VIDEO: Truro Cathedral showcases new depiction of Christ's tortured journey to the cross
Zoe Cameron has been sneaking into churches for years. When still at primary school she would set off alone for her local parish church on a Sunday morning to join in with the hymns and listen to the sermon.
"I was quite little at the time and always went on my own, though I can't remember why," she said. "But I must have enjoyed it. All I can imagine is that the vicar must have been good at his job, otherwise I wouldn't have kept going back."
This week Zoe is back in church for a very special exhibition of her paintings. It is an exhibition that deserves to be seen as much by admirers of great art as by the faithful.
Tucked away at the rear of Truro Cathedral, Zoe's 10 narrative works occupy the recesses of All Saints Chapel and follow the story of Christ's journey to the cross and subsequent resurrection. Entitled Stations Of The Cross, the commission came about after her previous work was admired by members of the church community.
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Sitting in the silence of All Saints Chapel, the artist – who describes her self as "a believer" – explained why this exhibition was so important to her as an artist and as a Christian.
"This is a rare opportunity for me," she said. "How often, as an artist, do you get the chance to do work like this? The arches offered such a great opportunity to create something for a specific space. Now the paintings are up, they already feel part of the fabric of the cathedral. I hope the work is thought of fondly by churchgoers. and my hope is that showing them will become a part of the cathedral calendar for many years to come."
Eighteen months in the making, Zoe's Stations Of The Cross is a unique interpretation of one of the key moments in the Christian story. It consists of a large rectangular altar piece and nine boards – made by Mullion carpenter Anthony Pascoe – which have been fashioned to fit perfectly into the chapel's stone arches. Together they depict Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane; condemned; carrying the cross; with Mary; having his face wiped by Veronica; meeting the women of Jerusalem; crucified; taken down from the cross; in the tomb; and finally resurrected.
Merging traditional depiction with her own idiosyncratic twist, Zoe succeeds in giving the 2000-year-old story a sense of timelessness and urgency.
"Although this may be something of a generalisation, I do believe that most Christians are trying to make the world a better place," she said. "But I didn't want set the story in any specific time – instead I wanted to represent Jesus's suffering as symbolic of universal suffering."
Using friends and family as models, she began by making a series of small oil studies before embarking on the paintings that would form the exhibition. Zoe, who says she prays at St Mary's Chapel in the cathedral "when there's trouble", explained: "Because this journey of suffering is about all of us, I decided to make Jesus very human so it was important to use real people for all those depicted. The story began for me in the Garden of Gethsemane, where the terrible sequence of events lead to Jesus's murder and conclude in his resurrection. As I lost myself in each painting I uncovered the thoughts and personalities of those who played their part. And I have been reminded that these people are not confined to a distant past, they can be found now. They are the greedy, the loving, the grief-stricken and the sacrificed. All are present and part of our world today. I can honestly say that I have tried as hard as I could and let nothing slip through."
Zoe, who lives near Helston, has worked as a lecturer at Falmouth College of Art and Design, Cornwall College, Plymouth University and Exeter University, and led workshops at Tate St Ives. She has held solo shows in Bristol, St Ives, Saltram, Topsham and Penzance, as well as contributing to mixed exhibitions.
"The artists I like are those who see the human race as a bit mad – people like Goya, who caught the madness of life and produced beautiful paintings which told a story," she said. "My interest, as an artist, is in people and in exploring the universal themes of childhood, relationships, life, society and moral tales.
"The cathedral has been very supportive and I was fortunate to have the opportunity to talk through my ideas with Canon Philip Lambert."
The cathedral is planning to hang the exhibition every year in the run-up to Easter. Dean of Truro, Roger Bush. said he was delighted with the result.
"Zoe's engagement with the Stations of the Cross is imaginative and challenging," he said. "Imaginative because she has approached the subject with an artist's perspective, and challenging because the imagery she conveys presents the subject in a context that is not immediately familiar or safe. Instead she has succeeded in making the Stations more universal, more timeless.
"As separate works, each has its own message to convey, but threaded together by the architecture of All Saints Chapel they have a unity which makes their overall effect powerful and refreshing. Zoe makes us see something familiar with fresh eyes and I am very grateful to her."
A full-colour booklet, which has been produced to coincide with the show and contains religious texts interspersed with the paintings, is available at the cathedral.
Stations Of The Cross by Zoe Cameron is at All Saints Chapel in Truro Cathedral until April 13.