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  • Writer's pictureKeith Milow


Updated: Feb 5, 2021

It was suggested to me that I should write a blog. It was also suggested that my first blog should be about my crosses. I have always been reluctant to explain my work but encouraged to do so I'll give it a try.

From the time I started making crosses in the early seventies people have asked me why I make them. Some have taken them as a jibe at Christianity. Others thought that I might be religiously inspired. The fact is, I am interested in the shape of the cross, the mere vertical and horizontal that it consists of. Fundamental to the inception of my crosses is the journey of Dutch painter Piet Mondrian from figuration to abstraction, as exempled in the pier & ocean paintings from his Domburg period, which consist of verticals and horizontals. By extension, I arrived at the Latin cross, with all its connotations. It has remained a preoccupation in my work for almost fifty years.

Keith Milow, Eightieth Cross (1978), Tate, London.
Eightieth Cross (1978), Tate, London

From the start it was important to me that my cross sculptures remain secular objects, works that had an immediate impact on their environment, full of implications, some perhaps unintended. I have since relaxed that 'principled' stance and accepted that I am unable to control their fate. I do know of at least three religious institutions that own a Milow cross. There is (or was) one in All Saints Church, Margaret Street, in London. There is one in a Benedictine monastery in the Pecos Wilderness of New Mexico, USA. Corpus Christi Church in New York has two, given to them by the art historian Jo Masheck. On the church's website it says about my crosses: "Now in one sense, which their author prefers, these 'crosses' are secular works [...] In another sense, they are quite inescapably Christian crosses in their own right, despite the problem of artistic intent".

Proposal for a cross by British artist Keith Milow, St. Peter's, Citicorp Center, New York.
St. Peter's at Citicorp Center, NYC

In 1980, shortly after my arrival in New York, I heard of a competition for a cross at St. Peter's Church, part of the Citicorp Center development. With only one day to go before submissions had to be in, I rushed off a couple of drawings and ran them uptown to Citicorp. A couple of weeks later I was informed the commission was mine. However, there ensued an extended debate between two factions in the church. My idea of inserting a cross, at rest, into the cladding of the building, eventually was dismissed. The reason given was that the work would cause structural damage to the building, a rather ridiculous claim that much to my surprise was supported by the architect, Hugh Stubbins. The real reason for rejecting my proposal was of course that some church members were unable to come to terms with my atheism, and that a leaning cross could be easily interpreted as a fallen cross...

A cross sculpure by Keith Milow in Warmoesstraat, Amsterdam. NL.
Warmoesstraat terrace: view of Oude Kerk

In 2005 I participated – somewhat grudgingly – in a group exhibition in Amsterdam's oldest church, the Oude Kerk. It was just around the corner from my studio at Warmoesstraat. The church being a national monument, I was told not to bang nails into the walls. But I needed to hang two of my crosses in this church, so what's a man to do? I was very careful. The chapel I chose contained a funeral monument and I decided to hang a white cross below it. Some visitors thought it was part of the fabric of the church. It was through this exhibition that I met a collector who subsequently became an ardent supporter of my work.

What is it that intrigues me about the shape of the cross? As I said, the cross in its simplest form is no more than a horizontal and a vertical. In the case of the Latin cross the horizontal is shorter that the vertical. Getting the perfect Latin cross proportions was a preoccupation of the earlier crosses of the series. In my One Hundred Cross Drawings of 1999-2000, I investigated the Latin cross at length by breaking it up in different ways, while maintaining its ideal shape.

Over the years my cross sculptures have become 'bolder' but by keeping the basic outline, as with the drawings. My most recent crosses from 2012 make explicit reference to the body but the outline remained the same. There are more to come.

See also:

Cross 0812 (2012), private collection, Lucca (DP)

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