I have a painting on display at the ADVENTurous exhibition at Leftbank in Leeds at the moment. It’s an amazing space, worth a visit in itself, and the show has some great artists involved.

The piece I’ve submitted is this painting of Gabriel I’ve been working on during my sabbatical:


I’m intrigued by the story of Gabriel’s visit to Mary: she’s a virgin and he tells her that she will become pregnant. In his retelling of the gospel stories “The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ” Phillip Pullman plays with the ambiguity of this moment. Is it two adolescents meeting for their first sexual experience or a visit from a spiritual being announcing a miraculous pregnancy?

I was pleased when the artist from the studio next to mine saw the painting I was working on and said “oh he looks like an angel” whereas other people have just seen a near naked guy. I hope there is an ambiguity in the image because I find a deeper truth in the tension between the two versions of the story rather than coming down on one side or the other. Although I can’t really improve on the comment from a little boy to his mum when he saw the painting on the opening night and said to her “Some angels wear pants and others just stay in the nude”.

More and more I am seeing the process of painting as an act of prayer and meditation, an exploration beyond words of deep truths. In this painting I see the (angelic) figure as beautiful and sensuous and it certainly felt like an intimate process to create the image. Whether we see the encounter with Gabriel as a first sexual experience or a miraculous visit from a heavenly being both versions of the story are beautiful and both have a life giving intimacy about them.

 As it happens I have another of my paintings on display in an advent exhibition at the Holy Biscuit in Newcastle. This one of Mary that I painted a few years ago:


I wonder if the two will ever meet.



3 thoughts on “Gabriel

  1. Mary is an interesting take on the conventioanl, traditonal Virgin Mary paintings. The title is more about a her being a young girl a.than enemphasis on her physical virginity, but then the whole virginity = pureness took over. I suspect because ‘purity’ symbolised ‘pureness , ie singelmindedness, of heart’ Gabriel is more of a problem: I’m not totally convinced about the trend for ‘ambiguity’ which mostly seems tobe (out there ina general way) concerned with finding the sexual in art (whether painting/books/p[lay/etc) where it was not found in earlier times. Because I suspect thisis our culutre which finds that sex underlies everything (Freud!!) and assumes that this will communicate. BUt the concept of angels is found througout the Bible, & you need to study where and how it is used (okay , Sarah might’ve had sex with Abraham’s visitors, but that doesn;t cover any other angels…) However, nice sensitive painting.

  2. Pingback: Sacred Stories of the Body | I ask for wonder

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