First Light review by John de Wit

A Sculptural Installation in the Cloisters of Lincoln Cathedral by Martin Griffiths

Artists and musicians well know the risks of performing or exhibiting their own work next to a masterpiece. Amateur harmonica players for instance should think carefully before offering their services to the Berlin Philharmonic, and visual artists need to be very good indeed to compete with the likes of Christopher Wren or the medieval architects of Lincoln Cathedral. So the first question about Martin Griffiths’ new installation called “First Light” is – how well does this new work match up to its magnificent surroundings - namely the cloisters of Lincoln Cathedral?


First Light by Martin Griffiths at Lincoln Cathedral. Installation image by Richard Deveraux

As soon as I walked into the cloisters the colour of the seven doorway type structures which fill the delicate sandstone arches of the Wren building took my breath away. A deep resonant blue captures your attention and perfectly complements the warmer and cooler colours of the surrounding stone buildings. The experience of such concentrated and beautiful colour is very reminiscent of the kind of sensation that Anish Kapoor’s work inspires.
Of course colour alone won’t turn a work into a masterpiece, but meticulous attention to the proportioning of each doorway within the setting of a colonnade of Wren arches, creates a conversation between the installation and its setting which is irresistible. Where Wren gave us a stately but simple procession of dark and light shapes and spaces, Griffiths has added a kind of counterpoint in a contemporary idiom which perfectly harmonises with the architectural setting. This is modern sculpture at its very best – truly original and contemporary, and at the same time in perfect harmony with some of the great works of the past. But the best is still to come!
What makes this work truly original and special is the technique of “reflected lighting” which Griffiths has pioneered. By using highly reflective pigments and perspex layers the artist has created the illusion of light captured on the top of the lintel of each doorway so that the lintels shine and hover and reflect sunlight onto their surroundings. The effect is quite magical, and only adds to the counterpoint harmony that the artist is playing with the architecture. Add to all this a contrasting white single plinth with a panel of “reflected lighting” in the centre of the cloister garden, harmonising with all the verticals and horizontals of the architecture and the rest of the installation, and the work is complete.


First Light by Martin Griffiths at Lincoln Cathedral. Installation image by Richard Deveraux

The whole installation is technically beautifully crafted and highly original, and uses colour and above all light itself to create a deeply spiritual song that harmonises with the spirituality of its setting. As with all the best art, this work first catches your attention, and then works its magic of colour, form and rhythm on you, and even catches the light for you! What more do you need to give you an excitingly new starting point for the rhythms of prayer that cathedrals have inspired for centuries?

John de Wit
Archdeacon of North West Europe
April 2011

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