Internationally-renowned artist Paul Benney unveiled his major new painting Speaking in Tongues in Leicester Cathedral on Wednesday 7 May. From 8 May for a month visitors will be able to view the extraordinary painting, which depicts the feast of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was given to the disciples of Jesus. The picture is 8ft x 12ft, oil and pigmented resin on wood, and will be shown at several cathedrals this year.
David Monteith, Dean of Leicester, is delighted that Paul Benney has chosen Leicester to be the first city to see the picture. He says: ‘Art galleries are full of historic paintings portraying the stories of the bible. Paul Benney’s skill as a portrait painter who understands human narrative has revealed for our day the epic story of Pentecost retold in the Acts of the Apostles. This monumental painting begs me to ponder whether God’s fire might just be still at work in the world, enabling new languages and visions to emerge.’
The subjects of the picture are all friends and contemporaries of the artist, and are depicted as the Apostles with Pentecostal flames hovering above them. The reflective surface allows the viewer to appear to be part of the group in an extraordinary and thought-provoking way.
Benney’s depiction of light emanating from the head as an animation of the spirit has echoes in the imagery of many different religions such as The Mandoria in Asian art, The Pillar of Fire in Judaism, the Aureole in the sacred art of Ancient Greece, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity, and is a particular fascination for Benney.
Speaking in Tongues follows on thematically from the major exhibition of Benney’s widely publicised show Night Paintings at Somerset House, London, where he is an artist-in-residence. The work brings together Benney’s talents as both a contemporary artist and one of the UK’s most celebrated portrait painters. This new large scale work will then become part of the curator James Putnam’s exhibition entitled Out of Our Heads, at Shoreditch Town Hall, London from 13 – 29 June 2014.
The Cathedral is open to the public from 8.30am – 6.00pm. There is no charge, and the picture will be in place until Sunday 8 June.