Better Angels

November 26, 2020 § Leave a comment

“Better Angels” is a phrase that I have often heard often during this past year of extremes; they are two words that have given me moments of hope and optimism during many times when I have felt discouraged and frustrated. “Look for our Better Angels,” or even “we need to be Better Angels.” I don’t think it is really possible for we frail and flawed humans to BE angels ourselves, but all we can do is to search hard, inwardly and around us, imagining something better.

I started a body of work: what to make at a time like this? Was this the best thing I should or could be doing right now? I felt swept up in the maelstrom of politics and current events, and wanted to make something powerful, or at least helpful, but felt very inadequate to this task, and also felt that I was just rehashing what others were saying: making “statement” images was just making me more anxious. Then I thought about taking another direction and revisiting some previous themes I had explored: symbols of Liberty, or iconic mythical female figures. I went on-site, drew from my old references, revisited old texts and materials, but everything seemed increasingly trivial in the face of a frightening world pandemic and people feeling so anxious, upset and unsure about their immediate jobs, health, and futures. Not to mention, all the drawings also looked pretty generic, boring, and bad.

In the meantime, out of nervousness I began drawing heads from memory on any kind of old wood panels I could find in my studio. I like drawing on the hardness of the surfaces and responding to the randomness of the grain; I find it calming. I found that if I did not try to hard to capture an image (or even much of an external experience) right now, that while roughing out a simple oval, that features would almost come into focus on their own accord as I scribbled in the areas where nose, mouth, eyes, ears usually are. There was a repetitive aspect to this practice, and also no goal; a feeling of waiting and watching to see what was going to happen. I had no models except the memories of individual features of featured individuals somewhere in a consciousness. I imagined physically touching the peaks and troughs of the facial terrains. When I started looking more closely at the faces and heads that appeared or manifested, they all had some features that were somewhat similar, but every aspect was a bit different than the others, even if some were more stylized and some were more particular. I have been letting the images come and drawing them onto wood panels. Some older panels I found in my studio had already been gessoed and I sanded them to reveal bits of old paintings or plain grain underneath. These drawings are what I would like to share now in a spirit of humility and gratitude. The work is unfinished and ongoing, but so is everything.

Last semester, I found an essay written by Francis Pacheko, a 16th-century artist who among other things was both the teacher/father-in-law of Diego Velazquez, and an artistic censor for the Spanish Inquisition. He had very specific and strict ideas about how angels should be drawn. It was disappointing, but not surprising to see the narrow ways in which this authority thought angels should be depicted: fair-haired/skinned/robed and athletic young men only! On the other hand, I have seen painted angels, cherubim and seraphim in monasteries that were sometimes only a small part of a body (eye or head) with fiery wings. I am not a scholar of angels or religions, and these are only my own innervisions that I hope might be some sort of witnesses, reflections, or guides in how to keep going.

This is a collection of some of the wanderings and topographies of what may be in the air: some angels, for better or worse.

Click on any of the images to view in a slideshow to see titles and sizes.

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