The Mourne Grange Triptych of the Holy Trinity
The work on these windows took almost a year and was both highly challenging and inspiring. It came at a time in my life when I was wondering what direction to take (end of 1995). They represented a very positive affirmation of of my task as an artist and very fully answered my question;
What should I be doing next?
The process began in may 1996 when I went to Mourne Grange and did a series of waxcrayon sketches. It was clear already then that the three primary colours should 'embody' the theme. Red for the Holy Spirit, Yellow for the Christ and Blue for the Father God. The wax drawing were used as indicators,not as formula drawings to be slavishly translated into glass. Once they were complete the process could begin. Shortly before this time I had made a significant breakthrough in my work as a stained glass artist. I had finally succeeded in combining two apparently opposed techniques; lamination and traditional leaded painted glass.
Lamination eliminates,to a large extent, the dark aspect of stained glass. The colours are placed next to each other and can move freely, all kinds of shapes and sizes of glass can be used, the technique has satisfying contemporary quality. When however , it is compared to medieval glass it lacks some essential qualities. The old leaded painted windows are rich with soul, the colour bursts out of the darkness of the stone lattice work and lead in away that contemporary glass cannot match. How to do both? How to achieve both the freshness and vitality of contemporary laminated glass,and the richness, texture and soul of the old masters?
Life eventually brought the answer. This consisted of placing three laers of glass on top of each other. Thus each section of leaded glass consists of three layers,the coloured layer,the thin intermediate clear plate and the backing plate. The coloured pieces working asa mosaic are bonded on to a thin intermediate clear plate and the backing plate. The coloured pieces working as Mosaic are bonded onto thin layer of glass which form one unit. The backing plate which is of clear stained glass, is painted with black tracing (this gives the windows the nec ssary depth and texture. This painting process does not add colour, it creates subtleties of tone and acts to defuse the light. The tracing becomes an integral part of the glass as it is baked in with akiln.
Thus having worked out the process it was possible to make these three windows with a new appropriate technique. When the coloured sketches were complete the next stage was to make three life size black and white cartoons. I wanted the painting to be similar to the sketches so I made the cartoons in black and white waxcrayon. The paper was covered in a fairly substantial layer of white wax onto which the black crayon was drawn. This meant that the image could be built up in layers and scratched away to the first layer. Thus I was able both to add and and reduce each image at will. The next stage was to take a linear 'impression' of the black and white cartoon, to select those directional qualities which could give rise to both the coloured mosaic and the lead lines.
Selection was achieved by placing a large piece of tracing paper over the image and picking out the relevant lines.When ever necessary new lines had to be added. The structural lead lines were drawn in with a coloured pencil to differentiate them from the mosaic lines. This tracing was then traced once more with further additions and omissions,at this stage every piece of glass defined by directional lines had to be numbered. This tracing is called the 'cutline' and is vital for laying out the glass and leading. The cut line is traced through at the same time as the templates , the paper for which is placed underneath.
The large templates for the stained glass backing plates and the intermediate plates are cut out and all the glass is cut,numbered and stored. The same templates are then used to cut out the coloured glass.
I wished to do this process very spontaneously only using the colour sketches as references. One of the problems with stained glass work is that it seems to go through phases vitality and dullness. Each creative step is balanced by a rather exacting and repetitive one. The trick is to end up with something that is vital rather than dull.Thus I worked with the glass rather like apainter, matching each piece, allowing the colour to guide me.
The stained glass backing plates were then painted and fired, each piece has been fired twice. The first painting created a linear grid, the second the washes and half tones, the painted image was created by tracing the major lines and textures onto the glass from the cartoon.
Once the firing and the cutting of the glass was complete, the laborious work of leading up could begin. I tried to use the lead lines to enhance the image. Thus the lead is not just 'structure' but also guides the eye to an understanding of the picture.
The Red Window
The left-hand window is primarily red and is dedicated to the Holy Spirit. The top section represents an angelic whirl spinning anti-clockwise. In the foreground are figures which represent humanity but are also disciples and Mary. They stand receiving the outpouring of the Holy Spirit which streams from the red whirl.The figures of John and Mary are enclosed by an arc of lead. This is a reference to their special relationship as Mother and Son after the crucifixion ..Behind the red window stands not only the Holy Spirit but also the power of Lucifer. Lucifer, whose redemption began with this outpouring of Spirit and who one day through human effort will become fully united with the Christ stream.
The Blue Window
The right hand window is primarily blue and is dedicated to the Father God. It is divided into three sections. The top shows a whirl spinning clockwise and represents the bounty of creation. At the bottom is the figure of Ahriman with ayellow eye. The Father ground of the earth has its shadow side, Ahriman lifts a hooked claw like arm,but light is streaming down into him from above. The central panel shows the six pointed star of the old testament containing within itself the City of the New Jerusalem. The Material World can be refined and filled with light ,even Ahriman can be redeemed through love in the end.
The Yellow Window
The central window is primarily yellow and is dedicated to the Son. It is divided into three parts. The top section represents the cosmic streaming Sun Spirit. The direction of the whirl is up and down. The lowest section represents The Mystery of Golgotha, shown as the crosses on the hill. In between the contraction of the crucifixion and the Cosmic Sun Spirit, the being of Michael is indicated. The Arch-angel Michael holds the balance between the red and the blue and stands on the threshold of life and death.
Mourne Grange Chapel
Newry Road, Kilkeel, Co.Down, N.Ireland, BT34 4EX
Johannes Steuck © 2014