Brentwood Cathedral’s Stations of the Cross: What Were They Thinking?!

Brentwood Cathedral’s Stations of the Cross: What Were They Thinking?! February 24, 2015

This year in anticipation of the season of Lent, England’s historic Brentwood Cathedral has unveiled an exhibit of the Stations of the Cross, as interpreted by contemporary British artists.  Top artists were each commissioned to paint one of the Stations, and each was given free reign to paint the scene as he or she saw it.  The artists–some of whom were believers, and some, not–were each given the title of one Station and a 12-inch square aluminum panel.

The paintings will be displayed in the Cathedral from Ash Wednesday through Good Friday 2015.

Father Martin Boland, dean of the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Helen in Brentwood, explained his inspiration for the project in The Tablet:

It is not hard to see how religion and contemporary art might hold each other in tolerant disdain. For many believers, contemporary art – having given up on the pursuit of beauty and truth – is considered the decadent wing of secularism. On the other hand, many artists believe that religious iconography – having lost any cultural traction in a secular age – has retreated into the realm of the kitsch. I wanted to test these positions.

Well, test those positions, he did.  And while I’m not an artist or a paid critic, I know what I like–and I DON’T like this:

Brentwood - 1

This is the First Station, “Jesus Is Condemned,” as interpreted by British modernist David Ainley.  And really, I suspect this is a smeared copy of a sketch a seventh grader once did during Study Hall on the back of his spiral-bound notebook.  I mean, Where’s Jesus? Where’s Pontius Pilate?  Where’s ANYONE?

And then there’s this:

Brentwood - 7

This is the Seventh Station, “Jesus Falls the Second Time.”  The artist is Pen Dalton.

*     *     *     *     *

I’m sitting here, mouth agape, looking at fifteen such photos.  I am not reminded of Jesus’ Passion and Death.  I am not reminded of anything, except maybe Cookie Monster reaching out for an empty plate.

The entire project is reminiscent of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale about the little kid who told the truth.  You remember the story?  The Emperor was very vain, and loved new clothes.  Two shyster weavers convinced him that they were weaving with a very special golden thread–so special that the suit of clothes they created wouldn’t be seen at all by a person who was unfit for his position.  The Emperor saw nothing, but hid the fact, rather than admit he was undeserving of his leadership post.  Similarly, the Emperor’s aides all admired the invisible suit–afraid that if they dared to admit they couldn’t see anything, they’d be exposed as incompetent or stupid and would be dismissed from their posts.  When the Emperor paraded before his subjects in his new clothes, no one dared to say that he didn’t see any suit of clothes until a small child cried out, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!” 

Oh my gosh, since Father Boland didn’t say it, I’ve just got to shout:  These paintings are atrocious, and do nothing to sanctify the holy season of Lent!

Please visit the website of Brentwood Cathedral to see a slide show of all fifteen Stations of the Cross.

And here in the United States, art aficionados will apparently have an opportunity to view the Brentwood Stations for themselves after the Cathedral exhibit closes on Good Friday.  The Stations have been donated to the Komechak Art Gallery in Chicago, as a permanent gift of art to the Museum.  The Gallery, located only 30 minutes from O’Hare International Airport, is the gallery of Benedictine University.

Photos by Graham Hillman, from the website of Brentwood Cathedral.

*     *     *     *     *

UPDATE:  Elizabeth Scalia, our own Anchoress, points out that the Ninth Station looks like a reverse image of an artwork she keeps on her desk.  She’s right!  Check out this comparison!

The Ninth Station, “Jesus Falls the Third Time,” is by David Sullivan:

Brentwood - 9

And here is Elizabeth Scalia’s art piece, from some unremembered Scottish artist:

Elizabeth Scalias artwork

I find myself wondering whether it’s really by the same artist–and he’s simply reusing a theme that’s been successful in the past.  Even more disturbing, if he now identifies his abstract creation as Jesus.

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  • hue


    • barbieahayes

      Cute, hue. Real cute! You are in need of correction. This is a discussion between faithful and earnest Catholics. We revere our Lord Jesus and do not like to see His image, especially His passion, made into op or (pop) art. We are not critiquing the artists’ motives just the results. On the other hand your motive seems uncharitable. Let truth and love prevail, please.

    • Donalbain

      Cultural Bolshevism! Degenerate art!

  • LiveOaksandSpanishMoss

    I actually love the one of Jesus on the cross (station 12). You get the message, and it’s both haunting and beautiful, sparse. But some of the others? Like number 10, which is supposedly of Jesus being stripped of his garments? I think if you let a chicken loose on paper after dipping his talons in ink, you’d produce the same result.

    • Thanks Caroline…I like to think that in this painting the reality of the cross appears in sharp contrast to the ephemeral nature of the passing material world surrounding it. When I painted the original version of this painting I was laying the burden of my then suffering at the foot of the cross, hence the fiery red flowers.
      This is another painting “Crown of Thorns’ that I did for a different Stations of the Cross, currently exhibiting at St Marylebone Parish Church , London.

  • Jerry Kliner

    I am always perplexed why people feel the need/desire to invite those not of the Christian Faith to “interpret” or even comment on something which they do not believe. The Stations of the Cross is a journey of Faith, and without Faith the stations become unintelligible. Not only that, they are DIDACTIC…they teach through experiencing them…meaning you have now handed the task of teaching and forming Faith to someone who has no faith, and no stake in the Faith, to teach.
    Ultimately, one has to ask why anyone would be bothered enough to walk these particular stations when you can get the same experience by visiting any art gallery or museum?

  • MO


  • HughieMc

    “some unremembered Scottish artist…”? This looks like a detail from some glass work done by Charles Rennie Mackintosh If it is, and I am no expert and am not even an amateur fan, unremembered he most certainly is not.

    • Privacy Violation

      I took it as the artist had been forgotten by Elizabeth Scalia, not everyone, but you have a very good eye to have pegged it for CRM.

      In fact, the piece by David Sullivan purporting to be his original interpretation of the ninth station seems to have been lifted from an online Scottish stained glass store which mass markets Rennie MacKintosh designs to the public. It’s probably what Elizabeth has on her desk.Scroll down here to their item “MSG 14”:

      And see also this comparison I’ve made lining the 3 side by side. There is no mistaking where the Brentwood artist’s design came directly from.

      I suppose it’s rather handy that Mr. Sullivan committed plagiarism in a Cathedral. He can just pop into the confession booth to ask forgiveness for his brazen thievery right there at the scene of the crime.

      • HughieMc

        Glad I was right! Here in the West of Scotland those of an artistic/architectural/cultural bent (and you can include me out on all three) are still coming to terms with the destruction of the Arts and Crafts library in the Charles Rennie Macintosh designed Glasgow School of Art (Friday, May 23, last). Can a fee be levied on this guy Sullivan to contribute to the re-building?

        • Privacy Violation

          I doubt he has the cash for it. Tragic, though, isn’t it? They will rebuild, and the library was very well documented by photos & drawings so it can be faithfully reproduced, but the patina that oozed from those floors and desks and mezzanines won’t return in our lifetimes. Glad I got to see it before it burned.

          • HughieMc

            I will be seeing the Art School tomorrow. Sadly, only because I have to go to the Dental Hospital which is right beside it.

          • Privacy Violation

            Come back here after your appointment & tell us what you were able to see!

          • HughieMc

            First thing I’ll be seeing after the Dentist is the barman!

          • Privacy Violation

            [smacks palm to forehead] Ah yes, I forgot, you’re in Scotland. A post-dental pub visit would be a required stop on the itinerary, then.

            But maybe after your mandatory therapeutic libations wear off you can fill me in? 😉

      • MeanLizzie

        THANK YOU! I knew the artist was a Mac something, but could NOT remember his name! Gracias!

      • MeanLizzie


        • Privacy Violation

          I meant to compliment you for your good eye too, Elizabeth. What are the odds you would have that piece right in your office? LOL!

      • Nate Whilk

        This design is also somewhat similar to an area in the upper left of MSG 10.

        As for plagiarizing Mackintosh, that website says they sell Mackintosh STYLE designs:

        Scottish Stained Glass MacKintosh Style Designs

        The use of stained glass in much of Mackintosh’s work has influenced thousands of stained glass artists around the world. At Scottish Stained Glass we are careful not to copy his work but instead will add our own interpretation of the Mackintosh style. Most of our clients have specific sizes and shapes which they would like us to design stained glass to fit. It therefore becomes rather important to think about the proportions of the original Mackintosh designs and balance this with the new stained glass project. Scottish Stained Glass has been able to incorporate some of Mackintosh’s furniture designs and general artwork into our stained glass creations.

        Could it be that Sullivan himself made the design for Scottish Stained Glass and is just re-using it (presumably retaining the necessary rights)?

        • Privacy Violation

          I thought of that & it could be his own long-ago design derived from CRM. The owner of Scottish Stained Glass name is different, however (I forget what it is now, Martin something or other) and I did check the day I posted in this thread: no association with that gallery is mentioned in his artist’s CV – nor does he claim to have training in stained glass. (Though that’s not dispositive of much, I’ll concede. Lots of people leave out stuff they’re not particularly proud of.)

          Yet even if we are to give him the far-fetched benefit of the doubt on authorship, this still leaves the question why he submitted to an exhibition as his original artistic interpretation of the ninth station of the cross a very particular design which a stained glass outlet has been mass marketing online as 1) no such thing as the ninth station of the cross & 2) for long enough that Elizabeth forgot the name of the artist.

          I’d be great if somebody we could ask somebody local (hint: Huey, this means you!) to go ask at Scottish Stained Glass if Mr. Sullivan was the original creator of the piece and if so, ask Mr. Sullivan why he chose to pass this design off for this exhibition as something it clearly wasn’t conceived to be originally.

          All I know is, either way, this is exactly the kind of derivative & phony garbage that gives abstract & contemporary fine artists a bad name – it confirms what all the naysayers who claim it to be a scam say! – and it makes me freaking furious.

    • MeanLizzie

      No, you nailed it: THANK YOU! I knew the artist was a Mac something, but could NOT remember his name! Gracias! I am getting old!

    • AugustineThomas

      Untalented though he most certainly is!

  • $121596887

    A couple of them make sense…sort of….

  • joxxer

    Absurd. When Christ is not the focus –what is the point????

  • AugustineThomas

    What’s disturbing is these dumb heretics who become priests ostensibly for no other reason than to ruin the parish communities that are unlucky enough to be infected by them.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    Well, all art is subjective. But I actually find the second one you showed (Jesus falls the second time) really cool and oddly beautiful! Just because Jesus is not represented in a realistic way does not mean he is not represented at all. And the power and emotion in #4-Jesus meets his mother is fantastic! I love the contrast between the chaotic crowd and the serene connection of Jesus’ and Mary’s hands in the center.

    But yea.. some of other ones I don’t just get.