In an elaborate religious ceremony 18 years ago, contemporary Stations of the Cross paintings by artist Chris Woods were consecrated at St. David of Wales Anglican church.
Woods, well known for his painting McDonald’s Nation, was commissioned to do the works by a parishioner who has since moved and prefers to remain anonymous. The Diane Farris Gallery exhibited the series before they were installed at the East Vancouver church at 2475 Franklin St. in 1996.
St. David of Wales parish closed in February due to lack of membership, and the paintings are being relocated.
Randy Murray, spokesman for the Diocese of New Westminster, told the Courier in an email a decision is being made about the location of the paintings but it isn’t finalized yet.
“I can tell you that the plan is that the paintings stay in East Vancouver,” he wrote.
Anthony Norfolk, who chairs Heritage Vancouver’s advocacy committee, was at the blessing at St. David’s in 1996.
“It was a big deal — oh yeah. [The paintings’] significance is the way they incorporate the images of contemporary human beings in a series of paintings that depict, in a contemporary way, biblical events,” he said. “Every church of pretty well every Christendom denomination, if they have images of some kind, have Stations of the Cross.
And this was a continuing tradition of creating a set of Stations of the Cross, but done by a young emerging artist of obviously enormous talent.”
The paintings depict the suffering of Christ on the way to the cross in Vancouver of the 1990s. Woods used friends and family as models for the pieces. He doesn’t mind the works are being relocated and has been told they will be installed at St. Thomas Anglican church.
“I was sad to hear that they won’t be where they started their life so to speak,” he said. “It was a beautiful little church and I think it served a very important congregation that obviously has reduced in numbers over the years. But I’m very happy that at least they are being loved and moved to a new site where they are going to be put to their intended use. I would be pretty sad if they were being put in storage or something like that.”
Woods, now represented by Gallery Jones, said the patron had viewed his work at the Diane Farris Gallery, which represented him in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Though hesitant to do the commission, Woods agreed when the patron suggested they be done in a contemporary setting.
“It was a really great experience,” he said. “The reason I took the commission in the first place was because Christian themes were sort of the bread and butter for artists for a 1,000 years essentially before the camera was invented…. So if you were a young artist, you would work with religious themes — that’s where the work was.”
The project took about 18 months. Woods did preliminary drawings to make sure the church and patron were happy with the concept, as well as to get used to the size because he was used to a larger scale. The paintings are 12 by 16 inches.
He was pleased to be included in the dedication and blessing.
“It was a very vaulted and important ceremony and lots of holy water was thrown about. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and certainly for me, at the centre of it, to have created works of art that are literally considered sacred — that’s something I treasure definitely.”
He last saw the paintings at St. David’s this fall when he was in the neighbourhood with his wife.
“It was really nice to see them. My father-in-law was one of the models. He posed for the role of Pontius Pilate and he has since passed away. It’s really a wonderful memorial to him to have him represented in that series as well. So it really has a lot of extra meaning for us too.”
He added: “I don’t feel like it was 20 years ago. The works feel just as fresh as the day I painted them and time just disappears when you stand in front of them. It takes you way back to the old days. I might now choose to do them slightly differently I think. But at the time I worked to the edge of my powers, so they still hold up pretty well — certainly to my eyes.”