The Art of Michael Felix Gilfedder

John Henry Newman (1801-1890)
Musician, poet, philosopher and theologian.
"Truth has two attributes - beauty and power"
Idea; 217 - 8

My work, mystery and reason, is inspired by Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, particularly his idea of a University.
"I say a University taken in its bare idea, and before we view it as an instrument of the Church, has this object and this mission; it contemplates neither moral impression nor mechanical production; its function is intellectual culture; here it may leave its scholars and it has done its work when it has done as much as this. It educate the intellect to reason well in all matters, to reach out towards truth, and grasp it."
Another quote from the 'Idea of a University' is an indicator to my imagery, in that the Creator is implicated in all that we see and are.
"One in whose hands are all things, who has a purpose in every event, and a standard for every deed, and thus has relations of his own towards the subject-matter of each particular science which the book of knowledge unfolds; who has with an adorable, never ceasing energy implicated Himself in all the history of creation, the constitution of nature, the course of the world, the origin of society, the fortunes of nations, the action of the human mind; and who thereby necessarily becomes the subject matter of a science, far wider and more noble than any of those which are included in the circle of secular education."
 Idea 25; 26; and 36

The Personalistic Art of Michael Felix Gilfedder

Today humanity is under suspicion. Exploitation, wars and greed are only some of the outrages levelled against it. As an artist, therefore, it can be difficult to choose a positive theme when the subject matter is the human person. In the past artists were employed to transmit the sacred, and in doing so, provided an invaluable service to humanity from antiquity through to Christendom. Today, even though the greatest art of Christendom was profoundly religious, it also in the main, is under suspician, ignored, admired as artefacts or seen as medieval superstition. The pity is that those artists had a deep relationship with their subject matter, and their paintings had a profound effect on the human beings who experienced them. What cheers me though is that these works still effect many  people in the way that those  artists from the past intended.

What approach then can I make as an artist whose subject matter is the human person? My main approach has been  to attempt a rekindling of  enthusiasm for transmitting the sacred through art, just as the artists of the past did. A great help in  this attempt has been the writing of John Henry Newman. In his book, "In Defence of One's Life" ( Apologia Pro Vita Sua ) he touches on the question of the human person when he writes, " of the raw material of human nature, so excellent, so dangerous, so capable of Divine purposes". This view of the human person has been developed within the philosophical discipline of Personalism, a personalism which found expression in the Vatican 11 document " Joy and Hope " ( Gaudium et Spes ) when it said that, " man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself." This creature so excellent, so dangerous, can transcend his selfishness, counter-attack it with Divine intent.

The philosopher Nietzshe knew that once God is dead, only supercelebs and the rich and powerful would merit real worth. The rest of us are at different degrees from tolerable to the non-human. That is why the Personalism I work with is part of the Judaic-Christian tradition which champions the unconditional worth of all human persons from the moment of conception to natural death. 

 The Icon of Mary Mother of God

This Personalism is also a philisophical reflection of the iteriority of human persons, who today are more aware of their sense of personhood and rights, that they are subjects, not objects to be misused. Ironically this sense of personhood has developed at a time when humanity is under the suspicion I mentioned earlier.

"This awakening of human beings to personal existence is an epochal event, a sea-change in the way we understand ourselves". ( The Personalist Project.)

Much of my subject matter is about the relationship between man and woman, therefore it is very important for me that the authority of Genesis 2 informs me about their nature. In Karol Wojtyla's "A Theology of the Body" he talks of the " Original Solitude" of mankind as prior to the issue that it is male or female. This original solitude is about mankind making sense of the world and forming a relationship with its loving Creator. Only after this comes the "Original Unity" of man and woman.

Original Solitude

 Original Unity

"The cycle of the human person's solitude is broken, because the first "man" reawakens from his sleep as male and female". ( A Theology of the Body, part 1 chapter 1, page 159. )


In the beginning God created heaven and earth.
And the earth was void and empty, and darkness
 was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved over the waters.
 ( Genesis 1 v.2  Douay Version )

The body receives life from this Spirit and this Spirit gives life to the body who's sexual identity informs its whole being.In this way a man and a woman complement each other.

The crisis of imagery for the artist in the contemporary world is the narrowness and boredom of its images, dense and closed off from any interior opening-up into the wonder of existence and the reflection of a loving Creator. This opening-up I have attempted in two ways. The more obvious way of the sacred icon, but also in the 'realism' cotained in the ordinary of everyday life.

In the following two paintings which used photographs  taken by my nephew when he was in Nicaragua, I was inspired by the the loving communion and solidarity that I detected in the images of these people, a people freely giving their gift of self.

 'La Sagrada Familia'


Michael Felix Gilfedder graduated from Glasgow School of Art in 1971 and Teacher's Training College in 1972. He taught in Glasgow and in 1977 moved to the Outer Hebrides where he was an itinerant art teacher throughout the Southern Isles.He still does some supply teaching, but in the main works at his painting.He is married with four children who now live and work in Glasgow.


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