Painter’s Angel (with Moon), © Iskra Fine Art
The Story of the Pandemic Angels
In September, the week of 9.11, I took a brief trip to Whidbey Island to escape the smoke from the California fires. For the first day the weather was balmy, with a perfectly clear blue summer sky. I wandered the beaches, filled my pockets with shells, and felt the euphoria of the traveler, a feeling I have missed acutely during the pandemic. Later that night the smoke came in. The horizon vanished, and whether to risk the outdoors became a calculation fraught with hazard. On my last day on the island, restless from being housebound, I went for a morning walk in nearby Woodsman cemetery. The air held a strange amber light, and pink smoke veiled the grave markers at the edge of the forest. I was captivated by the aura of the place, with its moss-covered headstones and weathered statuary dating from pioneer days. As I walked through the dry grass the angels seemed to emerge from the smoke like emissaries from another time. I began to study them and take their portraits.
I am a student of angels, and I had not seen these before. The faces of the little ones captured a blend of innocence and gravity that seemed both timeless and completely of our time. Beauty, grief, mourning, serenity, loss, longing for another time: the combined cataclysm of the fires and the pandemic require a vocabulary all its own. The phrase “smoke elegies” seemed to describe the mood in the air and the bigger moment. I decided then to do a series about the angels, (which got delayed by a journey to Tieton and the beginning of a photographic series of landscapes of the America West – but that’s another story!) Perhaps it is the coming of December, with its dark weather and mystic illuminations, but I woke up a few weeks ago possessed by the image of a winged statue. I decided to drop everything else on my plate and see where this body of work might go.
The archetype of the angel is far from my usual subject matter. Angels for many evoke religious associations, and as a result, for a contemporary artist it can feel precarious to go into this territory. For me angels do not represent religion, but instead act as a universal icon offering comfort, protection, rescue and transcendence. Their form is a devotional shape into which I can pour the unironic emotions of this time of isolation and worldwide loss. The pandemic has taken nearly 1.5 million lives world wide, and for many of those deaths there has been no ceremony of mourning, no bedside visitation, no funeral. A cemetery and the sense of ritual that accompanies it looks very different in the light of this new reality.
Homage to Faiyum, © Iskra Fine Art
Working on these images has been a contemplative and personally transformative process. The angels are built from a slow, painstaking method of collage that has led me on a path to rediscover what it was I saw in the smoke, at the edge of the woods. In the process I have researched the pictorial treatment of angels and marveled at the long fascination they have held for people through history, from ancient Crete to Victorian England all the way up to today’s video gamers in VR headsets. Some of these pieces reference the mourning theorems of American folk art, and others the shrouds of Faiyum. Others embrace Victorian intricacy and that era’s unabashed romance with sorrow. As I have been living with the faces of the angels I have also been living with history, and putting the present difficult moment into a deeper sense of time.
Pandemic Angel, ©Iskra Fine Art
Devotional practice often focuses on one image and repeats it again and again. In my years as a calligrapher and student of Buddhism I might do one character from the Heart Sutra for weeks. In that tradition, I have chosen only a few images, and worked with them in sequence, finding more to understand each time I look at subtle differences in color, texture and context. The result is a series of prints in variant editions. They are created through my unique process of digital assemblage, built up with layer upon layer of subtle surface and color from my photographs and ink painting. All of the prints are available in my shop, in a variety of sizes and prices. For the holiday season, everything in my shop is 20% off through January 2nd with a minimum purchase.
The collection to date is included here, as the resolution for retina display on WordPress is best in the blog rather than the portfolios. Click on any image to be taken to the listing.
Blue Angel [Read more…]