If you want a taste of high quality Christmas art any year, you’re probably best to start by casting your eye towards St Pauls, in Auckland, New Zealand.
Every year, James Bowman and the SPAM (St Pauls’ Arts and Media) team pull out all the stops, and for about the last decade they have set something of a benchmark for churches regarding how to creatively and innovatively enjoy and express Christmas.
This year, the team eschewed their usual Christmas video for an even more ambitious project instead. We caught up with James Bowman to find out what they’ve done.
Hi James, what’s your 2018 been like?
SPAM’s year was mostly centred on STAINED, our multi-faceted community arts event that drew from, and gave to, St Paul’s Auckland’s 31 historic stained glass windows. We started with three Historic Stories presentations where we looked deeply into what was behind the glass. This was followed by an eight week Art Course, with the course art being added to works from our wider community for our weekend-long Exhibition. There was such a wonderful range of involvement and we raised more than enough money to restore our existing windows. We also sowed the seeds for future stained glass windows to be added to our building.
What has SPAM done for Christmas this year?
We wanted to create something non-filmic for this Christmas. Alt Carols is a show St Paul’s puts on for people keen on an alternate take on Carol Services, especially aimed at high schoolers, students and 20-somethings. Our last two films were created to play at Alt. This year we wanted to project imagery during the musical reinterpretations of five existing carols. As we’d been focusing on stained glass, we decided to reinterpret familiar window themes. In addition to the scenes slowly revealed on a huge screen above the five bands or artists, Thomas Bilton projected STAINED fluid art pieces with gentle animation directly onto the church interior.
Can you talk us through the new project?
We chose five traditional window scenes that linked to the songs: the Annunciation, the Angels announcing Christ’s birth to the Shepherds, the Nativity with the Holy Family and Angels, the Magi following the star, and the Holy Family Travelling to Egypt. Inspired by the work of artist Kehinde Wiley, we came up with scenes that would have familiar historic window compositions and content, but be cast, dressed, propped and located in unexpected contemporary Auckland. We needed visual clues to look like stained glass, but aimed to surprise our audience, inviting them to reconsider the familiar narratives, in the same way our carols do.
We cast from within our church community and Eleanor Calder photographed them around our city with producer Lauren Aitken. Using techniques I developed for my editorial and advertising photoillustrations, I re-worked the shots into their final compositions, with additional imagery, like wings created from a single feather. The frames contain parts of St Paul’s historic windows, the halos are a design created for a STAINED artwork by E. Kim, inspired by our rose window, and put back into our church building in the final image. Historically, Jesus’ halo contains a cross, so we used St Paul’s new logo symbol for him (resulting in pretty cute ears in the Travelling image). The colour palette also draws from our new identity and its symbolism, the colours of our Advent Candles and twists on traditional stained glass palettes.