From stained-glass to graffiti

by Rhian Tritton – Divine Beauty Officer

Our bright white hoardings have provided the ideal backdrop for a technicolour piece of graffiti art. Local artist, Joe Miles, has produced a modern representation of our nineteenth century windows!

A piece of graffiti street art depicting images from The Ascension window by Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris.  In the centre of the image is Jesus, with an angel on either side.

Scaffolding currently covers the West and East ends of the cathedral, surrounded by hoardings. Behind these hoardings, specialist conservators from Holy Well Glass are working on cleaning and repairing our stained-glass windows. In the true spirit of pre-Raphaelite artists, our bright white hoardings provided the ideal backdrop for local graffiti artist Joe Miles to create a modern representation of the nineteenth century windows.

Internationally renowned Joe worked from images of the windows, using only an iPad and stylus, to create a design that combined abstract areas of colour that referenced the windows visually, combined with details of figures taken from the Ascension window.

The process

Producing his designs mirrored the process and in many ways, the techniques employed by Morris and Burne-Jones.

First, Joe sprayed the hoardings with black ‘stained-glass’ lines of abstract shapes, breaking up the large expanse of white. He then made squiggles with marker pen to help him accurately calculate where to position each detailed image.

Filling in with the main blocks of colour came next.

Finally, Joe added depth with shading and detail, all executed deftly and surprisingly delicately using spray paint. This understandably fascinated passers-by.

What would Burne-Jones and Morris have thought of the mural?

Both men believed in the power of colour to express emotion and therefore add to the impact of art. Morris was an expert colourist and chose the shades for the Nativity, Ascension and Crucifixion windows. He died as the Last Judgment was being designed so never saw it’s completion. He would surely have loved the intensity that spray paint can achieve.

Burne Jones even saw days of the week in colour;

  • Monday was yellow
  • Tuesday was red,
  • Wednesday was blue,
  • Thursday was amethyst,
  • Friday sapphire and
  • Saturday wet.

It’s not clear why Saturday didn’t have a colour. He could have been describing the weekend of the graffiti project, when rain put the mural in peril on many occasions!

It’s clear that Burne Jones and Morris would have loved the colour and vibrancy of the mural and would, as pioneers themselves, have delighted in the use of graffiti. They would also have been thrilled by the visibility of the hoardings in Cathedral Square. They believed strongly that art should be public, and that as many people as possible should be able to enjoy it. The hordes of busy Brummies and tourists passing the mural on their way to the shops, to catch a train, to go home or to work are, without knowing it, bringing the dreams of Burne Jones and Morris to life.

Follow the progress of our project and learn more about our windows via our main Divine Beauty project page.

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