to use the visual to describe spiritual matters of the heart, but because the paintings do not seek to represent any particular object they can, given attentiveness, represent something "other" and it is to be hoped that the paintings are "large" enough to reflect whatever you, the viewer, bring to them. This exploration invites us to use a language that perhaps we are not too familiar with but because Robert has great sympathy with Mark Rothko's dictum that "a painting lives by conversation" he is always interested in the viewer's point of view or interpretation, as we approach the advancing edge. A Robert Wright Westminster. December 2007
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hArt - 2007

In 2007, Robert Wright divided his time between Woonton, near Kington, and London where he is Sub- Dean of Westminster, Rector of St Margaret’s and  Speaker’s Chaplain.
He seeks to explore the mysteries of the heart through abstract art. This might seem to be paradoxical but the English mystics use rich symbolism and imagery to point to things that they tell us are beyond words. And it is that place beyond words that Robert Wright seeks. Normally using acrylics, his abstract paintings are not intended to be remote; they seek to comment on the inner life and to help the viewer get a direct feeling about spirituality in relation to the painting they are looking at.
Robert was especially pleased to be exhibiting as part of h-Art, having previously held two solo exhibitions in London.

Canon Robert Wright
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2004 - The Enterprise:

" An undertaking, especially one which involves courage, energy or the like; an important or daring project : a venture." –Webster’s Dictionary
Welcome to my second exhibition. I am enormously grateful to Mr Speaker, the Dean and Chapter of Westminster, and all my Colleagues for giving me this opportunity and for encouraging me to paint. David Hockney recently quoted an ancient Chinese saying: a work of art needs three things: the hand, the eye and the heart. Come shyly to the main questionI hope I have managed to bring these three together and that you will be able to enter into a relationship with at least some of my paintings. Mark Rothko often said that a painting lives by companionship and I think that is a very perceptive remark. I would like to know what you think when you have viewed them. As I have started, I might as well continue with the name-dropping and say that Archbishop Rowan Williams has written that good art "works to make present an aesthetic object that allows itself to be contemplated from perspectives… other than those of the artist’s own subjectivity." Will you come with me to "where elephants swim and lambs paddle"?
During my Sabbatical I tried to explore contemplative prayer and abstract painting. In setting out to do this I realised that not everyone is called to contemplative prayer and neither does everyone appreciate abstract painting. However I do not think that is reason for us not trying to communicate and I really do hope that my painting will encourage people in their own exploration of God. My own exploration comes out of the writings of the anonymous author of the 14th Century Cloud of Unknowing. The Cloud calls for intense contemplation, motivated by love and stripped of all thought, as the way to the Divine. But not everyone is called to mysticism (I wouldn't even claim this vocation for myself: I wander in the foothills). However I do hope that the paintings will help the viewer enter the heart of the mystical experience themselves and that the exhibition will allow us all to open ourselves to God's gracious presence because contemplative prayer is not a personal possession that one treasures for oneself: if it is genuine, it displays the essential quality of "goodness": that is, it wishes to share the blessing with others. And I hope that this little enterprise will encourage all who visit it to open their inner door to God and perhaps, for a while, be free for God.
It has been said (by David Carbone) that "painters naturally live by seeing; painting is a way of knowing what one feels, what really matters". As Mark Rothko said in a letter to the writer Selden Rodman in 1957, "The people who weep before my paintings are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them". I don’t suppose that my paintings will make you cry, but part of the excitement for me is that we shall all bring our own experiences to this encounter/ trialogue between the painter, the viewer and our Creator. Whatever my intentions were in painting each painting, the viewer will bring their own experiences "to the party" and the painting will come alive in the present, changed somewhat by the circumstances and perceptions of those who view the paintings. The uncertainty principle in modern Quantum Physics maintains that we cannot know precisely what is happening to matter in the sub-atomic world precisely because we influence what is happening by our observation — we are part of what we see. As Thomas Merton noted in his journal: "This leads to a fabulous new concept in nature with ourselves in the midst of it, destroying the simple illusion of ourselves as detached and infallible observers." What an exciting encounter this promises, then! And perhaps, in the mixed metaphor of a writer in the Middle Ages, you will swim with elephants and paddle with lambs!
These paintings attempt to appeal to something in our experience that lies beyond words, perhaps allowing/inviting us to "see" that there are things in our experience that words cannot encompass. One of the experiences that helped me prepare for this sabbatical was a remarkable lecture given at Westminster School by Dr Semir Zeki, Professor of Neurobiology at London University. In one of his books he quotes Nuam Gabo, "More often than not, (people) expect painting to speak to them in terms other than visual, preferably in words, whereas when a painting needs to be supplemented and explained by words it means that it has not fulfilled its function or that the public is deprived of vision." [N Gabo Of Divers Arts 1959 & S Zeki Inner Vision 1999]. Discussing the function of the brain and art, Dr Zeki says that our visual skills have long been honed to recognise "unspeakable beauty" in an instant, whereas language, a comparatively recent evolutionary skill, has not yet developed the speed and efficiency of the visual system’s capacity to grasp essentials.
But enough of words! …these halting but highly suggestive paintings… are offered in the hope that those who look at them will find perceptions which are provocative, interesting, enjoyable, transfiguring, redemptive and energising.

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