Towards a more contemplative way of living
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Following in the footsteps of Father Henri J. M. Nouwen and Brother Roger of Taize
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‘'When the imitation of Christ does not mean to live a life like Christ, but to live your life as authentically as Christ lived his, there are many ways and forms in which a man can be a Christian' (Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer).
LIFE & SOUL 3: DR RICHARD HOOPER - CHRISTIAN SCULPTOR
Although I have never had a particularly strong sense of vocation, I have sought to develop the talents I believe God has given me – those of creativity, imagination and a certain skill – but I also value the gifts he gives us in the world, such as amazing materials, shapes and colours, and even incredible technologies to work with.
If God is the creator of all gifts, as I believe he is, our mere practising them is always to his glory; and if, by practising them, we can give pleasure and or illumination to others, I am confident God is happy with our efforts as would any father, of any child, who worked diligently to bring richness to this world.
I’m influenced by words from the Book of Exodus: “I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge and in all kinds of craftsmanship” and by Pope John Paul the Second’s Letter to Artists: “None can sense more deeply than you artists, ingenious creators of beauty that you are, something of the pathos with which God at the dawn of creation looked upon the work of his hands.”
It has to be said, however, that flowing monastic habits or too much of a contemplative mind don't go well with rotating machinery! I'd hope to follow St Paul's admonition to be “in” the world but not too much “of” it.
I was born in 1958 at Liss in Hampshire, England, and moved around Britain in my early life as my father was an Anglican clergyman and a theological college lecturer. It was through him that I developed a love for ecclesiastical architecture: when I was growing up, each village with a church was a must-see car stop! My artistic interest comes from my mother who was an amateur watercolour painter. My great grandfather worked with Brunel in Cornwall - a beam engine he helped develop is exhibited at the Science Museum in London.
When I was young, I tended to create drawings of a somewhat fantastical, if naïve, nature; nonetheless, a parishioner of my parents’ acquaintance, with some credible artistic knowledge, saw them and remarked that “the boy has some artistic ability which should be nurtured”. While much of my education, at least in primary school, was spent “looking out of the window”, according to an ex-teacher, the lessons I really remember were the rarer ones involving creativity or, rarer still, invention (certainly not the bulk of one's Western education!)
These days I am Associate Professor in Fine Art and Design at Liverpool Hope University, England. I also have my own studio practice on the outskirts of the city. Initially I made my sculptural work using conventional machine tools such as lathes and milling machines. The sculpture beneath, employing such techniques, was a commission for a domestic meditative cross. The simple theme was Christ suffering by emptying himself on the Cross: a void set in a discus-shaped form, mounted on two supports on a slate stand.
Although a sculptural form may start out as a drawing on the back of the envelope or napkin, I most frequently develop the design with Computer Aided Design (CAD). Over the last ten years, I have sought to amalgamate the creative and productive aspects of designing, creating and making, using digital techniques. In fact, I purchased a somewhat large (4m x 4m x 4m) and heavy (11- ton) computer-aided milling machine so I could directly translate the digitally rendered concept into three dimensional reality. For some people this methodology is too far from the human hand; for me, though, it is infinitely closer to the purity of the mathematical - and sometimes theological - abstraction I am aiming for.
The second piece, Trinity (2009), shown beneath, was a conceptualisation of the triune God: three elements but one entity. The green translucent cast-acrylic sought to convey the divine immanence - God becoming man, spirit and matter. Sometimes the conceptual or theological meaning of a piece springs to mind after the essential form has been conceived, as in the case of this sculpture which was simply a study in geometry which I later decided could be a visual metaphor for the tripartite God.
At other times, the concept or theological theme is the starting point and I then develop a sculptural form to express my thoughts. This happened in 2013 with He is With You (below): here, I had wanted to do something with boats because the piece was going to be a ‘thank you’ present from his former parish for my Anglican priest brother who is a keen sailor. The piece could stand for Jesus' presence with us in life's trials. This, again, is a simple concept of Christ, asleep in the Galilean boat, before he calms the storm. All figures, Christ included, are omitted to focus on the idea of life's difficulties and that, ultimately, Christ is in control.
As a sculptor, my work is a function of my combined interests in geometric form, engineering methodologies (tools 'n stuff) and materiality (a love of the properties of materials) in a Minimalist (visually simple) vein. It often involves forms derived not only from Euclidean concepts (that is, based on “simple” spheres, cubes, cylinders, cones or dodecahedrons, the classical Platonic solids) but also non-regular forms derived from mathematically complex Non-Euclidean Geometry such as Topology and Calculus (a kidney or doughnut shape, for example).
My work is represented by Contemporary Applied Art in London and del Mano Gallery, Los Angeles. You can find my sculptures in the permanent collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Mint Museum of Craft and Design in Charlotte, North Carolina, as well as in many private collections, mainly in the United States. I have exhibited at the applied art exhibition ‘Collect 2005’ exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and at SOFA (Sculpture, Objects and Functional Art) in New York.
I wouldn't hold up my prayer life as a model to aspire to, far from it. Like many people, I find prayer hard at any prolonged duration. Nonetheless, I do read Bible notes (UCB), and pray briefly each morning (or, at least, each morning I mean to!) and before bed at night. I also pray with two others in a “prayer triplet” fortnightly; and on Sunday afternoons I pray with two others for the life of our church. Often I also pray during the day for guidance, forgiveness, protection, wisdom, and to offer thanks and praise when events prompt me.
Perhaps I’m a bit of a jack-of-all-trades, having devoted myself in my early life to other activities such as javelin, rugby, cricket and squash as well as playing the guitar in a worship group and, more recently, writing contemporary Christian songs. The first I wrote when I was 57 came simply from a chord progression I found myself playing which led to some lyrics which seemed to fit - as simple as that. I wrote another because I couldn't think of many settings of the Lord's Prayer to contemporary music so I resolved to attempt one. A further one was trying to set the Christmas story to music - that got a bit out of hand, encapsulating the whole sweep of Jesus' life and ending up 12 minutes’ long.
Christ was himself a carpenter so I can certainly relate to him at the level of splinters! I often ask myself how much of a perfectionist would he have been, did he make mistakes in his work (as I do so often) and yes, what would have come out of his mouth when he struck himself with a hammer (assuming he did). In my more elevated moments, I do marvel, like many, at the wealth of imagination which God's universe demonstrates. I can also say that, when a piece of work is completed, one does get a sense of God's love of creativity and the joy he gets from seeing our best efforts. I sometimes imagine Jesus standing, smiling approvingly and sharing the moment, with his hands folded, saying “not bad for an amateur, son”.