STORIES - Angels
The first angel to figure in my life was when, as a young boy, I received "Confirmation" in the Catholic church, a ritual to confirm acceptance of and participation in the Church and from then participate in the taking of bread and wine, the communion ritual during Mass. As a part of confirmation I was given the additional name of Michael, as in "the Archangel ", to guide and protect my religious life. Not sure why, out of all the Saints, Archangel Michael was picked, nor, apart from not participating in any of religious activities since I left home in my teens, until now, some 65 years later, have I pondered whether this had any effect or influence over my life. But consider the 4 roles attributed to St. Michael the Archangel :
First is the leader of the Army of God in their triumph over the powers of hell, the model for the virtues of the spiritual, with the conflict against evil viewed as the battle within.
Secondly Michael is the Angel of death, he descends at the hour of death, giving the chance of redemption before carrying the (redeemed) soul to Heaven.
The third role, closely aligned to the 2nd, is weighing the soul, good verses bad, in perfectly balanced scales.
The fourth role is that of guardian of the church, and thus revered by Military orders of Knights.
So, at a quick glance, the above art work could easily be seen to embody some elements of Michael, but that is wrong, as I had not even thought of my confirmation named life guide and protector until today, as I started writing this story, though it could be put down to the unconscious influencing my work.
In fact the art was developed in the direct aftermath of reading a poem by Wilfred Owen (b.1893 d. 1918), The Parable of the Old Man and the Young
So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
and builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.
Even after numerous readings, still the eyes tear and my throat tightens, on scanning the last two lines. Creating Ignoring the Angel was my way of dealing with the rage against the politicians, church leaders and other "Öld Men" who are still so cavalier about the machinery of war and with the lives of the young.
The Black Anzac, a poem by Cecil Fisher (b.1933 d.2000), came to my attention at about the same time and contributed sadness, and shame, to the final art work. The first lines of "The Black Anzac" read :
They have forgotten him, need him no more
He who fought for his land in nearly every war
An Angel addendum: In Philip Hoare's Rising Tide Falling Star, a story telling odyssey meandering its way via the suburbs to the unknown, encountering artists, writers, performers, heroes and utopians, accompanied by whales, birds and seals, and all enchanted, despairing or linked by the sea (paraphrased from the jacket), the chapter "Under a Green Sea" is the story of Wilfred Owen and his love of the sea and swimming, his poetry, his love of art and his death while leading his troops in crossing the Sambre-Oise Canal in the last year of World War 1.
At one point during the war, he determined, but failed, to join the Royal Flying Corps. " 'By Hermes I shall fly.' He told his Mother, turning himself into a young god. 'I will yet swoop over Wrekin with the strength of a thousand eagles.... the pinion of Hermes, who is called Mercury, upon my cap. Then I will publish my ode on the Swift. If I fall, I shall fall mightly. I shall be with Perseus and Icarus, whom I loved; not with Fritz, whom I do not hate.' Wilfred was thinking of his favourite painting, Lament for Icarus by Herbert James Draper, which was on display in the Tate Gallery, on the banks of the Thames. "
Somehow there is a harmony in this co-incidence, a connection, between "Ignoring the Angel", Owen and his love for a painting of the death of a winged youth.