In the nick of time, I have been blessed in a most unexpected way. If you read this post before the end of today or sometime tomorrow (Sunday 2015-06-21) then get over to MK Gallery and see the astonishing exhibition there of 21 pieces by New York artist Ellen Altfest. You are unlikely to see anything as detailed as this in a gallery outside an exhibition of photography. The exhibition in MK is beautifully curated and consists simply of the paintings, more or less organised chronologically. The first room is devoted to early work, 1990s onwards, of natural forms in woodland. I have just finished re-reading Wendell Berry’s story “Fidelity” and it put me in mind of that landscape straight away. They are literally paintings you can’t take your eyes off. The later work is smaller scale and deals with various aspects of the male figure, in astonishing detail, and it is this that she has become most famous for. But whether we are looking at detail of a tree or a male armpit (a lot more fascinating than it sounds, believe me), it is true that the depth of creation that God has given us requires a huge amount of detailed looking. I felt fraudulent by not looking enough!
She has given up to a year to each of these paintings, painted life size and in unbelievable detail in plein air, and I gave each painting no more than about 3 minutes each, but there those, as I say, that I had to come back for another long and hard look. When Paul the apostle tells us that we were “chosen in Christ before the formation of the world” it makes you realise the planning that our creator has put into each of us. Ellen Altfest has done us a service by letting us see, in a detail and completeness that required all of her time, something of what God sees when he looks at us. I may go back again tomorrow before it all comes down on Monday.