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The Cross - Truro Cathedral, Easter 2011

Introduction by Prof. Alan Livingstone C.B.E.

The Cross is the most potent and revered religious symbol in Western art and culture.  Although the Cross in its simplest form pre-dates Christianity, the Christian Cross has acquired an overwhelming significance for believers across the world.  For many Christians the Cross specifically relates to the crucifix with its three-dimensional representation of the body of Jesus. The Red Cross is a sign of relief and support for civilians and soldiers in war zones and areas of conflict, whilst internationally a green cross is used to identify the pharmacy.  At a psychological level we have learned to recognise the cross as a symbol of compassion and renewal.    
These abstract paintings of the Cross explore the eternal by attempting to express certain aspects of human understanding which can be experienced but not seen. Using the limited means of the cross, a circle, a restricted palette and a square canvas Michael O'Donnell endeavours to move us towards a deeper and more spiritual understanding of Christ's sacrifice. The scale of this creative ambition is reflected in this statement by the Greek philosopher, Empedocles, 'The nature of God is a circle of which the centre is everywhere and the circumference is nowhere'. 
In these joyful and reflective variations on a theme O'Donnell focuses on the fundamental Christian message that Christ is a symbol of profound and eternal hope. Each painting is meticulously planned with a particular concern to strip the formal elements down to the bare essentials. There is a mathematical precision about each composition, with the thickness and angle of each line carefully considered and balanced. Once the overall design has been worked out the slow process of painting, over-painting and re-painting is activated. O'Donnell has a remarkable sensitivity to colour and constantly studies and modifies the colour balance before achieving a satisfactory resolution.  Each finished painting demands careful scrutiny by the viewer as the acrylic colours are constantly modulated by the lighting conditions and viewing distance.                                                            
Following a childhood in Penzance, O'Donnell's life as an artist has consistently been enriched by the wild and challenging environment of the Cornish landscape. His embrace of the significance of place is confirmed by his belief that the county 'is an honest and beautiful place where the natural world always refreshes our soul'. 
Cornwall also provided the opportunity for O'Donnell to establish a close working relationship with the previous generation of acclaimed Modernist artists working in West Penwith (particularly the sculptor Denis Mitchell, and the painter John Wells, at the Trewarveneth Studio, Newlyn) and also artists like Breon O'Casey and Sir Terry Frost based at St.Ives/Newlyn. Watching these artists at work had a profound influence on his future artistic development - there was something intensely spiritual about their long-term dedication to craft and their relentless pursuit of an artistic 'truth'. 
O'Donnell is especially pleased that his work is being shown initially at Truro Cathedral as he invariably finds cathedrals to be 'places of inspiration, representing as they do the highest spiritual aspirations of humanity'. By enabling the congregation and visitors to see contemporary art in a religious context the Cathedral is directly supporting established and emerging artists. This vision and generosity of spirit will ensure that Cornwall's reputation for creative excellence remains vibrant and sustainable.    


March 2011