An art istallation in a West Dulwich church

paintings by Ilinca Cantacuzino

The Circle completed
The Circle completed

After the fire of 2000, All Saints Church, West Dulwich, was restored, incorporating the ruins of the Victorian gothic interior within a new and airy space. The curved square of the new west entrance leads the visitor into a spacious hall with a sweeping staircase down to the crypt where the new brick walls, in places two storeys high, provide an ideal exhibition space. Vicar David Stephenson set about seeing that the revived All Saints, with its cathedral-like grandeur, also served as a centre for the arts.

Since 2008 Ilinca Cantacuzino has been artist in residence at All Saints Church. In 2010 the vicar suggested to her the possibility of creating a ‘Labyrinth’ as part of the 2011 annual Dulwich Festival Open House project. “It would be a way of exploring physically and spatially our spiritual journey. Unlike a maze,” he says, “a labyrinth is a single route or pathway; however it doesn’t always move in the direction we expect.”

Six members of the South London Women Artists group joined Ilinca to create work that responded to the space. They were Moira Jarvis, Joan Eytle Kendall, Lucy Duke, Dana Finch and Maria Beddoes. They laid down a labyrinthine line around the church floor and curated the space so that as one followed the line one came about different pieces of art.

Squaring the Circle
Squaring the Circle

David suggested that Ilinca make two pieces of work to hang in the east chancel beyond the high altar. The result, The Dulwich Triptych, with its strong shapes contrasted with delicate gold leaf ‘threads’ winding through them, is the culmination of the three year partnership between Ilinca and All Saints. For the Dulwich Festival 2011, the completed pieces were hung on either side of the cross which now stands there, itself constructed from two charred beams which were rescued from the fire in 2000.

As it happens, in her paintings Ilinca often uses fire, an act of destruction marking the passage of time, both an inevitable part of creation in art as in life.

Clew I
Clew I

Ilinca says that at first she was exhilarated by the prospect of the altar pieces.  “It felt exactly right.  But as it began to sink in, I felt incredibly daunted.  As a practising Buddhist, I questioned how I could make a piece that would work for everyone.  How could I find a way to make a statement in such a massive space? How could I make it powerful enough for the space without overwhelming the cross or distracting people at prayer?  Could such a piece ever promote contemplation or reverence?  Each panel is 8ft by 4ft and too heavy to be carried by one person.  I had to work on them one at a time while still making sure they remained one piece in concept and rhythm.  I chose the most difficult of methods.  Usually when I work with colour, I do so in layers and build the image up over time.  But this was the opposite.  This had to be monochrome and mainly linear on a white backdrop.  There was no room for error or overlay.  So I did many studies leading up to the ‘real thing’.  But in the end there was no alternative but to dive in.  It took a lot of courage.  To summon this I used my daily Buddhist practice.  In this way I also ‘summoned up’ the paintings, for although I did not know how I would achieve them – I could not see the detail – once I had done them they were exactly as I had imagined:  a universal life force. . .

The Dulwich Triptych

“I took inspiration from Theseus finding his way out of the Labyrinth after killing the Minotaur, with the help of a ball of thread. I decided that as it had been given him by his loved one, Ariadne, and it had saved his life, it should be golden. This golden thread came to represent that which binds us all together – the thread of life.” This thread weaves its way through the other paintings Ilinca’s series entitled Zero Time.

The Dulwich Triptych & Chancel


The Triptych and Zero Time can be seen at All Saints Church every weekday 10am-4pm
 and on Sunday during services 8am, 10–11.30am and 6.30pm.
All Saints Church, Lovelace Road West Dulwich London SE21 8JY Tel: 0208 676 4550 m: 07976 910 051

Quotations from Cantacuzino’s catalogue at the All Saints Church exhibition:
“God is an intelligible sphere whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.”
Alain de Lille, 12th c.

“Nature is an infinite sphere whose centre is everywhere, whose circumference is nowhere.”
Blaise Pascal, 1623-62

“The place where we are right now is what matters.  This is all the more true for us who embrace the Mystic Law.  Buddhism teaches that we can transform wherever we are into the Land of Eternally Tranquil Light.”
Daisaku Ikeda, President of Soka Gakkai International, 2010

Breathe Out (2011)

Breathe Out