I have known Gerard Stamp for over 20 years, first as an acquaintance, then a friend. For the last 11 years I have had the privilege of not only showing his work but talking with him on almost daily basis about his hopes and, at times, fears. He is, self-evidently, a perfectionist. Sharing as we seem to the creative mind’s insecurity, he is never completely satisfied and always striving for more.
In those last 11 years I have also probably spent more time looking at and talking to people – from knights of the realm to art critics, to the famous and to students - about his work than anybody other than him. Because of the subject matter I am often asked whether he is an architect or particularly religious. In fact he is neither and for most people this is irrelevant. What he does have and what is so easily understood and appreciated is a unique ability to capture that sense of peace, tranquillity, time passing – have it what you will – that we all, religious or not, recognise and feel in our churches and cathedrals. As Judi Dench put it, "there is a sense of timelessness about his work which draws us in"
But above all is the light. Light playing and glancing off stone and glass, leading us on, and round and up. We all see it, many of us try and capture it through our cameras and phones, but this man can do it through that most challenging of media, watercolour. And on a monumental scale.
Over the years, I have watched and listened and talked and yet to me – probably more familiar with his work than many – it remains a mystery and a wondrous mystery. Yes, his technique is painstaking and his skill consummate but it is that ineffable and inexplicable ability to turn the intangible into the tangible that is fundamental. One might reasonably expect to have become conditioned to this – to no longer be surprised, but this is not the case. With each painting, I still experience that thrill first felt some 12 years ago when he made that leap from competence to miraculous, the same thrill that others tell me they feel when they first see his work. With each exhibition I wonder whether he can continue to satisfy himself as well as his audience, and on each occasion, from York to St.Pauls, to Norwich and Exeter, and now to a shared love, Ely, our mutual doubts have proved without foundation.
This latest collection is to my eye, remarkable. Ely is wonderful – but also challenging. Anyone who looks up at the Octagon or catches a distant glimpse of the Cathedral rising out of the fenland mists knows they are in the presence of something awe-inspiring and wonderful. And quite how I still don’t know, but Gerard has captured this.
Isle of Light is in the Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral from Saturday 24th September to Sunday 2nd October and is open from 10 to 4; normal entrance charges apply.