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Saint Michael and the Archangels 

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Artist’s Notes 
I lived in London from 1976 through 1980.  While there I saw impressive public sculpture around the city.   Close to the British Museum, in the outdoor court of the British Transport Union, I came upon a powerful sculpture of a woman holding across her lap a dead man. It was an artist’s contemporary interpretation of the image of the Pieta.   . It was made by the sculptor, Sir Jacob Epstein (1880 – 1959) an émigré from Brooklyn, who worked chiefly in England.  He was knighted in 1954 for his strong work.

In 1977 I visited the City of Coventry.  This city had had been rebuilt after having suffered severe aerial bombing during World War II.  Many artists had commissions to work in different sections of the new Cathedral.  Sir Jacob Epstein was commissioned to create a work for the new Cathedral’s outside wall.  I marveled at his grand sculpture of Saint Michael the Archangel battling Satan.  The beauty of this monumental sculpture has stayed with me all these thirty years.

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 as humans in overcoming ignorance, hatred, violence and despair.  We see our struggles of life as universal and transcending the personal to 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 the Human Family today.  By our own 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.

The demons depicted in “St. Michael” are primeval; a brute force with heavy 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, the archangel 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 as well as many other ancient religious texts, traditions and legends. There are shrines and special sites around the world dedicated to St. Michael invoking his assistance and protection

In 1976-1980 during my sojourn in England I traveled to the continent visiting cathedrals and museums as I was moved to drawing some of the art work I observed.  I arrived back in Los Angeles in 1980 and began going through some ideas with my drawings, I found a rough sketch of St. Michael, decided to develop it and work it into a painting. The painting was a development of an idea, taking an icon like image and giving it more of my personal techniques. It became more elaborate with detailed drawings on all the figures. I used crayon sgraffito, multi-layered acrylic glazes, gold leaf, spattered paint on the clouds and pointillism techniques.

It was exhibited once at a The Small World Gallery in Venice, California. It was purchased by a family 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 re-drew one of the panels in the St. Michael painting and created a small three-colored plate etching.

In December of 2005 the master printer Jim Butterfield and I had some discussions about a collaboration to produce the next serigraph edition. My original plan was to retire and not print anymore. 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 whole process is to me. I still had the outline drawing 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 last printing of color #62 on August 26, 2006. It was an iridescent metallic gold ink.  With so many layers of colors using pointillist and stippling techniques created the effect of a multi-faceted mosaic.

Artist's Reflections:

Religious symbols have real power. They are like fire or water. 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. Given the state of our times I believe it would be of spiritual value for us to reflect upon the meaning Michael might have for our lives today.

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 as well as many other ancient 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; Jew, Christian and Muslim. Michael/Mika’il is claimed by all of us. “He is our champion. He fights for us.” Say the Christians. “He is our champion. He fights for us.” say the Jews. “He is our champion. He fights for us.” say the Muslims. We humans seem to be keeping Michael very busy these days fighting against himself. Maybe it would be better if we let Michael be Michael for all of us. In all 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 the battle Michael seeks to lead us in is a common struggle against disease, hunger and, yes, violence itself. And maybe Michael reminds us that every human being faces their own personal spiritual struggle in the depths of their souls.

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 as humans in overcoming ignorance, hatred, violence and despair. We see our struggles of life as universal and transcending the personal to 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 the human family today. By our own understanding we can grow in compassion and hope; for others and for ourselves.

In a letter to a friend who felt she was suffering from inner conflicts and contradictions Carl Jung wrote; “A life without inner contradictions is either only half a life or else a life in the beyond, which is destined only for angels. But God loves human beings more than angels.”

We live in a world of conflict and a world of conflict lives in us. We have this tendency to divide the world into angels and devils. 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 every child of God and let us be gentle with one another in the midst of the struggle.

As a child, knowing about angels gave me a sense of being loved and helped me through difficult times. I remember small holy cards with images of angels watching over children. I would keep one close to my bed. As I recall this image of my childhood I am moved to believe that if we look with the eyes of our hearts we will not see St. Michael watching over the world’s armies as they seek out enemies to kill, rather we will see this mighty angel watching over the world’s children as they seek out lives to live. Let us do so also.                                                

 

 

Image Documentation 

An original, hand-printed serigraph published by the artist with collaboration of

Aurora Serigraphic Studio, Van Nuys, CA.

Edition Size: 250

Completed:August, 31 2006 

Dimensions: Image: 30" x 20 1/8"
                
Paper: 36" x 25"

Paper: 100% cotton rag, acid free

Colors: 62 colors printed


Price:$800   
          


 


A Reflection

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”
.Edmund Burke
Irish orator, philosopher, & politician (1729 - 1797)

Copyright © 2017 John August Swanson