IN celebration of the York Mystery Plays 2012, York arts enterprise New Visuality is collaborating with York Theatre Royal and York City Centre Churches for an exhibition by two contrasting artists, divided by 50 years and nationality.

Pontefract Renaissance man Brian Lewis, 74, and Italian artist Michele Damiano, 24, have dovetailed their talents to showcase an artistic response to York’s theatrical centrepiece of the year, now running in the Museum Gardens.

“New Visuality is all about bringing much needed exposure to emerging artists, as well as forging industry links,” says director Maria Rogers.

“Michele has returned from an exhibition in San Giorgio Lucano, Italy, and Brian has just wrapped up his show in York contemporary gallery According To McGee, and both were New Visuality projects. To be able to continue the momentum with two such respected organisations as the Theatre Royal and city centre churches is an honour.”

Brian Lewis is delighted to be exhibiting in York once more so soon after the satirical punch and political bristle of his McGee solo show, and his latest subject chimes with an impassioned belief.

“History painting, a class of art which was much loved 100 years ago, has been neglected for too long but not by me,” he says.

“I have believed from the time I started to paint in the 1980s that artists and writers have an obligation to celebrate their communities and the histories of the places they know and love. I love York and I love Yorkshire so I celebrate them whenever I can. I can turn out a nifty landscape if I need to but my prime concern is making drawings and paintings which originate in that enthusiasm.”

His four paintings on display in the Theatre Royal concern folk plays being presented by local citizens. They form part of a series of 30 drawings and paintings he has worked on over three months.

“I trained as a historian and The York Mystery Cycle has always been an enthusiasm since I first saw the Plays performed in the St Mary’s Abbey ruins in the 1970s. Like all medieval works, they are best recognised if the players show them with hints of contemporary commentary,” he says.

“That is why, echoing the title of Helena Kennedy QC’s excellent feminist commentary, I call one picture Eve Was Framed.”

Brian will spend tomorrow in the Church of All Saints, Pavement making drawings that will take as their starting point the glass in the west window of the nave.

“One of the panels shows Christ’s feet, but not the whole man, as he ascends into heaven. I want to show the crowd witnessing this world-shattering event, and to do it I intend to take as my models the people who walk past or come into the church,” he says.

“In the next fortnight these sketches will be improved and some will become part of my collection of 1,000 drawings in a year, which have become known across the UK as the Hokusai Project.”

Meanwhile, Italian artist Michele Damiano is following up his Visuality In Italy: Soul’s Journey show with his response to the York Mystery Plays. “I love York, and I love its mysteries, and its history of all things sacred,” he says.

“The York Mystery Plays fit perfectly with my vision of art, in that they’re concerned with those biblical themes of temptation, betrayal, greed, and power. The themes have persisted for millennia, and it’s really this ritual, this mysterious need for telling these timeless stories, that has inspired me to pick up the paint brush.”

Brian and Michele’s work is to be exhibited at the Theatre Royal until August 27. All Saints is focusing on only the one day: tomorrow’s 11am to 3pm exhibition and Lewis performance, both enthusiastically championed by the priest-in-charge, the Reverend Jane Nattrass.

“The Church of All Saints, Pavement welcomes collaborations with local artists and businesses. The sacred space of the church is a special venue and adds to the life of the city as it welcomes locals and visitors alike to view the work of artists,” she says.