Earlier this week we spent a day with our good friend Richard Kidd, who was one of the exhibiting artists at the Pittenweem Art Festival. For those who don;t know Pittenweem, it is one of several historic fishing villages in the East Neuk of Fife, around 10 miles south of St Andrews.
The East Neuk is a popular area for tourists and has a vibrant artistic community which exploits and expresses the beauty and diversity of the coastline and surrounding countryside. It is an idyllic place; and art is an idyllic sounding pastime, or profession, whichever motivation is the driver.
Richard is a retired Baptist Minister, previously Principal of one of our leading Colleges in Manchester. He is a thoughtful and imaginative theologian, a poet and a painter. Readers of this blog are entitled to ask so what? So let me tell you what.
Richard started painting as a hobby, then as a way of seeking visual representation of his own experience and theology, and then as a way of exploring the relations between art and spirituality. Shortly after retirement on a visit to India he encountered the work of Freeset, a movement aimed at providing education, work opportunities and the chance of a new and free life for women trapped in the sex trade in Kolkata. To develop this work takes money as well as commitment and willingness to offer the skills and experience of an accomplished educator and artist.
It became clear to Richard that a strategic use of his time and energy would be to use his painting as a means of raising money for Freeset. But he had never sold a painting; had never wanted to or thought of selling a painting. His art was an expression of his own inner life as he observed and interpeted the world around him. But two major themes in his life and undergirding his own spirituality are beauty and justice;and here was an opportuity to bring these two abstract but essential human longings into conversation, and into practice.
So began the journey of creating a business in which painting became an expression of beauty, and an activity to fund justice for others. It has meant learning to paint for reasons other than personal vocational and spiritual expression. It has meant spending much more time and energy on producing, all the while determined not to sacrifice quality and integrity of gift, to the demands of quantity. Along the way as opportunities come, Richard has had to adapt and develop his own thinking and ways of working, and fit the demands of his art around the life of his family and with his partner in life Rosemary.
Two years ago, while painting on an East Neuk beach, Richard was approached about perhaps exhibiting at Pittenweem in 2015. He did this and sold some of his paintings, books and cards. He has his own website with options for online purchase. He has just founded the charity Painting for Freedom which you can read about over here. And yesterday he announced that he had passed the £1000 mark for purchases this past week at Pittenweem.
My admiration for Richard is not only the affection of a friend, rich and fulfilling as our friendship is. But this is someone who has put into practice the conversation between beauty and justice, who is daily embodying that conversation. I will want to explore this theologically in another post soon. But for now just to say, there are few uglier sights in our world than the slavery and degradation of human beings by other human beings; injustice is, always, everywhere, ugly. Conversely there are few more beautiful sights and sounds than the face joyful with new freedom, and the evidence of lives redeemed from injustice, the sounds of anguish transformed into the laughter of the free. That art is willingly gifted in the service of justice, and beauty is the key to freedom, is a thought that reverberates with prophetic intent and moral intensity. Because whatever else art is, and however much we think about aesthetics, we live in a world where living the gospel of Jesus will always mean the miracle of exchange that is beauty for brokenness.