I am often asked why I paint churches, and I have never found it an easy question to answer. I have certainly been fascinated by architecture - particularly medieval architecture - for as long as I remember. It started in my schooldays where a talent for drawing was nurtured and developed by an inspirational art master in a classroom overlooking one of Europe's greatest Norman cathedrals, Norwich. I was surrounded by magnificent medieval architecture, and was also increasingly obsessed by one of our finest architectural draftsmen, the Norwich artist John Sell Cotman.
What I try to paint is the atmosphere, the feeling of a place. Above all, it is light which fascinates me, and how light can affect mood and can lead the eye around a painting. I am also attracted by the melancholy, the timelessness, the tranquillity of a simple country church, or the solemn ruins of a once great abbey. These are hardly new or 'original' subjects for an artist's attention but that is no reason not to interpret them anew, with fresh eyes.
But there is something else. John Ruskin wrote: "The greatest glory of a building is not in its stones, nor in its gold. Its glory is in its Age, and in that deep sense of voicefulness, of stern watching, of mysterious sympathy… even of approval or condemnation, which we feel in walls that have long been washed by the passing waves of humanity... it is in that golden stain of time, that we are to look for the real light, and colour, and preciousness of architecture."
The idea that a structure made out of brick and stone can somehow impart 'approval' or 'condemnation' may be to the modern cynic at best unduly romantic and at worst utterly ridiculous. But it is this anthropomorphism, and the feeling of being able to touch the "passing waves of humanity", which give spirit to these places and draws me to them.
One art collector, quoting T.S Eliot, described my work as being 'at the still point of the turning world'. I like that. We are living in an angry and uncertain world, and often a very frightening one. It is also a crowded world where, though there are wonderful exceptions, we endure much ugliness in art, in architecture, in urban planning, and in the relentless industrialisation of our rural landscape and seascape. Beauty is well overdue a revival.
In a time of great change these buildings provide constancy for the soul and sanctuaries for the eyes: I paint them because they are beautiful.