Angel Tales – Artista Eli – 2012 – Acrylic on Canvas
When I was invited to create a painting by Chris Yates Stuckist for his exhibition titled ‘Stuck on the Cross’ (with a religious theme to be shown at Easter) , I had a bit of a dilemma as I am not a traditionally religious person, let alone a Christian. Then I started thinking about the traditional bible stories I had been taught about in my Church of England school, the Catholic versions I had learned from my friends and family and the history of religions, which I had learned about through the creative works of the great artists and writers of history. Somewhere among these my ideas for this painting came to light.
Firstly I thought about what Easter really means. Originally Easter started out as a Pagan festival to mark spring and fertility. Then when the Christians arrived, the Pagans did not want to give up their celebrations and thus, as a compromise, the Christians gave the Pagans an alternative Christian Festival – Easter. The Christian Festival focused, like the Pagan Festival, on Rebirth, but instead of it being a celebration of nature, it became a time of remembrance that commemorated the death and alleged rebirth of the Jesus, in order to ‘save us from our sins’. A very poignant part of this story for me is the line from the bible when Jesus allegedly says ‘Forgive them father, they know not what they do’. It is this line that I decided to focus on when creating my artwork. The issue of forgiveness has always played a big part in my life, mainly because of the difficult relationships I have had with my own family, probably having been caused by communication difficulties, as a result of many of us having the undiagnosed condition of Aspergers or at the very least, poor verbal and physical communication skills.
It took me years to understand that when we don’t forgive people for their actions, regardless of how awful they are/were, the main person we hurt is ourself. Those who have harmed us probably could not care less about the way we are feeling and if they do they probably don’t know how to communicate this anyway. So there really is no point in harbouring anger and resentment, as these will just wear us down, affecting our mental and physical health, as well as the knock-on effect that this will have on our life, in terms of our emotional/physical well-being, our relationships with others, our finances and our goals/aspirations. I am not saying here that we should forget about the wrongs that were done to us; on the contrary, what I am saying is that we must channel our self-destructive emotions into positive fruitful actions which will nurture future generations of our societies to become less destructive and more creative. This is what the main point of my painting is and this is how I tried to communicate that:
First I took the main theme of the exhibition, ‘The Cross’ and ‘The Blood of Christ’ and placed them at the centre of the painting in order to tie my artwork directly in with the exhibition and to echo the work of the main artist ‘Chris Yates Stuckist’ (of whom I am a huge fan). Then I put in my own beliefs about ‘God’ as a great mathematical force of nature and creation, by opening the upper picture plane into an origami style, kaleidoscopic sky springing out of a star, our star the sun). I feel this ties both the concepts of Easter together – the pagan concept of God as nature/’The Sun’ (For example we as humans do not need controlling as we are just part of nature and should be able to live in harmony with it) and the Christian concept of ‘God’ focusing on as not nature/ ‘The Son’ (For example we as humans cannot rule ourselves but need a higher being there to control us).
After this, I decided to add the two opposing concepts of death/destruction and life/creation in the form of two figures. The figures I chose were a devil and an angel (commonly understood personifications in most religions around the world. I chose to do The Devil as a man and the Angel as a woman, mainly owing to the early Greek philosophies that the God of Death/Destruction/War and the underworld is traditionally personified as a man and the Goddess of Creation/Love and Life is traditionally personified as a woman (my woman has exposed voluptuous breasts in order to represent maternal nurturing/fertility).
I called my painting ‘Angel Tales’ for three different reasons as follows:
- Religious stories were initially passed down through word of mouth and later written. This gives a chance for many details to be lost or miss-communicated, not only because we forget certain parts, but also because we put out own beliefs in and embellish stories for greater creative effect. Thus really what we are reading when we read religious texts could be considered to be ‘Fairy tales’, hence the title ‘Angel Tales’ which I use in this context to show that there is some truth in these stories, but how much is true, we will never really know, as much has been lost in translation.
- I have two literal angels in my painting ‘a fallen angel’ – The Devil and a traditional angel that we are used to seeing in our culture, which generally consists of wings a halo and a skirt of some sort.
- Both my angels have tails which are very significant in my painting. The Devil figure has a tail which is between his legs (signifying he has done something wrong). His tail because of it’s position looks like a phallus. I have painted it so he looks like he is stabbing himself with it and injuring himself. I have also made it look like a weapon of war. (I was thinking along the lines of when we use aggression towards other we end up just damaging ourselves, our own interests and our future). My other angel has little skirt tails in the form of electrical jack plugs, signifying the importance of listening to others, listening to music (which reflects both the joy and suffering of the masses in society and gives us an insight/connection into what type of lives other people are experiencing), energy (which is in us and must be directed in a positive way and is also a big part of our progressive achievements as a species) and the gathering of knowledge (from systems of communication, such as the internet, the radio, etc and which help us to communicate with and understand other more effectively).
I have depicted my two angels holding a religious text; it could be from any religion personal to the viewer. I have shown The Devil grabbing at it in an aggressive way and The Angel holding it gently. The reason behind this part is to show how any religious text can be used to insight fear, hatred and destruction or it can be used to promote love, kindness and creation and thus merely reflects the personality of the person who is using it, rather than saying anything out the truths behind the religion.
When I thought about how I would represent my characters, I thought deeply in a very Socratic way, which led me through some very unexpected directions. I chose to try to combine these very different traditional ways, of looking at devils and angels, in each of my characters.
My devil has a mixture of traditional devils in him. He has, most obviously, the medieval characteristics of a western devil, being depicted mainly in the colour red. He has horns, a serpents tongue, a spiked tail, a pitch fork with a skull on it, with which is literally ‘stabbing himself in the foot’, a pointy nose and chin, etc. He also has an Eastern touch, in the form of a blue foot, representing the Hindu goddess of destruction – Kali. He has cracked and split armour, signifying aggression and a broken body/soul full of pain. He has a Mohawk hairstyle. This hairstyle originally was created by tribes people who used not to shave it, but to pull their hair our ‘a tuft at a time’. In my painting this signifies the distress my devil feels and his inability to let go of his anger and hunger for revenge – he is literally ‘pulling his hair out’. It also signifies how used to the pain that he has become that he is now hardened to it and thus, finds it more difficult to appreciate the pain of others in an empathetic way. My devil has three eyes. He has one eye shut to block out his pain, the pain of others and what domino effect of pain he could potentially create if he acts in a negative way on his vengeful feelings. He has one open looking out to the viewer with an aggressive yet fearful expression. He has one eye open focusing on getting exactly what he wants in any way he can, regardless of how it might hurt others. He is rooted to ground by Ivy (a traditional symbol of death and strangulation, illustrating his unwillingness to change/ move forward and how the painful experiences of his past have trapped him in the constant prison of his past. This point is echoed by the pitch fork to which he is shackled.
I have depicted my angel with butterfly wings hovering above the ground to indicate that she is free from the shackles of life, able to change and move freely. She has a skirt of electrical lights, to show how much beautiful energy she has to take positive progressive action. It is not that she does not feel pain; it is just that she is able to cope with it in a positive way. I have attempted to paint her with a concerned expression and a hand that touches the hand of the devil in a delicate way as if she is pleading for him to be kinder to both himself and to others. Out of her skirt are falling droplets of rain to signify a life -giving force which is able to extinguish the hot angry flames of my devils foot print.
At the time, I was finishing painting this piece last September we had Spanish Wildfires which destroyed everything up to the other side of the road where my house is situated. It was a very frightening experience and afterwards, we had floods. Now everything is growing even more strongly than before. The community all pulled together, in a very altruistic way, to help each other in a way I had never seen before. This got me thinking about how sometimes the destruction of something can bring about even more creation. So while it is sad that we have to go through times of loss and pain, these are sometimes necessary parts of life which help us to grow and reach our full potential, if we have the knowledge we need in order to understand how to deal with misfortune. Maybe this is what the story of the death of Jesus is meant to represent and teach us – that sometimes when we are at one of life’s challenging crossroads; we need knowledge to help us though and we need to think about the consequences of what effect our actions might have on others now and on future generations to come. No one is born to be destructive or self -destructive, we are conditioned by a complex code of experiences, which can drive us to make the wrong decisions, but there is always time to type in a new code and turn our lives around if we are willing to so. ‘God’ may give us pointers in the stories written by followers of the world’s religions, but in reality, the only person who can change the world for the better is the individual themselves. The answer to forgiveness (and the end of the destruction of each other and our planet) lies ultimately inside each of us.
It’s hard to give love out to those who hurt us, but if we respond with fear, anger and aggression, then that’s all we are going to get back because it is like a boomerang – it comes straight back at us. If we want people to be kind, we have to be kind first, even when they are hurting and transferring their pain onto us. This is the first secret of forgiveness, the second is that we have to educate society so they understand the pain they are doing to each other, so no other martyr can be quoted as saying ‘Forgive them they know not what they do’.
‘Be the change you want to see in the world’ Mahatma Gandhi