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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Friday, April 30, 2004
    Art and steel

    They were showing Stanley Spencer's wartime shipyard paintings at the Imperial War Museum North today. Proving to me again the wonderful combination of art and steel. It may be because I used to be a welder conscious of the creative process in sparks and flame, gas and cooling water, holding a sense of the temporal power and elemental beauty in metal.

    Some readers might say I'm still working in fabrication; but anyway, I'm as moved by Spencer's visionary portrayal of the wartime Scots shipyard as I was when I first saw the Angel of the North (and read the book about its construction by the men of Hartlepool Steel Fabrications).

    No matter that Spencer's work is deeply impressionistic - his welders are wearing tweed (hmm... that would burn well), his burners are working red-hot torches bare-handed, there are no sparks flying, no nasty jagged edges to the steel. No matter that the deliberate dignity with which he he portrays the construction work belies the truth that most of this work was in vain - the 84 merchant navy tramp steamers manufactured at Port Glasgow during WW2 were sitting targets for German submarines, and destroyed on sight. No matter that these iconic pictures don't quite get across the intense heat, the turbulent noise, the aggression, the banter or the furious movement of the yard.

    No matter, for it's all about impression. And the impression is of people sharing a common purpose, intent on their task, to such an intensity that they shine with an aura which belongs to another consciousness... hold on, I'm fabricating again... in other words there's a spirit in these pictures which Spencer would describe in sacramental terms. The mundane task is rooted in the holy. The glory of resurrection shows itself in, yes, art and steel.