THE BITCOIN ANGEL
“Satire is a lesson; parody is a game” ~ Vladimir Nabokov
The Bitcoin Angel oil painting by Trevor Jones is a very striking example of a notable and recurring feature of modern and contemporary art. Right from the outset of modern art in the middle of the 19th century many avant-garde artists wished to create within their work, a dialectical tension between the inherited tradition of art history and the innovative agenda of Modernism. This was in order to set-up and expand a creative dialogue between the art of the past and theirs of present. For instance, we can find this eclectic strategy within the paintings of Manet, such as Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe and Olympia. In such early masterpieces of modern painting the “Father of Modern Art” wittily references Old Masters such as Raphael and Titian in order to discuss pictorially such issues as academic nudity and mundane nakedness, eternal beauty and passing fashion within a modern life milieu. Unfortunately, in these marvelous pictorial parodies, both the seriousness and humor of Manet’s intent were lost on his initial hostile public; but thankfully not on the swelling avant-garde movement that followed on from him.
By the time Cubism emerged at the beginning of the 20th-century the idea of parodying the academic conventions of the artistic tradition was built into the modernist creative strategy. In their radical assault on pictorial memetic illusionism Braque and Picasso for example, would often introduce surrogate text into their collaged still lives. For instance, they would frequently include the word “jou”(the French term for having fun) to express the concept of playfulness. This use of parody, often with much more vicious and subversive intent, was soon taken up by the Dadaists and Surrealists who used it as one of their main assaults on bourgeois culture and its conventions. This recurring strategy of parody in modern art has furthermore continued right through to our postmodern era, in the work of such artists as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichenstein and more recently with Jeff Koons - although now parody can easily come close to mere pastiche.
As can be seen from his work, Trevor Jones is certainly a highly educated painter who is well versed in the history of art. Evidence for this is found in the way his painting frequently engages with old and modern masters such as Picasso, and here with his The Bitcoin Angel, the 17th century Italian sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini. With his keen knowledge of, and deep respect for, his art historical sources, Jones never indulges in cheap pastiche, but, like Manet and Picasso before him, aims to stimulate a meaningful dialogue between the art of the past and our present historical situation.
Bernini’s The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa is a thought-provoking art historical source for an artist like Jones to visit and re-present for his contemporary audience. It is of course, one of Bernini’s most celebrated works and has become an iconic example of 17th century baroque art. Bernini was regarded and lauded as one of the most important propagandists for the Roman Catholic counter-reformation. As can be seen in most of his commissioned work for the Church and its ecclesiastical princes, Bernini’s spectacular art - whether in sculpture or architecture - invariably sets out to sweep up the spectator in a great wave of emotional drama and high theatricality.
Wisely, Jones does not overelaborate his intervention into Bernini’s masterpiece. Translating the three-dimensionality of the highly ornate sculptural installation into two-dimensional painting, Jones is obliged to reduce its scale to the size of his canvas and skillfully turn its free-standing figures and accompanying props into a single unified image. This he carries out with superb painterly skill, translating sculptural marble and metal into pictorial texture and pigment. The only major change that Jones makes to Bernini’s original concept is the placement of the Bitcoin logo over the sculptor’s backdrop of gilded rods.
Yet, while this does not greatly alter the compositional format of Bernini’s work, it does of course, radically change and challenge its religious character and ideological significance. Whereas Bernini wishes to elevate the lower terrestrial domain, as exemplified by the floating rock on which St Teresa lies, to the celestial sublime of the golden rays above her, Jones’ intervention reverses this mystical transcendence. Thus, in The Bitcoin Angel heavenly light is now provocatively turned into earthly gold.
Whereas pastiche rarely takes its subject, or even itself, very seriously, parody, on the other hand, is not only motivated by serious intentions, but is concerned to have a provocative impact on its intended audience. With The Bitcoin Angel Jones raises a controversial issue that has repeatedly plagued art over the centuries - the complex relationship between the artistic and the monetary, the aesthetic and the mercenary. Many, especially those of an aesthete's disposition, wish to see them kept well apart to avoid contamination. Unfortunately for those advocating this cultural apartheid, art and money have always been drawn to each other in one way or another - in fact, they do not seem to be able to exist without each other.
In The Bitcoin Angel Jones brings the spiritual and ethereal realm of Bernini’s Saint Teresa into the domain of the material and moneyed world of the 21st century. With his own particular response to Baudelaire’s injunction that modern art should be a meeting of the “eternal and the transitory”, Jones has produced a complex hybrid work of art in which the mystical and the mundane, the sacred and the profane, the historical and the contemporary, the sculptural and the pictorial - and to blur the Nabokovian distinction - satire and paradox are all brought together in a fascinating and thought-provoking encounter.
Without warning, the angel lunges with the arrow piercing it deep into her chest, releasing an excruciatingly sweet pain as Teresa’s head falls back with eyes closed in rapture. She opens her eyes momentarily, surprised to see bitcoin spill out from her as the arrow is withdrawn; however, Teresa is even more aware of the knowing smile appearing on the angel’s face and the intense heat radiating from her beating heart. The temporal being of St Teresa wishes this moment will never end but her spirit understands that there will be consequences.
View the animation with audio at the SuperRare marketplace here.
Demo video of the augmented reality feature below. The oil painting was created with this video July 2018 for my CryptoDisruption exhibition. I've since changed the AR experience to the original 1/1 NFT animation with music.
Saint Teresa of Ávila (1515 – 1582) described the scene in her autobiography, “In the angel’s hands I saw a great golden spear, and at the iron tip there appeared to be a point of fire. This he plunged into my heart several times ... and left me utterly consumed by the great love of God. The pain was so severe that it made me utter several moans. The sweetness caused by this intense pain is so extreme that one cannot possibly wish it to cease.”
Bernini used this masterful and undeniably erotic artwork as a springboard to a new and higher type of spiritual awakening. The work became a melding of sensual and spiritual pleasure, the heavenly and the earthly coming together. The piercing of Teresa’s heart becomes a point of contact between earth and heaven, matter and spirit. These uniquely powerful combinations are what I focussed on when creating the original painting, the accompanying AR video and now with this NFT animation.
This painting was inspired by the 2017 crypto bull run and the euphoria that was sweeping across the world as bitcoin quickly surged towards $20,000. I searched for a powerful image that could be reinterpreted to convey the high emotion and insatiableness of some crypto companies, ICOs, 'influencers' and over leveraged investors driving this delirium whilst heralding it under the guise of self-sovereignty, morality, and a Utopian prosperity. People’s lives were changing dramatically. Literally overnight, ‘dreams’ were coming true, money was being made faster (and lost faster) than could be imagined. There seemed to be no limit to the heights and greed that could be achieved.
In search for a symbol, I turned towards the highly ornate and extravagant Baroque period renowned for its ostentatious displays of wealth by the monarchs and decided on one of the greatest masterpieces of the 17th century, Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa. This symbol would be reworked and reimagined with oil paint, video and animation in an attempt to convey the original message of connection with a ‘higher power’, the search for the divine, but to also carry with it a message of caution and the need for responsibility. I aimed to capture that moment which Bernini first created – when the angel and St Teresa act out a scene of both pleasure and pain simultaneously, the ecstasy and the agony, but this time in front of a shining, golden bitcoin.
The Bitcoin Angel represents dreams, hope, and the desire to improve oneself, but it also acts as a warning to the greedy, self-absorbed and negligent that without caution and integrity, those ‘dreams’ can very quickly transform into something entirely different.