Glowing panes: Brian Clarke's stained-glass windows have earned him global recognition and the papal thumbs-up

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Brian Clarke – who has been called the rock star of stained glass – has just had his stained-glass window in the Papal Chapel of the Apostolic Nunciature in Wimbledon blessed by the Pope on his visit. It's not everyday that Pope Benedict XVI gives an artist's work the thumbs up. But after the Pope said Mass at the chapel at the Vatican's embassy in London in front of the glowing stained-glass window and blessed it, Clarke was presented to him in an adjoining room. "I chatted to him about the window and the Pope told me that he 'greatly liked it'," says Clarke.

The window is made of transparent ultramarine and ruby red stained-glass, and depicts three tall burning candles, each surrounded by individual texts by Thomas More, John Fisher and John Henry Newman.

When the light passes through the transparent window, it creates shafts of ever-changing colour which fall within the space – and when it hits the text, the whole window oscillates with a shimmer. "There is something quite transcendental and magical about it," says Clarke. "It has a positive, mind-altering effect on you as if you were sun-kissed."

I meet Clarke, 57, at his house just off London's Kensington Church Street, to discuss the project. A housekeeper opens the door and takes me inside to wait in a room full of books about stained glass and relics, some laid out on the floor, before I'm led up a winding staircase.

Clarke is better known for massive projects, including the glowing blue stained-glass apex for the Pyramid of Peace in Kazakhstan, which was designed with his friend Norman Foster. So by his standards, this Papal commission was a small assignment. "I left the centre of the flame transparent because the chapel faces due west across Wimbledon Common," says Clarke. "And when the sun sets and comes in through those candle flames, the transparency picks up the colour of the sun and it starts to glow itself."

We are sitting in his enormous first-floor sitting-room, where his friend Zaha Hadid has designed a blue sofa to match Clarke's own stained-glass window above it of swirling ultramarine and red ribbons – fragments of 19th-century glass from a bombed-out church in Munich. Clarke is so passionate about stained glass that he dreams about it. "It's always on my mind. I love it so much I want to eat it," he says.

Even the windows in a small lavatory in his home have 12th-century glass fragments, including a head of a knight that he has incorporated into them. "Once you have tasted its thrill, it's difficult to escape it," he explains.

Clarke – who is also a painter – did the stained glass for the Pfizer building in New York, the Holocaust memorial in Darmstadt, the Victoria Quarter in Leeds, the Linkoping Cathedral in Sweden and even the lobby of the Apax group in Jermyn Street in London.

This latest commission for the Papal visit came about when advertising guru Sir Frank Lowe suggested Clarke for the job, after the Archbishop of Westminster sought his advice.

"They wanted to create something special for the Pope's visit. I think their first thought was that I'd do three figures of saints – but I don't do

saints. That's not my thing at all. But when I spoke to the Archbishop, it became clear that there was a possibility I could embrace the concept."

Born in Oldham, Lancashire, Clarke became a full-time art student at the age of 12. He won a scholarship to the Oldham School of Arts and Crafts – and at the same time avoided a life in the mines. He went to Burnley School of Art in 1968, and then the North Devon College of Art and Design in 1970.

He made his first stained glass at the age of 16 with a heraldic eagle design. Sometimes Clarke buys back his early work – which can be an expensive habit.

Early on in his career Clarke realised that he had to shake off the ecclesiastical image if he was going to make any impact in the medium. Limited by the religious imagery demanded by the church, he went elsewhere. "When I started working in the medium of stained glass, it was a dying art. I knew from a very early age that the future of the medium would only be assured if it had an application in public buildings and was not limited to ecclesiastical architecture. I looked for opportunities in all kinds of public buildings and declined opportunities in the church. I fought for that and continue to fight for that. It's a lifelong pilgrimage."

In 1978 he moved to London, where he met and became friends with David Bailey, Paul and Linda McCartney and Francis Bacon. He has always continued to paint – his current linear paintings include a series of canvasses using gold leaf – although his first love is stained glass.

"I've got some great photos of me with the Pope," he chuckles. "Now I'm able to call the shots more. Churches only call on me if they want me to do something challenging and exciting. As a consequence, with a long history behind me of substantial secular and public works, I feel now that I can re-engage occasionally, working in the church and giving it my best on a level that it deserves and I demand."

For his Papal assignment, Clarke has incorporated texts into the stained-glass window, including a page from Fisher's Sermon Against the Pernicious Doctrine of Martin Luther. There is a letter from More to Cardinal Wolsey about the act of succession in More's own hand. "We scanned the letter and etched his own handwriting over the glass." There's also a printed page from Newman's book An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent.

"I like my work to enable the building to function in a way that hopefully tips the balance of the experience from being functional to being inspirational," says Clarke. "I think there is an extremely powerful argument to be made today for art to actually bring beauty and something of the sublime into the banality of mundane experience. So often now, art is limiting of that kind of encounter. I believe people respond to beauty both in nature and in art. When it involves the passage of light, it is uplifting in a way that is incomparable."

For more information: www.brianclarke.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments