The Story of "The Angel"
by Amy Stein
In October 1990, I was working on a deadline, the completion of a final painting for the opening of my art show on October 13 at the Olson Gallery in Santa Fe. I was experiencing intense stress and anxiety as I began the painting. I was not happy with the quality of the art for the show and needed this painting to be more powerful. I felt that I had one shot at it, no second chance because the opening was three days away. I started painting with my usual materials, gouache (watercolor) and watercolor paper to create a portrait of an Indian woman who probably lived in the early 1900's. The haunting photograph showed an intense and sad young Apache woman.
Somehow it was not going right. The application of the paint seemed too thick, muddy in places. I felt for an instant both hopeless and frustrated. Should I throw it out? Start again? There was no time. I kept on working. I briefly sketched in the oval shapes to the left and right of her head which were to be her grandparents behind her. I tried not to think, just kept working on her face. Suddenly it seemed that this woman's face jumped off the paper, came alive and confronted me.
It is not uncommon for me to experience, as a portrait painter, this moment when paint becomes transformed into an alive presence, a consciousness which confronts the artist, but this was somehow different. I experienced this moment as a "jolt" of recognition, a "shock." It is an interesting feeling to have something you've painted suddenly confront you. Her expression was one of incredible love, compassion, tenderness, with an amused half smile. I was caught off-guard and I remember kind of gasping and moving backward suspended in time somewhere.
I moved toward the painting again, brush still in hand to fill in the faces of the grandparents behind the Indian women. It was as if she looked directly at me and spoke these words. "Those are not my grandparents, those are my wings. I am an angel. We love you, everything is all right. Put down your brush, it is finished." I remember dropping my brush on the floor, my eyes welling up with tears, the painting was finished. I never signed it.
The painting was framed, called "The Presence," and hung at the Olson Gallery for the opening. In the weeks and months that followed, people started calling it "The Angel," the angel with the Mona Lisa smile. Two weeks after I painted it I tried to understand what was so unique about this image. I realized that there were two distinct sides of her face that were apparently unrelated, but integrated. A light side that was smiling and a dark side that has an expression of intense sadness and tragedy. The woman unflinchingly confronts the viewer. I realized what an angel was, a soul who had experienced tragedy and sadness but continued to love. I feel in this painting, I healed and integrated different parts of my personality with love and compassion. This angel continues to be a nourishing and healing image to me and others.
Amy just painted a series of three angels, so it would be a good idea to get on her mailing list to be informed of what she will do with the paintings cards, prints, etc.
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Amy will be glad to personalize this print to you or to a friend.