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Saturday 17 November 2018

Green men and a bowing crow - 'In the Downbelow'

I went into the crypt under the church of St John on the Wall in Bristol today, to see 'In the Downbelow', the latest exhibition by the sculptor and model maker Tom Astley

st john on the wall crypt

The crypt dates back to the early 14th century and one of the highlights of the place, for me, was the collection of carved green man faces on the roof bosses. They are quite low down compared to most churches and cathedrals, so can be easily studied from floor level.

st john on the wall green men

This one has a fine set on teeth on show!

The crypt is very atmospheric and had inspired Tom to create some artworks especially to display in this space. It was interesting to see his new pieces, showing the distinctive style that he's developed.

This sculpture is entitled 'Plague doctor' and was based on the physicians, with their strange beaked masks, who tended to victims of the Black Death.

plague doctor tom Astley

The sculpture 'Lady of Letters' came about because a tomb effigy of a wealthy noblewoman in the crypt shows her writing kit tied to her waist.

This 'Lord of Misrule' has a paper crown and would take over his duties during the Festival of St Stephen. The tradition lasted in Britain until the sixteenth century. Other images based on the idea can be seen amongst the misericords in Bristol Cathedral.

lord of misrule Tom Astley

The final sculpture in the exhibition was inspired by the green men carved overhead.

green man tom Astley

You might agree that the darkly atmospheric artworks fit perfectly in the vaulted stone space of the crypt. 

'In the Downbelow' runs from the 17th to the 30th November and is open Tuesday to Saturday, 11am until 6pm.