The style of artwork I make often falls under the general heading of realism, and this oil painting is a case-in-point of why I struggle with the term. First, here's a bit of background on the source of my angst. In the atelier system, students are devoted disciples of observation and "truth in nature." The approach models other empirical disciplines in that you look at nature, study and learn to transcribe it on your canvas, correct it where it is "wrong," base your judgments in the solid ground of careful observation, personal perception, and the body of knowledge of anatomy and traditional oilnpainting techniques.
Fallen Angel by Patricia Watwood, 2012, oil painting on linen, 30 x 30.
So, where does painting a person with wings on her back fit into this empirical model? Where exactly would the origin of the wing structure be, when emanating from the shoulder? What other six-limbed or winged creatures can I study in my attempt to construct my chimera? What color are angel wings anyway? You see my problem. I've been way too well educated to paint an angel…wings and all.
But, I did it anyway. All comments on the absurdity of the anatomy, the color choice of feathers, and the problems of proportion of wing to weight of flight body can be logged below in the comment section, and any objections will be politely ignored because, yes, I understand that the whole endeavor is ridiculous.
This is one of the problematic cul-de-sacs of image construction that our 19th-century realist forefathers, the "painters of modern life," drove us into. I haven't even started to break down the problems with our secular world view and theology. Let's save that for another time. But, clearly, there ain't no angels in "modern life."
Study for Fallen Angel by Patricia Watwood, 2012, red and
However, as we all know, these days in art, anything goes. I'm free to do just exactly what my little heart desires, and so one my explorations has been symbols and metaphors as a means of visual communication. Angels are not part of "real modern life," but they are perennially a part of the life of the imagination of our human culture and an incredibly compelling fantasy image that is centuries old.
Using symbols lets you play upon emotional chords that are not so readily accessed through the strictures of the literal visual world. Realism boxes you in pretty tightly, especially if you wish to make the nude figure your primary subject. Symbol and allegory allow you to explore a broader range of feeling and meaning-like hope, despair, and aspiration. When using symbols one can layer meaning and image.
My angel represents loss and bereavement–loss of spiritual belief, loss of promise, loss of meaning and beauty, and the loss of a message that is unheard or unheeded. So many of us have lived through great loss and tragedy in the past decade, and in the modern world we're all supposed to patch together our own philosophic structures that give meaning and consolation to these tragedies. This oil painting is about our inability to believe in angels in our secular and destructive age, and how I think we need angels now more than ever.