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26 April 2017

The artist's faith

The artist's faith

In 2014, the BBC reported on a piece of research that claimed that artists' brains were structurally different to those of non-artists. The brain scans of those who participated showed that artists had increased neural matter in areas relating to fine motor movements and visual imagery. They claimed that talent was innate, but that training and environmental upbringing also play crucial roles in their ability. What does this innate creativity mean for artists with faith? Chris Duffet gave us an insight into his own faith.

Chris Duffet is an artist with a difference. He's a Baptist minister and founder of The Light Project, a growing network with a passion for training people in theology and evangelism. He gave up his art for 15 years, finding himself too busy with church work, but six years ago he allowed his passion for art to resurface, with inspirational results.

"'But how did you know?' he asked as I passed him the messy picture in the busy pub. He looked shocked. 'How did I know what?' I asked, and after a few minutes he managed to explain the significance of the picture. I had painted a few pictures like I usually do on a Friday morning in our local Wetherspoon's pub and this painting seemed to have spoken powerfully to this young man.

"It was a messy storm picture with a boat riding the waves. The boat had been given a name 'Peace' and on the painting, I had quickly written: 'Get in the boat!'

"I explained that it was a prayer painting and that I believed God wanted me to encourage him with the storm picture and that God loved him and knew him. It turned out that half an hour previously one of his friends had asked him a deep question as they sipped on their beer: 'What do you want in life?' He had explained to his friend that he wanted peace in the midst of the storm. Then I turned up with the painting.

"He was so bowled over by the painting that he insisted on buying me a beer. Seeing as it was still fairly early on a Friday morning I settled for a coffee as he poured out his heart to me about all that had been happening in his life."

Chris loves using all kinds of art to share something of his faith. Some of this is commissioned and exhibited, other creative works are made and then given away to those he happens to meet in public spaces, like Weatherspoon's. "It's then I find that pictures do speak a thousand words, and many see meaning and mystery in simple paintings that I wouldn't have been able to convey in words."

He said: "I love to paint good news. Over the years I have painted hundreds of quick watercolours with ink in cafes and pubs. With each one that I give I hope that they encourage, strengthen and comfort those to whom I offer them. Many of them have open hearts and people often ask questions about my faith and, like the man with the boat painting, want to know how I would have known what to paint for them." 

Chris founded The Light Project nearly 20 years ago. The charity is passionate about revealing Jesus, and "creativity coupled with good news seems to be a powerful way of doing that".

Another creative way Chris has shown God's love through the project is in Greggs Bakery. One Sunday morning he went onto the streets with 'free hugs' signs and a few volunteers. He started the morning in Greggs, asking if he could donate £50 of the charity's money to pay for people's baked goods throughout the day. The staff had never been asked this before, so had to consult the area manager before agreeing. Chris heard the women serving asking the customers: "If they would like the church to buy this for them?" A few came out to thank Chris and the other volunteers, who then explained about the "outrageously generous free gift of God's son". He said: "There really is a free gift that is undeserved and my prayer was that somehow people would connect with the message of grace through the means of hugs and the generosity of someone else picking up the tab." Simple, yet a memorable message to have taken to the streets on that Sunday morning.

"I also paint larger paintings during sung worship," Chris went on. "These are paintings that I hope will capture something that God wants to say. Recently I painted a hot air balloon and this spoke powerfully to people at a conference in lots of different ways." While his work clearly has a huge impact on those around him, what does art do for Chris' personal faith?

"When I paint I feel God's presence in an ever-increasing fresh way. Painting nourishes me as well as brings good news in ways that words alone simply can't."

For more information on Chris and his work, visit his website chrisduffett.com To learn more about The Light Project, visit the website lightproject.org.uk

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