Exploring Christ's sacrifice through art

On Saturday in Manchester Cathedral, 19 life sized paintings and illustrations from Jesus's life were unveiled to the public.

These are the passionate productions of Rob Floyd, a 38-year-old artist from Wilmslow in Cheshire, who says art and God have always been fundamental parts of his life.

"Painting has been something that's always been there, from my earliest memories from when I was a little kid making marks and drawing on things," he says. 

"It's always been a priority of mine in my life to engage with that meaning and engage with the divine.

"I've never had any of this contemporary existential angst about being alone in a meaningless world.

"I've always felt that life is inherently full of meaning."

Consequently, the marriage of his spiritual and artistic temperaments seems perfectly natural to Floyd. While some people choose to engage with the divine by becoming something more overtly religious like a priest, for Floyd painting is where he can best channel that.

"I've always seen my art as a very spiritual pursuit. Art is how I best engage with the divine.

"If I'm honest I've never felt I'm cut out to be a monk or a man of the cloth or anything like that."

And his paintings are as much about communicating something to the viewer as they are about him personally working through his own questions. For him, faith is a "journey" and his work on the Stations of the Cross was "a great opportunity for me to continue on that path".

"[Art has] always been something I've always used to try and better make sense of things," he explains.

"I've been influenced by lots of different faiths, including things like Hinduism. For me though, Christianity is culturally in my blood, and is the religion I can connect with most deeply, understanding it at a deeper level."

It is this understanding that lead him to choose this particular set of scenes, "Ultimately there has to be some kind of kenosis, some kind of self-revelation in art."

He describes himself as an artist who tends to work in cycles so the Stations of the Cross appeal to him as "the ultimate cycle that Christianity offers".

Floyd has painted the traditional 14 Stations of the Cross but added in four extra paintings to his series as well as an illustration on paper, using charcoal, ink and chalk, showing the aftermath of the Crucifixion lit by a full moon.

The largest painting, the Crucifixion, was two meters tall and two and a half metres wide.

Anyone familiar with Floyd's art will know he likes to paint his people big: "It's just something that's always come naturally to me, and I've tried painting other ways but it always seemed forced, and that isn't a road you want to go down."

On this occasion it did pose a challenge of its own, as his workspace wasn't big enough to accommodate his paintings, and so it ended up in Christ Church, West Didsbury.

"When it got to the Crucifixion, I knew I wanted it to be life sized, but we didn't have the room in my studio in the loft. So someone at the cathedral said to me 'perhaps we can find a space for you, have you heard of Christ Church'?"

Indeed he had, it was the church where he was married and where his son had been baptised. They welcomed him gladly, and he completed his life size masterpiece there.

He hopes the paintings will be viewed as a starting point, rather than an ending to the discussion, and that is reflected in the looseness of the brush strokes and his deliberate use of blurred, imperfect lines.

"Your eyes, physically have to mix the paint and the viewer has to use their mind and their imagination," he says.

"Sometimes very highly finished and polished paintings can seem like statements, sort of 'this is what the artist thinks and this is what he is telling you'.

"But in my paintings, I don't pretend to understand the Christian mysteries."

At the end of the day, Mr Floyd admits he is grappling with the same questions as many believers, and that the conclusion of the painting process doesn't necessarily put a stop to the inner searching.

"At the end of engaging with this cycle of paintings I'm left with more questions than answers," he says.

"I want my paintings to be open to dialogue, to be looser like that.

"Hopefully that makes the viewer's experience better and leaves them more open to discussion."

The paintings will be displayed in Manchester Cathedral throughout the Lent season.