Manchester Art Gallery Gallery 10 Channel Crossing

The language of seeing and being still is demonstrated beautifully in the work of Gwen John who, using a limited colour palette, expresses her contemplative nature and the small attic room she used as both living space and studio. Bathed in soft light the wooden table is laid out for tea highlighting the ordinariness of the brown earthenware tea pot, the simple white china utensils and her journal, waiting for her daily thoughts and ideas, her prayers and meditations to be scribbled on their blank white pages.

Gwen John tended to work in solitude despite being friends with many of the leading bohemian artists of her time, Matisse, Brancusi, Picasso and Rodin for whom she became both model and mistress. She was received into the Catholic Church whilst in her 40’s, her notebooks revealing her longing for ‘the interior life’. She favoured indoor subjects painting empty rooms, still lifes and women seated alone in quiet spaces, perhaps an insight into the world she ached for having experienced much tragedy in her life through the death of her mother at a young age and a series of broken love affairs. Instead her paintings express a deep love and empathy with the objects she draws, a letting go of her pain and instead seeing beauty in ordinary and simple circumstances. I am drawn to the small grey cross drawn in the window surrounded by light, initially seen as the formation of the wooden window frame, after time changed to a crucifix in my eyes, an aid to her prayers and bringing the presence of eternity into her everyday. Our relationship to everyday things can change when we take time to look mindfully, our perception of how things initially appear can alter as we allow our inner selves to look and listen and respond to the voice of stillness.

Click here to read the reflection and praxis for this art work.

By permission of Bridgeman Images