Kevin Atherton, 1986

“It always has been here in people’s heads, the analogy of the cathedral to the forest. The imagery in the window has just made that thought visible and it draws on the tradition of stained glass that goes back to medieval stained glass, and I like that. But it is also interesting to take this material which is very fragile and to make public art with it.”

Kevin Atherton

The subject of Kevin Atherton’s work is the forest itself, but its focal point is a large stained-glass window, 15 feet high by 10 feet across, sited at the end of a tree-lined aisle facing east. The imagery in the window is not explicitly religious but is collated from drawings and photographs which the artist did around the forest. Deliberately unsympathetic to nature, the wood, glass and metal structure draws attention to the forest as a controlled and manmade environment.

In the words of Atherton: “Operating as a visual trigger, the window connects the concepts of two separate spaces, the ‘forest’ and the ‘cathedral’. Amongst the common features shared between forest and cathedral is the way that they are affected by natural light. In both cases there exists a darker, interior light, in the spectator’s space, surrounded by a brighter, outside light. This is an essential ingredient, fundamental to the viewing of stained glass and, as applied in Cathedral means that in order to see the window properly the viewer has to enter into the forest.

The tracery of branches and the stark silhouettes of trees lend themselves very well to the properties of lead line, and similarly the pooling of light on the forest floor transfers naturally to the pure colour of the cut glass shapes. This means that the forest is the context, the window is the form, and the image is the content. It is the inter-relationship between these three that makes the sculpture.”

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About the Artist

Sculptor Kevin Atherton was born in the Isle of Man and lives in Ireland. He studied at the Isle of Man College of Art (1968-69) and Leeds Polytechnic (1969-72) before spending 25 years teaching at the Slade School of Fine Art, UCL and the Royal College of Art, London. He has produced a body of work including performance, film, sculpture, video and installation, and has exhibited widely since 1972. His most widely acclaimed public commissions include Platform Piece (1986), Iron Horses (1987) and A Reflective Approach (2007).