Branded Angels

I’m often asked: “Why does an atheist choose to paint angels?” I’m not fully sure. This is a very unique series for me, and is more about questions rather than answers. I have become aware that modernism as a “faith” is just as outdated as religion and representational art are supposed to be. This series is a chance to reassess how I feel about the contemporary art world, myself included, along with that which has long ago been left behind. I want to approach these ideas in earnest; not criticize but to understand. In this postmodern world where anything can be art, I want to remove my preconceptions and see what these earlier traditions may still have to offer today.

I’ve always been intrigued by religious thoughts, traditions, and old master religious art. Renaissance art had a sense of awe. But was this awe inherent in the religion, or in the art? And what issues bring out more passion in people than that of religion? What exactly is the religious experience? I’ve always thought angels, and their depictions, have a deep, universal quality I find fascinating. They inhabit – and even precede – most religions, and exist in modern notions of ancient astronauts. With these questions and observations in mind, I decided that angels would be a great thing to hang my drawing and painting on.

I love paper and obscuring the borders between drawing and painting. In this series “Branded Angels” I’ve incorporated custom-made “branding irons” to literally burn the chosen biblical texts into the paper. The idea to brand these works came to me in a dream. Even though I have often worked with words and text, and have always tried to find a way to make them integral to the work, subtly exploring formal aspects of the paper as well as notions of defacement, ownership (even advertising). It was not an easy decision to burn and deface a painting after spending so much time creating it. It was a “leap of faith” if you will.

The soul searching has begun in earnest with no end goal, just thoughts about art, religion, paint and materials. I will search for my answers, not in preconceived ideas about what art should be, but by working and looking at the work with a fresh set of questions: Is my path rational and my own? Or am I a medium, guided by divine unknown forces… an angel unaware? I believe in the rational, yet within my art making there exists something else. It is okay to let go, to have faith in the process and power of art, whatever its unexpected form.

John Sousa