Angel

"Can several angels be in the same place?" – Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica

You’re expected to look at works in galleries as though they dropped from heaven.  It’s a kind of secular religiosity, it seems to me. – Robert Smithson

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"Michael the Archangel Defeating Satan," Guido Reni

1635, oil on canvas, 202 x 293 cm​

Santa Maria della Concezione de Cappuccini, Rome, Italy

In my penultimate year as a graduate student at the University of Houston in the spring semester of 1983, one of the classes I took was called “Seminar.” Two Seminar courses were offered that semester. I signed up under the one that was listed to be taught by the artist Derek Boshier with whom I was friendly, rather than the other one which was to be taught by Gail Stack, with whom I was not. For whatever reason Derek and Gail decided to combine the two classes and teach them together making it one single and rather large class instead of two smaller ones. I don’t remember the exact number but it was about 20-25 people in the class. It consisted of graduate students majoring in painting, sculpture and printmaking. 

 

The courses called “Seminar” were open and free-form. By the time people were in their second year in grad school they were immersed in their own work and were well past any necessity of receiving assigned projects. I certainly was. However, for this class Derek and Gail assigned a final project after all. But rather than choosing one themselves, this final project would be one created by the class. I was dismayed by this and thought it a bad idea and said so. I was told that I must comply.

 

In those days in the early 1980's, expressionistic, emotive painting with personal and mysterious spiritual themes were prevalent  throughout the art world. The neo-expressionism craze was in full force as exemplified by the likes of Schnabel, Fischl, Salle, and the Germans Baselitz, Keifer, and Immendorf to name a few. This fad unfortunately infected UH too. As evidence of this, the class came up with the idea of each of us doing a piece about angels. I thought it was a stupid idea and a juvenile theme. I objected and argued forcefully against it. I was voted down. 

 

At that time I was doing work with computers making conceptual drawings including ones of the human figure scaled to enormous dimensions and also shrunk to microscopic size. I went to the library and researched images of paintings of angels. I copied a reproduction of a painting of St. Michael the Archangel by Guido Reni and digitized it into the computer. I then reduced it to 1/millionth its original size and printed it. The computer recognized and listed the coordinates of this tiny image, but when it printed it, the point of the printer stylus remained stationary in the same location continuously pecking in the same spot creating a darkened period-size mark. I carefully cut this out and glued it to the head of a pin thereby demonstrating in a tangible way about how many angels can fit on the head of a pin. This was my submission to the class project.

 

The response was unenthusiastic by many of my fellow classmates, and especially so by Gail Stack who derided it for being a sarcastic criticism of the project, which of course, it was. A few friends, however, thought differently, recognizing within it a similar poetic spirit as that of Rauschenberg's "Erased DeKooning." I received an A- for the course. 

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"Angel On The Head Of A Pin," 1983, computer printout (ink) on paper glued to metal pin, one inch

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February 2, 2019