Thank you so much to everyone who has engaged so far with our Lent Art Online project, in partnership with Winchester Cathedral, by watching the weekly videos and signing up to the end of project discussion on Tuesday 30 March. We have never used our online platforms in this way before and today the Chancellor, The Revd Canon Chris Pullin explains how the idea for the project came about.

Find out more about the project and watch Sophie's videos on our website by clicking here.

The idea for some online engagement with art grew out of the recent practice of having an artwork installed in the cathedral during Lent. Without the possibility of something in the cathedral this year, what would we do for Lent? This is how I began to explore the possibility of an online art project. I could have chosen artworks myself, but thought it would be far better to get some outside expertise to point me to wider possibilities. That’s when I turned to my friend Canon Roly Riem at Winchester Cathedral. Roly and I know each other through the chancellors’ network, and I remembered that he has a lively interest in art and is married to an artist. After some initial email discussion, we decided that it would be good to make it a collaborative project involving both cathedrals, Hereford and Winchester. Also, that it might be possible that Sophie Hacker, Roly’s wife, would herself supply the art.

A Zoom conversation between the three of us carried things forward, and very soon the scheme as we have it now emerged: a fresh work each week (on a Tuesday, when Hereford would have had reflection on art before Compline); filmed introductions to each piece from Sophie; both cathedrals using websites and social media to bring the project into the wider world; and a final session in Holy Week when those who had contemplated the artworks and reflected on them would have the opportunity of meeting Sophie and talking about her art with her. The idea met with a very positive reception, and a range of people in each cathedral put time and energy into making it a reality.

Image shows Sophie discussing her work from this week's video

Sophie was born into a musical family and was always encouraged to be creative.  As a child she loved making things in plasticine and drawing and painting.  Advised by a careers’ teacher that she could be a vet because of her long arms, and unable to follow an inclination to be an architect because she had to choose between art and the required technical drawing at O-Level (she chose art), she set off for art college and the world of possibilities it offered.

Her family (at that time) were completely non-religious, and she grew up scorning religion.  But while at art college she looked after a dear family friend who was dying of Aids, her deceased uncle’s partner.  He was a man of faith, and his manner of coping with terminal illness and death transformed Sophie’s understanding of how to engage with life.  Then she had a powerful religious experience and found that her self-confessed humanism had become self-confessed Christianity.

She sees herself as a ‘bootstrap’ artist rather than a blue sky artist, someone who is always concerned with bringing something beautiful, meaningful and ultimately theological out of the materials with which she is working. “Because I can’t extract my faith out of my life, everything I do is driven by the perspective of faith.  This project is an opportunity to be explicit about what I do.”  She sees the key to painting abstractly being first to lose yourself.  This is something very close to her faith as “You have to die to self to rise in the painting”.

Architect and vet aside, if she couldn’t be an artist (“If I had both my hands cut off”) what would she be?  She would be a counsellor or psychotherapist.  She sees two similarities between that and art.  The first is that clients teach you more about yourself than you can know (like engaging in art does).  The second is that it’s about conversation – words, silence, body-language – and art involves silence and composition (which is its body-language).  That would give her the necessary interaction she looks for and needs.

Or she would be a pilgrim.                                                                                          

On Tuesday 30 March, 7pm we will join together on Zoom with people from Winchester Cathedral to look back over the five weeks, invited to say what that pilgrimage has been for us. To register your interest in joining the discussion, please email [email protected]