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  • Writer's pictureKayleigh Woodings

Grotteschi for brethren of the common life 1 and 2

These works are really an accumulated narrative over many years and have their genesis in my continued interest in the Anthropocene. Much of the last decade’s work has, I suspect, been influenced in more ways than I am probably prepared to admit, by the events of the Christchurch earthquakes, and that, overlapping my decades old interest in climate change. I have frequently used the term ‘the species has amused itself to death’ to reference themes within my work, noting that I often feel as if I am myself doing the same, particularly as I get older. So, the images are to be seen as both amusing and anxious images of our time. So, a complex set of underlying narratives with which to ‘read’ the paintings. This is further amplified with the titles referencing two equally obscure terms; grotteschi, and brethren of the common life.

There are subtle references in these ‘grotteschi’ images to a couple of my favourite artists and their works, most notably Hieronymus Bosch for the concept around ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’ and the visual effects and dramatic use of chiaroscuro of the artist Caravaggio (often called tenebrism, a dominant stylistic element, transfixing subjects in bright shafts of light and darkening shadows), and though ‘photorealistic’ as my painting style continues to reflect (excuse the pun) the aggregates could also be considered within the ‘all over abstraction’ genre [Uniform treatment of all sections of the surface are the hallmark of all-over painting. All-over paintings lack a dominant point of interest].

Since the death of my wife in 2020, my images seem to have multiplied and a significant evaluation of earlier images will see a preference for singular objects depicted, however since 2020 my work has become object plane full. I am uncertain or unwilling to delve into the psychology behind this change and leave that for future art historians to fathom.

One earlier work Killing time in the spotlights, 2011(below) references the new works, in the background).


Since at least the 18th century (in French and German as well as English), grotesque has come to be used as a general adjective for the strange, mysterious, magnificent, fantastic, hideous, ugly, incongruous, unpleasant, or disgusting, and thus is often used to describe weird shapes and distorted forms such as Halloween masks. In art, performance, and literature, however, grotesque may also refer to something that simultaneously invokes in an audience a feeling of uncomfortable bizarreness as well as sympathetic pity.

Brethren of the common life

During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in Germany and the Netherlands, a rising tide of mystical lay piety grew up outside the official church. Under the leadership of Gerhard Groote* (1340-84), an interest in the inner life of the soul and the necessity of imitating the life of Christ by loving one’s neighbour as oneself had become popular in the Low Countries. When the church ordered Groote to stop preaching, he retired to Deventer, his hometown, and gathered a commune around him. It was this group that, led by Florentius* Radewijns after Groote’s death, founded the association known as the Brethren of the Common Life. The movement spread from one city to another as houses for men and also for women were founded throughout the Netherlands and Germany. These were to continue until the Reformation era. The Brethren did not constitute regular religious orders, but they took informal vows. They were entirely self-supporting but pooled their money in a common fund from which each drew expenses, the surplus being used for charity. Groote had urged the copying of books as a method of earning a living and also to make reading materials more available. This work led to the founding of schools in many communities. From these emerged many influential religious leaders and humanists, such as Nicholas of Cusa* and Erasmus.* One pupil, Thomas à Kempis,* wrote The Imitation of Christ, which gives an understanding of the spirit and the teaching of the movement.

David Woodings 2022 Interested in seeing Grotteschi for brethren of the common life 1 and 2 in real life? You can find these on display at McAtamney Gallery Contact them directly, if you are interested in purchasing one or both of these works.

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