An unfamiliar angel at the James Freeman Gallery

The work of Liane Lang starts with a picturesque symbol of divine protection but then shows in a photograph a chapel with the same angelic figures being used as simple decorations - could it be hailing the image of the angel still, or has this image become downgraded from overuse?

That's an interesting place to start, for this exhibition does not seek to show the image of an angel we already know but rather look through many different perspectives. There are images of angels we have seen many times, and might not even stop to think of their meanings or importance - as Lang's photograph suggests. In this exhibition, there will be some images that are unfamiliar when talking of heavenly creatures, however, that is just the point.

The stereotypical image of the angel, known as a feathered winged creature, is based on the sculpture of Nike of Samothrace, which is currently displayed in the Louvre. James Freeman Gallery presents a collection of five contemporary artists, each one with their own artistic interpretation of angels.

Installation view of 'Angels'
Carolein Smit 'Fallen Angel'

If there is a 'good' by logic and reason there must also be a 'bad', and how easily those lines can blur or be crossed. Carolein Smit's sculptures take on the darker meaning of angels; her sculpture shows a golden angel crashing downwards, face-first, as it's skin cracks from fires within, perhaps a comment on Lucifer and his Biblical fall. This sculpture balances the idea of a grey area between good and evil, which becomes ever more muddier when considering human error and weakness.

But, it is the sculpture pictured below that captures something quite fleeting; the idea of perspective. A little skeleton with wings, clasping itself as it sits in a crown. This sculpture walks the line between innocence and guilt, power and abuse, life and death; an ancient queen with her symbols of divinity constructed for reputation. Historically royals have been known to claimed to be divine in order to keep power over the people.

However, Smit has described her sculptures as easy-to-love and one must agree - there is a fragility that begs mercy and understanding - it appears to be quite a favourite amongst the exhibition attendees.

Carolein Smit 'Angel'

Continuing further down the path of opposition we find... Demons. Iain Andrews' work looks at the stories of the Old Testament in a figurative swirl of paint - questioning the image the same as society questions beliefs. 'The Gerasenes' depicts a man on the edge of insanity; the moments between man and demonic possession. But there are deeper tales within this work of mental illness being treated, through history, as being controlled by the devil.

Andy Harper embraces the idea of elusion around angels and his abstract work has the image of angels hidden within his use of colours and mark-making. There is much left to the opinion and the perspective of the audience.

Iain Andrews 'The Gerasenes'

The exhibition holds so much reference towards religion, history and cultural imagery. The notion of angels has always been debated from the point of view of their appearance, however, feathers have become something of a physical identification we have formed with them. The exhibition has historical pieces for frame of reference, for there must be a starting point to interpret from. One is the display of pre-Colombian feather headdress', showing the importance of the feathers and the divine motifs outside of Western culture.

Installation view of 'Angels'

The most memorable and bold of the exhibition might be considered as Kate MccGwire's 'Liminal' a sculpture of goose feathers in a glass case. Interwoven they resemble what could be a DNA strand, showing a creature being made, close to human but the feathers give away a divine touch. Or, the symbol of infinity - the immortal creature. Finally, though, it could be the feathers intertwining as a snake, the snake a Biblical symbol of evil, showing the constant battle of good and evil, one can never be untangled from the other.

Kate MccGwire 'Liminal'
Installation view of 'Angels'

This exhibition is not just an exploration of angels, but of artistic skill, allowing many mediums and styles to carry the artist's opinions. It is a study of artistic technique and a joy to behold such creative talent.

Curating an exhibition can allow for such an expanse of creativity; setting a title and letting artists interpret it, or seeing an artist's existing works and finding a new interpretation for it within the exhibition. It's a flow between artist and gallery.

Open until the end of Saturday 21st December this exhibition has a Christmas connotation with a much deeper purpose and a big intellectual and artistic reward for those who delve into it.

Installation view of 'Angels'
Installation view of 'Angels'

James Freeman Gallery

354 Upper Street Islington London N1 0PD

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