An exhibition of modern stained glass opens in bright airy rooms filled with colour from the monumental glasses hanging in the spaces but swiftly descends into darkness and death. This is an exhibition of works by Brian Clarke, who is widely regarded to be the most important artist working in stained glass today, and it ranges from some of his earliest to his most recent works.

He is it should be noted, a secular artist, so while some motifs shown can look as if they’ve come from a church, particularly the focus on skulls, most of the work on show is very modern in style.

You certainly won’t see Christ on the cross here.

A space is filled with a cascade of skulls, each individually drawn and then printed onto glass and fading into the ceiling. Next door, more skulls, this time very different as many are cast from the lead used to join stained glass fragments together. A few patches of light peek through, but it’s a very dark representation of our final mortality.

Upstairs though is a very different exhibition, very modern, and you certainly wouldn’t see the printed speedo wearing men appearing in any church windows soon.

Collage collections fill another space, and some reward closer inspection, such as the newspaper front pages cleverly turned into glass in the covid window. Many of the folding glass walls are too large for domestic consumption, but there are some perfectly sized pieces on plinths in some of the rooms that would not look out of place in many a house.

The works also reward closer study, to see how he’s layered sheets of glass sometimes looking almost as if he painted with liquid glass to cast shadows and colours into his designs.

Large battleships and beachboys from 2002 show Clarke’s continued experimentation with method and process. Triple layered sheets of dot-matrix glass build up the translucent and transparent image of the battleship as if in a distant haze. The same process was employed on a monumental scale with architects Norman Foster and Partners on their Al Faisaliah Centre, Riyadh.

Although unsurprisingly, they didn’t go for the speedo wearing beachboys.

As an exhibition, it’s a varied mix but never uninteresting. If one room is not to your taste, turn the corner and there’s likely to be something totally different to catch your attention.

The exhibition, Brian Clark: A Great Light is at the Newport Street Gallery in Vauxhall until 24th September 2023 and is free to visit.


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