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:

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury


Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas


Arts and Entertainment


Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7


Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary


Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions