Sussex Artist Norma C. Weller is poised to create a major impression on the world of ecclesiastic art with a brilliant exhibition of contemporary iconography at Winchester Cathedral from July 2-28.
It is a further development of her technique of prismatic art, which excited Brighton Festival in 1990.
The WSG was privileged to get a preview in Norma's Hove studio of some of the 12 prismatics in the exhibition she has called Chrystos, a new approach in form and content to the renewal of art as iconography.
They are large-scale works, each just under two inches in depth, comprising a background of reflective prisms, fronted with a sheet of glass or Perspex on which the second surface of the picture is stained and painted. Crucial to the effect are strong light sources, for the lighting is an integral part of the technique, ensuring that the light comes in splintered prisms from the picture itself, filtering through the painting.
The initial impact is dazzling, similar to the boldness of church art in southern France and Spain, and the subtleties become evident on more careful inspection.
The technique produces an aura of light around the picture, and one work, Pentecost, which shows the descent of the Holy Ghost on the Apostles, is a collection of prismatic tablets plus a third layer, of prismed film, which adds to the effect of depth, drawing the viewer into the image.
Norma graduated from the Slade, and lectures in colour studies at the University of Brighton. Her work is in many private collections. She has also exhibited in Belgium and France, and since the 1990 festival show has been involved in many developments in the properties of colour, currently being engaged on a dossier on the Turin Shroud.
"I have always been searching for a way of creating light in colour, and it has been my entire preoccupation to get the quality of colour so translucent it is the nearest thing to painting with light."
"I wanted to do this in a painterly way, no tricks, and to catch ripples of light like those you see on an undulating sea," she said.
Norma has been primarily a portrait painter, and uses her new technique mostly in portraying religious figures or scenes for this show, though she sees no limits in its potential and hopes some unusual commissions will come out of it.
Working for this exhibition has been so important that she had taken a year's sabbatical from the university to concentrate on this art form, which has great intricacy.
She builds a reflective image first, then paints the overview, and adjusts the light reflective materials to get the impression she wants. This can take days and can mean putting on and taking off the glass front many times to achieve the right effect.
Norma has drawn much inspiration from Rembrandt, whom she regards as the master in the use of light from within. The metaphysical impulse behind the Chrystos series was the revelation of life as light.
"This came about through teaching, and I owe a lot to my pupils.
There is nothing like teaching others to gain insights for oneself."
Although not active in any organised church, she has an intense Christian conviction which makes her want to celebrate the light of life in her own way, positively and joyfully, and this comes through well in her work.
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The Artist: Norma Weller
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