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Entries in glass (2)


Laurence Whistler

Laurence Whistler. Engraved windows at St Nicholas Church, Moreton, DorsetLaurence Whistler, 1912-2000, younger brother of the more well-known Rex Whistler, was a glass engraver who, over 30 years, engraved all the windows of St Nicholas Church at Moreton in Dorset.  This church is also more well-known as the place that T E Lawrence was buried in 1935. 

The church itself is delicate, built in 1776 in a Georgian form of Gothic, it was hit when a German bomber jettisoned its load, blowing out all the windows. The engraved windows are equally delicate, like frost patterns.  There is little florid glory in these windows, but much that is elegaic. 

The double readings that one gets through engraved glass renders the world outside the church as the backdrop to all that is held within the Church.  Like Sigmar Polke, who said 'I can accept the power of nature as religious' Whistler, in dreary postwar Britain broke away from the stained glass tradition which screens the world but allows in a redemptive light. After two world wars and the loss of two generations of artists, to pursue the stained-glass tradition redemptive polychromed light must have felt, to Whistler, unreasonably bombastic.  Thus these windows, which ask little of the congregant other than to register a pale, persistent nature-based faith. 

The Whistler windows, ca 1950-80. St Nicholas, Moreton


Sigmar Polke's Agates

Sigmar Polke. Agate Window, Grossmünster Cathedral, Zürich. 2006-2009

Sigmar Polke, who died last June, apprenticed as a stained glass painter before going on to art school and studying under Joseph Beuys.  The work we know him best by is heavily layered, referential work - drawings over drawings so that a dense surface appears to be made of many transparent and translucent screens, all holding different kinds of information. 

Sculpturally he worked with deeply, geologically romantic, translucent materials such as jade, quartz and amber. His last work was a set of windows for the Grossmünster Cathedral in Zurich (2006-2009), five of which are drawn from Old Testament figural descriptions, seven are thinly sliced agate held in place as with traditional stained glass by lead track.
The windows conflate narrative, biblical time and geologic time in a most graceful way, all held within the frame of the 11th century Romanesque stone cathedral.  There is a book about them with a number of essays: Marina Warner et al. Fenster-Windows for the Grossmünster Zürich.  Parkett, 2009.

I think as with most of the art I love and which I have never actually seen, it is the concept of these works which appeals.  I know there would be a phenomenological intensity, and here with the agate windows, a spiritual space that one can only experience by being there.  This is the ongoing problem with art in the age of reproduction, we only get a diagram of what a work is.  It will have to do – for me I'd rather have the diagram than not know about this work at all.