Messy Church: an Artist’s Perspective

Published 26th November 2014 by lucy moore

From Andy Bax at St Werburgh’s, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester with thanks to Kay Khan for forwarding it. An article originally written for the church magazine but deserves a much wider audience.
Messy Church: an Artist’s Perspective
In our society where the words childish and childlike are often derogatory it’s children’s very sense of wonder and dedication that many artists try to recapture in later life.
From our early years our individual development is monitored and encouraged but I think Messy Church is about the group effort and team involvement. The term holistic – that the whole is greater (of more value) than any separate part seems to cover this discipline.
A variety of subjects have been covered since January this year. Firstly was the ‘animals in the ark’ – and using icing sugar and edible dyes their pooh was created. Colour, smell and the cramped conditions were discussed.
Next time, for The Good Shepherd, a pastoral scene was built up with cut-out sheep (out of card), some painted and others painted around to make a shadow. Large pieces of coloured card were cut out for the mountains and clouds and a glowing yellow sun in phosphorous paint.
The Good Samaritan was the next subject – drawn from Van Gogh’s painting (itself a copy of  Delacroix) and coloured tissue papers were glued onto the card to build up the colour. 
For the next Saturday creation was the theme and as a starting point the pastoral piece was re-used or added to and for me this day was the most successful. It started with Shakira and Shivam and their mother Nikki drawing and cutting out various animal shapes – adding sparkle dust and then gluing them onto the main card.
“Is it alright to add a dinosaur?” I was asked.”Of course, God created dinosaurs too,” I replied.
This activity seemed to have a magnetic effect with other children, including William, keen to add more animals, sometimes painting directly onto the main paper. An elephant shape I quickly drew out was quickly painted in by the group of six artists which now included a couple in their forties who don’t regularly attend church. A giraffe shape I completed was excitedly painted in in the same way. This developed to a grand finale when Shakira drew out a tiger and with the help of the group painted it in without any involvement from me. I just stood back and watched this final part of the picture evolve as the group used up the closing minutes of the session.
Other subjects have been Mary and Martha – and in collage effect magazine photos of hoovers, washing machines and ovens were stuck onto Martha. Mary, in contrast, had photos of bedding, quilts and sofas stuck onto her body. Although this was a slower process the children and Elena enjoyed the way the image built up. Hand prints (young people seem to love covering their whole hand in paint) were added near the end and with a rushed blue background behind Martha the huge picture board looked complete.
The most recent subject for Messy Church was Harvest. A huge field was drawn up complete with a gate and a tractor. Vegetable prints were the medium on this occasion with cut up potatoes and carrots, but the most dramatic effect was created by complete celery stalks. With so much white space to begin with I felt there was a slight reluctance to get involved – (nobody likes a blank canvas) so I quickly built up a blue sky and red tractor and started with the vegetable prints. Others than got involved with the printing, the most effective suggestion of corn being created by the celery – very reminiscent of Jackson Pollock’s work.
May I finish by saying that the experience I’ve had with my Messy Church days reminds me of a course I did in Art Therapy in 1995 at the Manley Park Centre. Some of the art I did there helped me work through visually what I couldn’t discuss verbally. Picture making was a form of release from stress and gave you a chance to create Art in a group. You came away feeling energised and ready to face the world – it had a cathartic effect very similar to the mood I feel as I leave church after painting, modelling or printing on truly Messy Church Days!

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