Image: one of the paintings from the exhibition, ‘Water into Wine’
A selection of paintings by contemporary figurative artist Gary Bunt will be showing from 19 March in the stunning Ely Cathedral, as part of an upcoming exhibition entitled ‘Bert, His Dog, Our God’. We spoke to Gary to find out what you can expect from the exhibition, and why you should go and see ‘Bert, His Dog, Our God‘ this month.
So you’re currently exhibiting in Liverpool, is that right?
Yes, the exhibition is still going on in Liverpool for another couple of weeks, and then it comes to Ely in the middle of March. It’s been very well received, and I’m getting a lot of really positive feedback, which is great. It seems to be doing what I really wanted it to do, which was to get away from religion if that makes sense. That’s why I simplified it in the way I have. And it seems to be working, because I’m getting a lot of messages from people who haven’t got a faith who’ve been posting on their own social media. Even if you haven’t got a faith, this exhibition is really worth going to see. People who haven’t looked at the Bible or the gospels since they were at school are being led back to it, and that is really pleasing for me.
Even if you haven’t got a faith, this exhibition is really worth going to see
Is this the first time you’ve exhibited in cathedrals?
It is. I had a Christian show in 2016, which was my first one up in London, but this was really down to the Portland Gallery and the Farmington Institute. They’re a Christian-based institution and they actually give scholarships to put people into school and universities to teach religious education, and they saw the work and really got behind it. It was their suggestion really to try and get it to go around the cathedrals, which for me has been quite overwhelming. I never imagined, when I started this journey, that this sort of work would end up in cathedrals.
When you see your work on display in a cathedral does it feel like it’s at home there? Does it look right in a cathedral?
Yeah, I think it does. I did find it quite overwhelming as I say, and it’s very humbling to have it in these beautiful buildings. In that setting, I think it just takes on another meaning for me. It becomes much more personal to people. Compared to just walking into a gallery, although the pictures have got the same content, they just seem to say a little bit more in that setting.
I was reading earlier that each of the paintings you’ve done has a poem alongside it. What’s the story behind that? Was that always the plan, or did you just start doing it as you went along?
Well, it started when I began this style of painting really. That was after an illness that I had, which changed my whole style of painting. The poems originally started when I was doing little personal paintings for my family and friends and things, because I didn’t know if I was going to last the year through this illness. I started writing little poems on the back for family members and my children, and then I started putting them on various paintings I did. It got to a stage that when I was selling the paintings in the gallery, if there wasn’t a poem on the back, then people were most put out! People would send paintings back so that I could write a poem for them, and it just became a thing that happened with every painting.
So has that almost become an accidental trademark of yours?
Yes, it was really. And it has made a big difference – it’s almost become part of the work. It’s not there for the sake of it; for the people that collect my work it’s part of the whole thing.
Does the accompanying book cover all of the pieces from the exhibition?
Yes, the book’s called ‘Bert, His Dog, Our God’ and that’s the whole collection of paintings and poems from this exhibition. I think there’s 51 paintings and poems that tell the story from the Nativity right through to the Ascension of Jesus. So it tells the whole of the New Testament, in the most brief and meaningful way that I could condense it. So that’s available to buy at the cathedrals and it’s also on Amazon now.
Do you have any personal favourites from the exhibition? Do you think there are any paintings in particular that people should look out for?
There’s probably one painting for me that really stands out. I think ‘Come to me and I will give you rest’, the painting of Jesus hugging Bert, is probably my personal favourite. Just because life is full of its ups and downs and I’ve found a lot of comfort and peace in my faith, so I think that one stands out for me personally. My faith is a thing I practice, I’m a real old-fashioned follower of Christ, and I love the old kind of contemplation and meditation, which I do every night in the little chapel that I built at the bottom of the garden. So that feeling I get, that comfort I get from it is in that painting really.