«Angels in Twilight», oil on canvas, 50 x 50 cm., 2021.
This painting features Ga’ga and Ifafi, the gay Angel couple who are protagonists in my sci-fi thriller “Tunnel at the End of Time”, co-written with Rick Davis and AzSacra ZaRathustra. They are named after two angelic guardians referenced in hechaloth lore, and they are guardian angels of the seventh heavenly hall.
Here I approach Fauvism as a genre, accenting simple and minimally-detailed figures with strong colors. The bright colors are meant to create an explosive background, as a balance to the less painterly figurative work. Fauvism was popular around the turn of the 20th century. Notable Fauvists (wild beasts) included the likes of André Derain, Henri Matisse, Raoul Dufy, Maurice de Vlaminck, and Robert Antoine Pinchon. My approach is less abstract than theirs but still within the continuum of Abstract – Semirealistic.
In this painting, I pose several questions. Angels are often depicted as idealized “superhumans”. Some consider angels to be alien life forms, which are able to assume human visual characteristics and language when they reveal themselves in encounters with humans. The Old Masters often painted angels as beautiful “supermodels”, with features surpassing those of most people. Here I have purposely downplayed the angels’ human features, making them recognizable as humanoids — but somewhat anonymous, with a minimum of detail, and somewhat primitive, primal, and non-descript; yet with infusions of bright colors and light in the background and wings — a bit reminiscent of Matisse’s painting “La Danse”. Yet they are recognizable as angels because of their wings. It is the wings that are the most beautiful and wondrous features of these angels — and it is perhaps the wings that give angels a mystical/magical quality. Most of us would love to be able to soar in the skies. Many ask about the logic of angels having arms, pointing out that birds have wings and legs, but do not need arms. What do angels really look like when not presenting themselves to humans? Do angels have human sexual organs and do they practice sex … and if so, then how? Are all angels white in skin color, or do they have then own diversity? Angels are often depicted as sword warriors, but here I have updated the concept by changing the swords to lasers. Is it logical to think or assume that modern angels still use swords? Are the lasers weapons, or are they magical wands/spiritual tools? Do angels or aliens duel with one another, or train and practice together; and if not, then why not? In this painting one function of the angels’ arms is made self-evident — to hold and manipulate the lasers. We make of angels as we will, but angels have a reality of their own — independent of human expectations, ideas, and perceptions of them. Or do we simply stop painting Angels and other mythological creatures, and exclaim as the Realist Gustave Courbet: “Show me an angel and I’ll paint an angel!” …?
Of course, I am challenging many age-old Old Testament presumptions. I also do not ascribe to Good vs Evil. That is, to me, too simplistic. I believe that the only Devil/Demon that exists is a personification of our own personal characteristics and value systems. I also see angels more as aliens — just as non-Earth beings see humans as aliens. Even in old religious texts not all angels are “Good”. Lucifer and many others were Fallen Angels. But yet we are also assured that God loves and embraces all of His Creatures. Perhaps that is the learning here for humanity: to accept and embrace the diversity of God’s creatures, no matter how different they/we may look or behave. Are humans capable of seeing other humans or other creatures through an unbiased lens?
As regards Matisse and Fauvism, Fauvism is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea today, after so many Art genre developments since that time. It is by many probably considered to be in a grey zone genre-wise. But in his time Matisse was searching for new forms of expression — as were Picasso, Munch, and many others. My own attempt at Fauvism was inspired by a desire to modernize or reinterpret the style of Matisse’s La Danse and La Musique, which I personally find lacking in vibrancy and overall cohesion from a contemporary perspective. That being said, and out of great respect for artists who pursued / pursue greater degrees of two-dimensionality and flatness in their painting style experimentations, adhering to the characteristic flat and non-detailed 2D style in figurative artworks is, for me, as challenging as it must have been / be for them; as I too have been conditioned by innumerable genres that feel more natural to me. It probably required courage for artists of their time to go so radically against the tide. The Impressionists were also experimenting with non-definition, but more as a blurred effect. Their works are perhaps generally more “feel good” paintings, whereas Matisse and Picasso aimed towards questioning both perceptions of seeing and judgments of Beauty, and the need to make “pretty” and non-controversial paintings. Some of Picasso’s less famous works in art museums have (to me) a seeming shoddiness about them, but it is quite possible that this was indeed intentional. This as a reaction to the centuries-long obsessions of artists with the achievement of perfect alignments, perfect figurative proportions, “comfortable on the eye” color transitions, attempts at perfecting three-dimensional renderings, and overall harmony of the classical style. This resistance is perhaps for some Realism fans particularly annoying in Matisse’s and Picasso’s figurative works, more so than in their still life and abstract landscape paintings. We seem to have an unstated rule of perception and human identification which requires a classical recognition in portraiture, as well as personal vanity as regards portraits of ourselves. Another question is whether or not to paint in 2- or 3-dimension (or in-between). I tend to go a bit further towards 3D than Matisse and Picasso, but well shy of that of classical realists. Painting requires constant decision making, the mental exercises involved are substantial. It is indeed that decision making and problem-solving which I find most exciting in painting. It affords me much learning. Thus, I experiment with all these questions and genres from painting to painting.
Fauvism is today seen as a transitional genre, leading to Abstract Art. It was one of many such transitions at the time as eg. Malevich etc. My own problem with figurative Fauvism is that the flatness and bright abstract brushstrokes do not — for me — create enough overall unity and cohesion in some of the paintings from this period; and I prefer Derain’s Fauvism to that of Matisse. But I understand and empathize with “the Wild Beast” Matisse, Picasso, Bacon, etc. in their desire to do something extreme as a break from “niceness” and pleasantries, but without the sleek industrial look afforded by many of today’s famous living artists — which is often more abstract intellectual, soul-less, and mundane … be it hyper-realism in paintings or installation artworks. There is still much more to explore in the zone between classical realism and abstraction. It is a question of degree and overall cohesion, which results in a sense of the recognizable, but which still affords a good degree of subjective freedom for both Artist and Viewer.
The joy of this exploration can perhaps be best described with the quote by Henri de Régnier: “le plaisir délicieux et toujours nouveau d’une occupation inutile” …
Just my opinion, of course.
Read “The tunnel at the end of time” here:
Read excerpts from my book “2014: the life and adventures of an incarnaged angel” here: https://adam-donaldson-powell.blog/2015/11/20/2014-the-life-and-adventures-of-an-incarnated-angel-excerpts/