Images of faith

15_inklingsbook  l  Inklings – Doubt, Faith and Everyday Life – Australian poets, writers and artists at work, edited by Mac Nicoll, 2014

Review by James Tulip
Former professor of English at Sydney University

In my local Uniting Church, at Leura in the Blue Mountains, we are changing the furnishings of the sanctuary from what was the robust, heavy timber of Methodist inheritance to the finely crafted, thin abstract lines of a modern artist working in the brighter colours of Australian red cedar with silky oak inlays.

Some worshippers, however, wonder how the Holy Spirit can find expression in such a change.

It is the same with the arts, especially literature and painting.

Inklings, Mac Nicoll’s third anthology of Melbournian writers, poets and painters, offers a stimulating focus for this question. Abstract paintings on the back and front covers highlight a love of colour that conveys a message. This message is expressed throughout the 125-page text as one of joy and grace in being, or having been, people of this time and place – this very special place in, and of, Australia.

Mac Nicoll explains the word ‘inklings’ as “the word (that) conveys to me the sense of a hint, a sneaking suspicion, a glimpse, a touching of the depths, a pointing to a deeper experience, an experience of transcendence, a sense that ‘there is more’.”

I venture to suggest that underlying this modesty are the near 50 years that Mac and Margaret Nicoll have been members of the Church of All Nations, in Carlton, giving them a strong basis of faith and devotion. All contributors to the anthology show a freedom of spirit and mind, artistically speaking, and a grounding in life-long Christian experience. The self-descriptions of author and artists at the end of the book are rich with Australian history, culture and religious personalities.

There are some striking differences in the contributions, offering a challenging yet satisfying variety. Abstract paintings interplay with local scenes. Powerful colours contrast with line drawings. Rhyming verse is set off against free verse.

In Inklings Margaret Nicoll moves into abstraction in several paintings that express the deep emotion and exploration of insights of illness. Her painting ‘After the Fires’ captures the haunting spectral effect of burnt trees through dark blue depiction approaching abstraction.

Wes Campbell turns scenes such as ‘September 11, 2001’ into a largely abstract yet intensely felt allegory of crucifixion. Alec Stevenson’s ‘Wondering’, on the other hand, responds to Australian innocence with sunlight qualities that flow throughout his several offerings. Both are equally Australian.  Those who work in line drawings, such as Lloyd Vidler, Ray Averill and Tom Slater are part of a growing catalogue of those who accept simple places and buildings as truly touching our hearts and minds with their values.

Free verse, a 20th century escape from rhyme and stanza, has been a blessing for spirituality. Clare Boyd-Macrae’s ‘Elusive God’ could well be a signature expression for the anthology. Daphne Roberts, too, is a fine writer, capturing moments when prayer and poem are one and the same, a rewarding quality and achievement.

Julie Perrin remains a leader among writers rejoicing in freedom of expression and a subject such as the Australian context.

Ken Rookes puts his life at Willowra, north-west of Alice Springs, and his teaching art to Aboriginal children there, to good use in his free-flowing and thoughtful sequences.

Mac Nicoll has been able to draw upon friends who happen to be outstanding members of Australia’s Christian community. It makes for a happy experience in reading and meeting respected figures talking intimately and often prophetically.

To order a copy of Inklings contact Mac Nicoll at 03 9388 1435, or 110 McIlwraith Street, Princes Hill, 3054.

RRP $25 [this includes postage]. Net proceeds of the sale support the Church of All Nations Community Support Fund.


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