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Gerard Stamp Isle of Light

Isle of Light Watercolours of Ely Cathedral by Gerard Stamp

Introduction Gavin Stamp

and most wonderful

Decorated — and surely the coldest building in

of our great cathedrals. I have never forgotten

all England — with its vast windows and the

my first sight of it, in mid-winter almost half a

poignant, mutilated

century ago. It then seemed incomprehensible,

beautiful sculpture.



remnants of the most

as the train rattled north of Cambridge across

On many subsequent visits I learned more

the endless, dreary fens, that a great building

about the troubled history of the cathedral,

should be so remote. And then there it was,

about the large chunks of it that fell down

high on its island, seen across the then snow-

(a not-uncommon Mediæval experience) so

covered open meadow – that rare, precious

allowing the genius of Alan of Walsingham (if

asset in the heart of the town. It was the

it was he) to see how the collapsed crossing

skyline that was so extraordinary: the most

tower could be replaced by the vast octagonal

oddly shaped, composite tall tower to the west

space. It is a cathedral showing the best of

and then, much further along its long, bleak

every phase of the Mediæval: Norman, E.E.,



Dec., and then Perp. represented by those

weird shape of the Octagon lantern. And then

exquisite chantry chapels at the far, far end.

the interior: first the arrogant, brutal Norman

And I began to see how much the cathedral

nave marching relentlessly eastwards, eventual-

owed to the Victorians at their best, above all

ly opening out into the breathtaking open high

to the great, much maligned Gilbert Scott (who

space under that lantern, one of the greatest

replaced, as architect, poor George Basevi,

leaps of the imagination in all architectural

who fell to his death from scaffolding inside

history. And then the further delights, above

the west tower because he had his hands in his

all the spacious, semi-detached Lady Chapel,

pockets: be warned). It was Scott who so

that most elegant masterpiece of Flowing

brilliantly restored the Octagon, gave us the



timber screen in front of the wonderful old

its monumental, complicated and often gaunt

choir stalls, a splendid reredos, and some of his


magnificent metalwork. And, thinking of

woodwork, monuments and stained glass.

metal, I have always loved those magnificent

All this Gerard has caught so well in his

cast-iron Gurney cathedral stoves in the aisles,

superb paintings.





which still do their best to keep the cold at bay.

I am both flattered by and diffident about

As for Ely itself, the miserable small grey

my little brother asking me to write this

town huddled at the foot of the great

introduction to the catalogue of his latest

Cathedral, it seemed to me back then to give a

exhibition. Although our lives have taken very

convincing impression of what the Middle

different routes, we have much in common

Ages were like. The town today feels different:

when it comes to what we admire in architec-

less cold and bleak, more prosperous and

ture and painting. But there are seven years

expanding too fast and too much – so threaten-

between us, and that makes a difference

ing to spoil the precious distant views of the

(trying to think of other comparable siblings,

Cathedral. But there is still that glorious

unfortunately I came up with the Martins –

prospect of the irregular pile of grey stone

also seven years apart and, like us, cursed with

rising up, with its skyline of strange pinnacles

confusion by having the same initial for our

(one puzzlingly missing), seen to advantage

first name — John Martin, the great painter of

from the train window when travelling even

the architecturally sublime, and his bonkers

further north into the Fens. And the building


itself is as powerful, as challenging, as

managed to burn down York Minster). Gerard

magnificent as ever, hardly spoiled by liturgical

recalls family holidays with visits to churches

experiment and trendy interventions – with

and cathedrals in France which started him





off, but I remember different holidays with

better. And it is now so very satisfactory that

our parents, and my own enthusiasms were

our separate but compatible architectural

really fired by being at school in South


London while his formative experience was

glorious, incomparably strange and yet so

in Norwich: hence the love of East Anglian

beautiful Ely Cathedral – the perfect subject

ecclesiology which is so conspicuous in

for a romantic painter who understands and

his work.

responds so creatively to great and venerable

As I say, Gerard’s life and mine have gone






in very different directions. The first working part of his was alien to me, but what I so


admired was that, when he could, he gave up

Architectural historian and writer, whose recent

lucrative metropolitan existence and returned

books include ‘Gothic for the Steam Age; an

to Norfolk – and not just to enjoy sybaritic

illustrated biography of George Gilbert Scott’

leisure but to devote himself to something

and ‘The Memorial to the Missing of the Somme’.

really serious: painting. Even more admirable was the way he took this new (or revived) vocation so seriously, working hard and closely studying the best models, above all, the watercolours and etchings by that Norwich genius, John Sell Cotman. All this shows so happily in Gerard’s own work which, I have to say as a

bemused big brother, one that merely writes these days rather than makes, gets better and


The empty niche 2016 watercolour 57 x 64 cm


The Octagon 2016 watercolour 91 x 57cm


The Galilee Porch 2015 watercolour 81 x 65 cm


The Nave from the Crossing 2015 watercolour 65 x 83 cm


Steps to the West Tower 2015 watercolour 45 x 64 cm


Zig-zagging towards the Nave 2015 watercolour 63 x 44 cm


Light from the Octagon 2015 watercolour 61 x 79 cm


Lady Chapel windows 2015 watercolour 78 x 62 cm


A path to the Nave 2016 watercolour 57x43cm


A corner of the Lady Chapel 2011 watercolour 43 x 58 cm


Fen Gang 2009 watercolour 68x86cm


Blank arcading, West End 2016 watercolour 56 x 44 cm


Bishop Redman’s Tomb 2016 watercolour 45 x 57 cm


Ship of the Fens II 2016 watercolour 56 x 83 cm


Train Cityscape (Long after Ravilious) 2016 watercolour 56 x 43 cm


South Aisle from Bishop West’s Chapel 2012 charcoal 99 x 68 cm


The Gurney Stove, South West Transept 2016 watercolour 71 x 51 cm


Shadows from the Galilee Porch 2006 watercolour 53 x 33 cm


Towards the Nave 2006 charcoal 105 x 76 cm


Ship of the Fens 2016 watercolour 68 x 47 cm


South Aisle from Bishop West’s Chapel 2016 watercolour 61 x 44 cm


Through to the Nave, Ely 2012 watercolour 57 x 43 cm

Out of bounds to troops Norfolk’s forbidden churches

Introduction Gerard Stamp

the “glorious,

and protected by blast proof roof tiles. Rarely

strange and yet so beautiful Ely Cathedral” the

visited by the public, STANTA is somewhere I

following paintings are of rather more humble

always yearned to explore, partly because of the

churches not very far distant which are lucky to

lure of something ‘forbidden’ but also because

have survived at all.

of the sad story of the evacuation. In 2015 I





In July 1942 the inhabitants of six Norfolk

was granted special access to create a series of

villages near Thetford were summoned to

paintings for an exhibition in Norwich,

meetings and told they would be evacuated.

entitled Ministries of Defence: Breckland’s Hidden

They had just three weeks to move out: the

Churches and Landscapes.

British Army was to take over 30,000 acres for

I was there two days in all, one of them

battle training leading up to the D-Day

entirely on my own. The experience was

invasion. Although rehoused, the villagers were

unforgettable: poignant, utterly quiet (this was

never allowed to return, and the army has used

during a break in military exercises!) and with a

the land for active training ever since.

melancholic beauty normally experienced in a

Nearly all the village buildings have long gone, but Stanford Training Area (STANTA)

ruin (although in its way, this is a ruin of a whole community on a vast scale).

still has four Mediæval churches: Stanford,

There has been another unexpected and

with its typical East Anglian round tower, 15th

extraordinary benefit of Army occupation:

century Tottington, extraordinary West Tofts

STANTA since 1942 has remained a largely

(substantially enlarged in the 1850’s by Pugin),

unspoilt and unchanged Breckland countryside

and little Norman Langford. Each has its own

wonderfully rich in flora and fauna. It is now

identity and unique architectural features, held

one of the largest Sites of Special Scientific

back (just) from ruin behind chain link fencing

Interest in England.


Out of bounds to troops: Tottington 2015 watercolour 46 x 63 cm


Communion rail pillars, Langford 2015 watercolour 58 x 41cm


Stained glass, West Tofts 2015 watercolour 41 x 53 cm


Tottington porch 2015 watercolour 60 x 44 cm


Out of bounds to troops: Stanford 2015 watercolour 61 x 44 cm


Tottington pews 2015 watercolour 63 x 45 cm

About the artist: a Curator’s view Peter Low

G E R A R D for over 20 years,

timelessness about his work which draws us in.

first as an acquaintance, then a friend. For the

But above all is the light. Light playing and

last 11 years I have had the privilege of not

glancing off stone and glass, leading us on, and

only showing his work but talking with him on

round and up. We all see it, many of us try

an almost daily basis about his hopes and,

and capture it through our cameras and

at times, fears. He is, self-evidently, a

phones, but this man can do it through that

perfectionist. Sharing, as we seem to, the

most challenging of media, watercolour. And


on a monumental scale.








completely satisfied, always striving for more.

Over the years, I have watched and

In those last 11 years I have also probably

listened, and yet to me – more familiar with

spent more time talking – to students, to

his work than many – it remains a mystery and

peers, to knights of the realm, to art critics, to

a wondrous mystery. Yes, his technique is

the famous and the not so famous – about his

painstaking and his skill consummate but it is

work than anybody other than him. Because of

that ineffable and inexplicable ability to turn

the subject matter I am often asked whether he

the intangible into the tangible that is

is an architect or particularly religious. In fact

fundamental. One might reasonably expect

he is neither, but what he does have and what

to have become conditioned to this – to no

is so easily understood and appreciated is a

longer be surprised – but this is not the case.

unique ability to capture that sense of peace,

With each painting, I still experience that

tranquillity, time passing – have it what you

thrill first felt some 12 years ago when he

will – that we all, religious or not, recognise


and feel in our churches and cathedrals.

miraculous, the same thrill that others tell

As Judi Dench put it, there is a sense of

me they feel when they first see his work.






With each exhibition I wonder whether he can

his first solo show, at the Grapevine Gallery,

continue to satisfy himself as well as his

Norwich. The next year saw his first London

audience, and on each occasion, from York

exhibition in Cork Street.

Minster to St. Pauls, to Norwich and Exeter,

Several more solo exhibitions followed,

and now to a shared love, Ely, our mutual

including Marshscape, a series of large studies

doubts have proved without foundation.

featuring the Norfolk coast, and Mediæval , a

This latest collection is, to my eye, remarka-

celebration of church architecture. In 2010,

ble. Ely is wonderful – but also challenging.

Gerard was invited to stage the inaugural

Anyone who looks up at the Octagon or

exhibition for the Royal opening of the Hostry,

catches a distant glimpse of the Cathedral

a new Exhibition and Visitor Centre at

rising out of the fenland mists knows they are

Norwich Cathedral where he was delighted to

in the presence of something awe-inspiring and

be asked to present Her Majesty the Queen


with a painting to celebrate the occasion.


– quite how I still don’t

know – Gerard has captured this.

Subsequent exhibitions including Spirits in Stone with Grapevine in London, Conquest at

G E R A R D ( B O R N 1 9 5 5 ) lives and works in

Norwich Castle Art Gallery and At the Still

Norfolk. He went to school under the shadow

Point in Exeter Cathedral have helped cement

of Norwich Cathedral, where he developed

his reputation as one of the country’s finest


contemporary watercolourists.






Mediæval architecture. After Art College Gerard followed a career in London’s Design


and Advertising industry before focusing full

Founder and owner of Grapevine Contemporary

time on painting in 2002. In 2005 he held

Arts, Burnham Market, Norfolk

Isle of Light Ely Cathedral Lady Chapel September 24th to October 2nd 2016 Catalogue printed by Barnwell Print, Aylsham, Norfolk and designed by Gerard Stamp Set in Goudy Old Style and Gill Sans bold Š Gerard Stamp www.gerardstamp.com

Stamp turns architecture into art. He converts stone and brick, light and shadow, the tilt of a roof and the line of a wall into a living, exhilarating picture. Simon Jenkins

Ian Collins

Gerard has, while toiling alone in Norfolk, blossomed, come of age as an artist of skill, power and originality. Dan Cruickshank

Astonishing... his watercolour church architecture is a kind of miracle in itself. Ronald Blythe

His paintings show a fascination with the effect of light constantly moving across weathered brick and stone... Architectural poetry in watercolour. Mary Miers

The peace and tranquillity is overwhelming and I could sit and look at them for hours. Judi Dench

Isle of Light Watercolours of Ely Cathedral by Gerard Stamp

The more delicate the marks this artist makes, the more he suggests monumentality and infinity. What he loves most is the atmosphere evoked by the beautiful illusion of timelessness.

Profile for Gerard Stamp

'Isle of light' by Gerard Stamp  

New watercolours of Ely Cathedral by Gerard Stamp. Exhibition in the Lady Chapel, Ely, September 24 to October 2nd

'Isle of light' by Gerard Stamp  

New watercolours of Ely Cathedral by Gerard Stamp. Exhibition in the Lady Chapel, Ely, September 24 to October 2nd