The testimony of scripture no. 1 by Colin McCahon

Colin McCahon

The testimony of scripture no. 1, 1979, Synthetic polymer paint on paper, 730 x 1100 mm, Private Collection, © Colin McCahon Research and Publication Trust

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To Our Hopes

Commentary by
Read by Richard Ayoade

‘What is faith?’ A compelling question scrawled across the top of a paper sheet. The painted text continues with Hebrews 11:1—‘Faith gives substance / to our hopes / hopes / and makes us certain of / Realities we do not see’—set out as a Tau Cross. ‘To our hopes’ forms the vertical of the cross and ‘hopes’ is twice repeated. The reinscribed word is perhaps an echo of the tablets of the Law that were broken and reinscribed; hope as future renewal and restoration. A companion work entitled The testimony of scripture no. 2 makes further use of the Tau Cross; as a load-bearing structure supporting a text (Hebrews 11:3) which speaks of the invisible made visible.

The question posed is that which Hebrews 11 seeks to answer. It is a question that preoccupied Colin McCahon throughout his career, to the extent that an earlier work entitled A question of faith (1970) provided the title for a retrospective in 2002.

McCahon began making A question of faith after he ‘got onto reading the New English Bible’ and re-read his favourite passages. Reflecting on this period for his 1972 survey exhibition, he wrote:

It hit me, BANG! At where I was: questions and answers, faith so simple and beautiful and doubts still pushing to somewhere else. (McCahon 1972: 36)

Nine years later, faith and doubt, questions and answers, were still a preoccupation that enthralled him. In The testimony of scripture no. 1 the Tau Cross is given substance as a narrow vertical connecting the wider horizontal bands of text at top and bottom, as though a link between heaven and earth. An answer to the ‘question of faith’ is suggested by showing the cross as connecting the human and divine; a reality that we must work hard to discern but which gives substance to our hope for union with God.

 

References

McCahon, Colin. 1972. Colin McCahon: A Survey Exhibition (Auckland City Art Gallery)

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