Where did John Perceval get his ideas for the Angels? What is an angel anyway? Are they in all cultures?
Wikipedia informs us that angels are most usually described as Messengers of God, and tend to appear as humanoid with feathered wings, dating back to ancient Greek times. They appear in a range of western religions and can bring good tidings as well as warnings. John Perceval was not known as a religious person, though his father-in-law Merric Boyd was deeply into reading the Bible, and his brother-in-law, Arthur Boyd infused many of his own paintings with high, moral themes.
For Perceval, though, the Angels have a playful aspect that suggests fun and mystery, rather than preaching. They are a symbolic representation of the fusing of old European ways and the vital energy of contemporary Australia – neither gargoyle nor spirit they are like active children, making music and mischief. The latter Angels, however, explore the desolation of atomic war, and the last one he made, Medusa (1963), is an invitation to explore the notion of madness.
John Perceval made his Angels over a five year period, whilst pursuing other art forms, painting and drawing. He had previously hand-made a vast amount of ceramics and was a masterful thrower. He had ability in all his art forms to capture and convey the essence of an idea. You ‘get’ his work instantly, and then delve into it. There is a mystery at the heart of the Angel series. At first they seem like renditions of his children, and some are named for them, but there is a great depth to the work that places them in the top draw of Australian art.
Viewing this amazing exhibition of almost 40 Angels will be your chance to craft one of the great riddles of Australian art history – why did John Perceval make almost 100 different Angels?
Joe Pascoe, Acting Senior Curator
Shepparton Art Museum