20110321110045_2002_ellen_altfest_thetreeIn 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!

10410091874_a5a933a6bf_bShe 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.

97508l1Ellen Altfest


About Huw Humphreys

I am a headteacher in the city of Milton Keynes, where I have been since April 2011, looking to make education effective for the whole child and keeping a distant relationship with the powers that be and their narrowing approach to education... but most of all I am looking to find out what it means to be both a follower of Jesus Christ and a passionate educator in the midst of an unsettled community. I am also a part time musician, part time linguist and lover of history and literature...committed both to freedom to learn and depth of learning for all our children. The views on this blog are all my own, and not in any way those of the school I lead!

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  1. […] So it is vital for artists working in these conditions to enable us to see in depth or (as in Ellen Altfest’s work, for instance) in […]

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