Jonathan David Westlake Cole
22.11.62 – 14.01.07
A Thanksgiving for Jon Cole
Holy Trinity Church, Hastings
Friday 2 February 2007
Interment at Hastings Cemetery
‘‘I thank You God for most this amazing’’
i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any – lifted from the no
of all nothing – human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake
now the eyes of my eyes are open)
Order of Service
Entry Music - Organist, Christopher Harris
Sentences and Introduction: Father Tolworthy
Hymn: Dear Lord and Father of mankind.
Psalm 139 (verses 1-9)
Reading: John 13 v. 12–17
Homily: Father Vickery House
This tribute was read out by Father Vick House. It was written by Brian Cole
N.T. Reading John l3 v. l2-l7
This is much more than a beautiful story of the humility of our Lord Jesus Christ. It contains an unspoken rebuke to all those who would travel with Jesus without ever really understanding His essential nature. That nature was self-giving love for others; His Heavenly Father first and the world of people second! In that culture, washing the feet of guests was the servant’s work. The task was menial and unenviable, but, if people were to be honoured and valued; essential. So, what the disciples declined or neglected to do the Saviour, willingly undertook, leaving us, as He said, an example.
Jon Cole spent a good deal of his life following that example and he chose those parts of society that many of us avoid in which to do it. Jon was always prepared to engage with people that he met, he was genuinely interested and was always prepared to make time for people. His work among children and young people with severely restricted learning ability was inspiring and, as one of his admiring friends said - "ground breaking" With Kate, Caroline and Tim, "Art Works" was conceived and developed bringing new horizons for those who many find too painful and difficult to embrace,
The compassion that Jon showed in his lifetime was no accident of nature - its origins lie in his childhood and youth. As a boy of 8 years he willingly accompanied his father on many of his itinerant preaching engagements. He loved the gospel story of Jesus and sat attentively absorbing sermons much to the surprise and admiration of adult members of the congregation - and often rewarded with something edible at the end! Jon’s favourite bible character was John the Baptist who of course was the great introducer of Jesus. In his teenage years Jon pointed a number of his peer group in the same direction and there are some firmly committed christian friends here today who owe the seeds of their faith to Jon's good humoured but faithful witness.
So, as we heard in our reading, serving others whether it be by washing their feet or painting them beautiful word pictures Jesus said - "If you know these things, happy are you if you do them"
Jon was happy - especially when he was among his friends. His zany humour, scary faces and total disrespect for the conventional made him good company. His intolerance of the scandalous inequity of life, and the exploitation of the poor by the rich, the abuse of the environment by multinationals made Jon a hot debater and vocal protester. Recently he sought and found some solace befriending the underprivileged but unspoilt people of Cambodia.
It is something of an cliche to say that artists are born not made. Jon was a born artist, but had passed through the formal schools of institutional art with his fair share of dissent notwithstanding his graduation with first class honours. When the Royal Academy accepted him, but rejected his dog Naeama, he promptly built a kennel outside the entry gates.
Artists have a unique privilege in that they can bequeath to posterity something that will endure. What Jon was is captured and preserved in his art. To those entrusted with the keeping and care of his paintings and those who study them in future years, Jon will speak. They will evoke memories of happy days and un forgettable events - of laughter, of tears of unfulfilled dreams. Each one of us will have good reason to thank God that Jon Cole charged onto the canvas of our lives and made a mark that time will not diminish.
Tribute: Rod Harman
Jon, above all was a painter, where words are at a loss and where most of us today are at a loss. Its simply wonderful that the imperishable words of the hymns, readings and the homily written by his father so adequately rise to this occasion.
Jon was a seamless person as all spirits are. His life was a whole and his talents moved naturally from one activity to another, in other words in whatever he did he put his entire self. He was an everyday man, and it showed. He would arrive at, say, teaching with dust in his hair, calloused hands and paint–spattered clothes, dressed for work. Physically beautiful and strong, he moved and spoke in a unique way – his stance always purposeful, his hands held a few inches apart like a boy carrying a jam-jar with a stickleback in it; action and wonder combined, his thoughts were in his hands.
He was not on holiday in Cambodia but was, together with his dear friend and colleague, Tim Corrigan, shooting the final footage for a film Tim is making on conditions there. The final edit is in the offing but it will be of cinematic and ethical significance and we must provide any necessary support to bring this project to fruition.
We feel we have been robbed – but no, we were given. One of the miracles of this earth is its laws of physics – the measure of our loss is exactly equal and opposite to our gain. Only God with his grace can change this balance. A great friend of Jon’s made a profound and wry remark about the timing of his death. Jon was invariably late and this, sadly, was the only appointment for which he was ahead of schedule. Since his death, talking with dear mutual friends has raised and resurrected him and has helped me see him in light not darkness. These conversations, notably with his wife, Caroline, Tony Colley and Kate Adams among others, has made this tribute a collaborative and all–inclusive expression of gratitude. Jon would have preferred me to say, “cobbled together”, in this way he comes around the corner again; Jon, “please come around the corner again”, we don’t mind how late you are.
On top of his physical and beautifully coordinated body was an anarchic, strange, erudite and wonderful head. By chance my neighbour is a friend and fellow footballer, both played for the great club of Crowhurst. I can still hear the magical noise of their meeting on the stairs, greeting each other with high decibel joy. My neighbour told me that at half time Jon would be called upon to provide the team’s pep–talk. They could not make head nor tale of what he was saying but they returned to the pitch and played better. This is exactly Jon.
Jon was out and out a painter. Painting is a dumb language – you articulate with your hands. His life was dedicated to loosening the tongue of the hand. The philosopher Wittgenstein was fond of Goethe’s saying “In the beginning was the deed”, in other words action precedes everything. As you know Wittgenstein spent his life working on language, warning us that it could enchant and trap thought; this work was called “riverbed propositions” – our shape comes from below the surface. Jon was drawn to this bed of thinking –watching him painting; he endlessly worked the surface, adding and rubbing down, looking to find and reveal what was in and under it. His genius was to apply what he himself practised to others, teaching them at their level that the answers could be discovered inside. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.
He wore his erudition, degrees and prizes lightly allowing modesty to conceal his achievements. As a teacher the tasks he set students beggared belief in their challenging ingenuity. However, it was within the world of impairment that his humanity was most exposed. He realized that what the tongue and mind found difficult the hand could accomplish. That the material of paint enabled the hand to talk. However childlike, the hand draws to itself, makes a mess, scribbles. Everything is in the gesture and the mark, bound up in it and unravels. From scribbles come words, mathematics, science, philosophy and art. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. As you know, Project Art Works was founded by Kate, Caroline and Jon to work specifically with young people with profound and multiple learning difficulties. On entering a group he would home in (in all senses of the word) to the person that was most hard to reach. That person became his benchmark for the day. This is greater than education, its visionary and takes unflinching courage and patience. It was, above all, a desire to ‘connect’. Moments like this crop up throughout our lives when fear can make us hesitate, lose faith and unable to act. But it was at these times that Jon excelled. Caroline recounted a wonderful anecdote a few days ago of a moment when, presented with this awfulness, Tim took her to one side and reminded her that Jon would never let a little bit of pain get in the way of an interesting situation. She regained decisiveness. Likewise, Jon’s lesson was that he enabled others to become decisive and live.
Jon was deep. Sadly, the world has become shallow in so many respects; love has been sidelined. This often angered Jon and provoked, in William Blake’s words, “righteous indignation”. By instinct Jon was anarchic, like Blake and many other creative spirits: likewise, he readily identified and recognised as kindred spirits the young people with disabilities among whom he worked.
Please, consider this painting. But first a small anecdote: painting is lonely, you have to ‘go further than beyond’. Those who can do this eventually climb alone and are invariably misunderstood. A father to many of us here is the painter Paul Cezanne who endured misunderstanding and ridicule throughout his life. To turn his back on this and his home town he had a studio purposefully built beyond the reach of painful words and opinions. As is their want, builders have little respect for plants and trees. A young tree was perilously close to the building works and they were damaging its tender roots. Cezanne, on seeing this, exploded, stopped the work and ordered the workmen to build a protective, retaining wall to allow the tree to flourish. In Cezanne’s remaining years the tree became one of his closest companions. In the evening after a day’s painting, he would emerge from the studio and hug his tree, and, in his words, consult it. It is not senseless to talk to trees.
If I was cast away on a desert Island, my ‘luxury request’ would be this painting. It has a slatted purity as wonderful as Jon’s final overcoat made by his brother Tim. As with many of Jon’s paintings it has been reworked – but this adds to the reasons I love it so much. When I first saw it, it was prophetic, like the line from Isaiah “a green shoot out of the dry earth”. So, in effect, I have two for the price of one. It now has the quality and colour of a great Chinese vase – “beauty is something that happens without interest”. It also has a raftlikequality; looking at it I can leave everything behind, escape and drift into a new world. Most of all, I won’t be alone. I can consult it.
It is very difficult to adequately appreciate the complexity of Jon. Because he loved everyone, he found it difficult to single out loved ones. His love at times was raw and painful. He was intellectually sensitive and had difficulty handling his magnetic and intense personality. This is the predicament from which saints suffer.
Across the road, stands Claremont studios as a testament to the vision and dream of Caroline and Jon. Like Gaudi’s church of the Holy Family in Barcelona, it was, more or less single-handedly, repaired, renovated and maintained by Jon, and remains as a gift of generosity to us all.
On a recent visit to Jon in his studio; as he was making tea, I noticed on his vast work table, was placed a tiny, insignificant twig, coloured a beautiful grey, mottled with his beloved lichen green. Its conspicuous presence prompted me to ask why it was there – he said that he’d found it that morning on the pavement and was thinking about it. William Blake came to mind,
“To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour”.
Please, please remember that beneath the abyss of death is an abyss of love.
Music: Bob Dylan Make You Feel My Love
Hymn: Be thou my vision
Recessional: Nunc Dimittis
Music: Rhythm and Sound King of my Empire
Painting has become my way of life. I have concentrated on this
more than anything else.
When I was young I thought life would be acceptable if one had
an obsessive vocation. At first, I thought I would be a
missionary, and then a farmer. Accompanying my father on his
preaching journeys, I would again be a missionary, briefly a
footballer, and later a farmer. So I wrote poems and drew
apocalyptic pictures, to describe the breadth of ways. Art can be
a method, or a methodical way to make parts of the whole from
one place. It is clear to me now that in the unknowing of childhood,
creativity and individuality are attempts to make tangible
the notion that life ahead could be a natural or spiritual way.
Painting is an idea. It is this idea of belief, that painting might
provide a lucid passage through life, and pictures
themselves may be a vehicle, to provide room for belief.
All friends of Jon were warmly invited to refreshments at 12 Claremont, opposite the Church.
Donations in memory of Jon may be given to the SOS Children’s Village in Phnom Penh.