It’s a large canvas, too tall to stand upright in the backroom of the basement. The acrylic paint has been built up over a number of years and the layers have had more than enough time to cure into a state of perpetuity. The original intent was a study of light and dark in an attempted ode to Caravaggio. No cherubic Raphaelite angels grace this plane. Like tormented saints the ravaged faces of the divine and human intermix in a supplication to the father above. Angels’ wings, feathers black smoke sooted, cradle the fallen as voices tear away into unseen winds and eyes search the heavens for solace. An avenging angel, a comforting angel, a guardian angel, an angel of death; here they are all the same. Brilliant blossoms of flaming petals open to lave in heated waves that rise up to harry the stricken.
I have carried this painting or perhaps it has carried me through some decidedly difficult periods in my life. The large canvas was a rare expense and as such I approached it with some trepidation. It doesn’t pay to be too precious with this type of thing and soon enough I found myself embroiled in the form and substance of my subject and medium. As my days became chaotic the canvas followed suit. Hours were built up in layers of tears and uncertainly, blind corridors that led nowhere, glorious moments of revelation, grueling backtracking and the light of discovering and learning.
The play of flames upon an arched back, the tendons stretched in an angel’s out flung arm, the soft white neck vulnerable and bare and the circle of grace…all these tell a two sided story. The interpretation of art is always a personal thing, the story told will be coloured by the experiences of the viewer. Anyone seeing this particular painting might comment on its biblical theme or its period treatment of light. That is the package it wears. Only I see bones underneath. Like all my paintings, whatever the apparent topic, it is a self portrait. In the manner of Dorian Grey’s secret canvas it carries my face and the toll of a difficult period and lessons dearly bought. Despite what it seems on the surface, the bones are there for me to see.
Bones are the problem now. The time has come to let it go. It will never be complete in the traditional sense of the word. Like a loyal dog that has overstayed its time the cold sting of the needle is the only release. I did toy with the idea of a funeral pyre but only briefly. The canvas had been much too expensive and I am much too thrifty to waste it just for the thrill of the gesture. If performance art was still my milieu, I might, but my college days are far behind me. Sanding and a good coat of gesso seemed the best solution and now I find myself deconstructing angels.
As each layer turns to dust under the palm sander the clock turns back. A shadow there leaked from that moment. This knot of flame and the short hard strokes of the brush burst from another. Each feather is a memory, a lesson painfully learned or a step gladly taken. Though the sander smoothes the surface and the gesso erases the pigment the bleached bones will remain. The canvas will become something new. Layer upon layer the paint will build up until a different story, which is really still the same old story with small variations, is told again. The hand will trace the patterns while the eye judges the shades of light and dark and the balance of the composition. Inside where the bones have come home to roost, familiar enough to be forgiven but too sharp to be forgotten, I will pass the time deconstructing angels.