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22 February 2012

Ralph Mann - Visual Artist

Ralph Mann - Visual Artist

Ralph Mann is a visual artist who most recently created a mural of the prodi-gal son on the outer walls of a church in Bristol. 'The Father's Welcome' communicates the story to the wider public and was well received by the press. Ralph studied at the Winchester School of Art and read Art History at York and Bristol. His creative enterprises can be found on www.artfaithdesign.com

As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?

A dustbin man. But soon I moved on to wanting to be an artist.

How did you end up in the arts?

I won an art scholarship to Monkton Combe School and left with the senior art prize. Via the Winchester School of Art and studying art history at York and Bristol I have developed my contextual interest in art alongside my practice.

What's the best and worst thing in creating your mural on the prodigal son?

The best thing in creating my mural 'The Father's Welcome' was the day I had a full scale proof up in the church. A member of the public walked in - a type-cast for the prodigal son. He instantly identified that this figure with his arms wide open depicted God the Father. And he also identified correctly the Bristol architectural landmarks in the background of my mural. This meant that the mural was working as he understood it, unaided! It was a really special mo-ment.

The worst moments were the anti-social, long, late hours spent on the final editing, which with a wife expecting a baby is perhaps not to be recom-mended!

Do we listen enough to the dreamers and creatives?

No, we listen far too much to the fleeting nonsense of celebrity culture. The cinema of the mind has so much more to offer than much that's dished up. We desperately need the dreamers and creatives to expand our horizons and broaden our perspectives, showing us a bigger and better world full of hope and possibility.

Cultural highlight of the year so far?

As I have been over-run with the joys of fatherhood since January 2012, I'll have to give you a cultural highlight from 2011. That would have to be the Redland Group's debut exhibition at the Bristol Gallery: a field day of creativity and talent.

What is your vision for the arts?

I long to see the Church engage with the arts so as to communicate from an informed position in culturally relevant ways.

Visual and kinaesthetic approaches to learning and communication still seem alarmingly underused and undervalued in the Church's approach to message sharing and communication. The phrase "a picture is worth a thousand words" in the digital age of iPads and mobile phones is more true than ever.

The predominant mode of church communication appears to be too heavily weighted towards words at the expense of non-verbal images. A growing body of visionary creatives fears that our visually and digitally saturated culture is rapidly bypassing such modes of communication.

The Church must engage in the contemporary conversation and employ current modes of communication whilst also bringing in our own radically different ways of communicating. We must use our divine mandate to be original and tell our story the way we see and experience it, in innovative ways, not merely aping secular methods.

Who's your favourite artist and why?

Now that is a really hard question, as my favourite artists can fluctuate like a music chart. However, I'll give you three in one!

Howard Hodgkin is one of my favourites. I love his use of colour and the layer-ing in his paintings which capture memory. His work has been an inspiration to me ever since sitting in front of one of his paintings for several hours at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

No Bristolian can escape the works of Banksy, which have a radical element of genius to them; for me he is a real master of asking big questions and sub-tly suggesting messages of morality.

I am also growing to appreciate the conceptual philosophy in the work of Da-mien Hirst much more than ever I used to. His 'New Religion' show really opened my eyes and I was very struck by his sculpture of St. Bartholomew "Exquisite Pain" at the 'Crucible' exhibition. I think Hirst gets a lot of bad press for using teams of artists to execute his work, but I question what is so contro-versial about this? This is what the great Renaissance masters were doing with their workshops in Florence and Rome in the 15th century, just reserving the painting of hands and faces to themselves.

How do you connect your arts to the wider conversation?

I connect my arts to the wider conversation through seeking to use and incor-porate the latest technology in my work wherever possible. The format of my mural of the prodigal son 'The Father's Welcome' is a printed digital wallpaper.

The image presents a contemporary interpretation. All the characters are based on sketches of real Bristol people going about their everyday business and shopping in central Bristol's shopping district. Gender, nationality and ethnicity are all represented against a recognisable background of Bristol ar-chitecture. There is a character to represent a prodigal daughter as well as a son.

"Change the stories and you change the culture". What do you think?

Hmmm. If you change the stories I guess you do change the culture.

Postmodern thought doesn't seem to have much room for one great over-arching narrative. It wants to break everything down into little narratives. But I think that adherence to a meta-narrative that explains all the little stories, whether we like it or not, underpins so much of what we do and think and are. Every-body has a story to tell and everybody wants to connect to one.

Which Bible text or character influences your work and in what way?

Job 36: 24-25 "Remember to extol his work, which men have praised in song. All mankind has seen it; men gaze on it from afar."

I am always seeking to magnify the works and wonder of God and something of the wonder of what he has created. I seek merely to be an amplifier of a timeless eternal message. I hope that what I create provides a means whereby my fellow men and women may behold and engage with something of God, his goodness and love and what he offers.