Artist’s Notes: A Personal History of the Image
I lived in London from 1976 through 1980. The public sculptures around the city were fascinating to me. Near the British Museum, in the outdoor court of the British Transport Union, I found a powerful sculpture of a woman holding a dead man across her lap. It was an artist’s interpretation of the Pieta, created by the sculptor Sir Jacob Epstein (1880 – 1959) an émigré from Brooklyn, who worked chiefly in England. His grand sculpture of Saint Michael’s Victory Over the Devil in Coventry Cathedral (rebuilt after the severe aerial bombing of World War II) stayed with me all these years.
Throughout my time in Europe, I visited many cathedrals and museums, drawing some of the artworks I observed. When I returned to Los Angeles, Among my drawings, was a rough sketch of St. Michael. I worked to develop this idea into a painting, taking an icon-like image and transforming it with my techniques. It became elaborate with detailed drawings for each figure. I used crayon sgraffito, multi-layered acrylic glazes, gold leaf, spattered paint on the clouds and pointillism techniques.
The painting was exhibited once at a The Small World Gallery in Venice, California, where a family purchased it for their father, a Methodist pastor, who was enthused about the painting. I remember the pastor’s comments about the work, “St. Michael’s fighting the demons is an archetype of the conflict within each person and society. The struggle is how we grow as individuals.”
I was happy that this painting was in the home of my friends. It was an important work in my life and became one of my favorites. The time-consuming processes that went into the painting helped me to develop a greater appreciation of icons, oriental miniatures, and the Mexican religious carvings. In 1983 I simplified the image, creating a small, three-plate etching.
In December of 2005, master printer Jim Butterfield and I talked about a collaboration to produce the next serigraph edition. I had been considering retirement, but after we spoke about the painting of St. Michael and how it could be the starting point of an elaborate serigraph edition, I realized how important the process is to me. I still had the outline I had drawn for the painting. This collaboration was a chance for me to take my original painting of 1980 and develop new color, visual and drawing ideas.
We completed the serigraph, printing the final color #62 (Light Iridescent Gold) on August 26, 2006. With so many layers of colors, the pointillist and stippling techniques create the effect of a multi-faceted mosaic.
The demons depicted in ST MICHAEL are primeval; a brute force with heavy and thick scales covering them. They emerge from the depths of the unknown spaces with destructive force. They are hidden representing that part of nature that remains with us from our deepest and ancient forms of life. The growth and development of the human race has been to struggle to overcome these forces.
St. Michael has an ancient name meaning “who is as God”. References to him are in the Book of Daniel, the Qur’an, the Book of Revelation, the Midrash and many other ancient and new religious texts, traditions, and legends. There are shrines and special sites around the world dedicated to St. Michael invoking his assistance and protection. This militant angel raises challenging questions for all of us who trace our religious ancestry back to Abraham; Muslims, Christians, and Jews all claim his protection. We seem to have kept Michael very busy, fighting against himself. In all of our traditions, Michael is also the angel of healing waters and fertile fields, the provider for the needy and the protector of the vulnerable. Maybe Michael can remind us that every human being faces their own personal spiritual struggle.
The archetype or symbolism of the Archangel battling demons has a power that goes deep into our psyche. It helps us see our own efforts to grow, overcoming ignorance, hatred, violence and despair. We can see our struggles as universal, transcending the personal. They apply to every human who has had to decide, choose, begin again, and find peace. This internal struggle connects us to our ancient past, to our ancestors, and to the whole of the human family, today. With understanding we can grow in compassion and hope, for others and for ourselves. As a child, knowing about angels gave me a sense of being loved and helped me through difficult times. I remember the small holy cards with images of angels watching over children. I would keep one close to my bed.
Religious symbols have real power. They can give warmth and light, life and joy or they can choke one’s spirit, drown one’s dreams, and break one’s heart. They can be the tools of oppression or the food of liberation. They can be the weapons we use against each other or reminders that there is a spiritual source of strength for every struggle for healing, justice and peace. This is certainly true of St. Michael the Archangel, the great spiritual warrior , the captain of the heavenly host who leads the battle against Satan and his minions.
We live in a world of conflict and a world of conflict lives in us. There are temptations to divide the world into angels and devils, but we are not angels and we are not devils. We are human beings, loved by God whose image we bear. Let our battle be against all the forces that would assault and degrade that image in any child of God, and let us be gentle with one another in the midst of the struggle.