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November 21, 2013

Suddenly a chariot of fire appeared, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.  (II Kings 2:11)

This single Biblical verse elicits multiple images as well as auditory memories. I can hear the theme music from the motion picture “Chariots of Fire.” The film recounts the remarkable story of an athlete in the 1924 Olympics: Eric Liddell, a devout Scottish Christian.

I can also hear the tune and the words to an old spiritual.

Swing low, sweet chariot,

Comin’ for to carry me home;

Swing low, sweet chariot,

Comin’ for to carry me home.

I looked over Jordan,

And what did I see,

Comin’ for to carry me home,

A band of angels comin’ after me,

Comin’ for to carry me home.

Today the scripture calls to mind an art show and reception tonight at the Bijou Gallery from 6:00 – 10:30. Entitled Swing Low, the show features a new collection of Guardians created by our son Kris Neely.

When I first saw these new assemblages, as Kris calls them, I thought of a different kind of angel. According to the Book of Revelation there are seven special angels before the throne of God. These should not be confused with the seven Spanish angels in Willie Nelson’s song. Rather according to traditional Jewish and Christian theology these are better known as the seven named Archangels.

1.         Michael (like God) – warrior angel of protection

2.         Gabriel (strength of God) – messenger angel of kindness

3.         Uriel (God is light) – angel of light and destiny

4.         Raphael (God heals) – angel of healing

5.         Raguel (friend of God) – angel of justice

6.         Sariel (commander of God) – angel of guidance

7.         Remiel (God of mercy) – angel of mercy and hope

When I stand before these multilayered constructs the Archangels come to mind.

Our son Scott Neely, Kris’ older brother and an accomplished artist in his own right, reviewed the show on his Web site

“Kris Neely‘s new guardians fly. They shouldn’t, cobbled out of rough-sawn plywood, riddled with screws, and colored with graffiti by hands other than his own. These angels should fall.

“But they rise. Defying their materiality–heavy, scarred by splinters, hammered–Neely’s new guardians at the Bijou Gallery in downtown Spartanburg, SC elevate themselves and those who stand before them. He has appropriately titled his show “Swing Low”: his pictures, so like our own physical selves they should drag, wait instead to lift us up.

“Neely, who serves as Assistant Professor and Coordinator for Studio Art at Wofford College, has painted over 10,000 angels in his guardian series. Drawing on aesthetic and spiritual connections to outsider art, American folk art, and Christian icons, the vast number of these images present on two-dimensional surfaces, usually single slats of found wood or narrow canvases. Neely understands the repetitive act of creating these paintings over more than a decade as a spiritual discipline. Many have found comfort in their straightforward simplicity.

“His new work opens in new dimensions. Breaking from a single plane, Neely offers multi-layered assemblages in guardian form. These pictures, while retaining all the disarming directness of his original imagery, seem to fly through the complex movement of shadow and color. Their component parts turn, intersect, break from one another. The sculptural quality of the new series recalls the elegant rawness of Richard Tuttle.

“It has taken stamina and courage for Neely to sustain the production of so large and consistent a body of work over so many years–stamina for the sheer volume of work created, and courage because his work often defies expectations of sophistication in professional art. The sincerity of his spiritual vision may explain his persistence on both counts. These new guardians provide a startling new direction in his ideas and craft, without losing the heart of his original endeavor: art that cares for those who experience it.”

I invite you to visit the Bijou Gallery tonight for the art exhibit and the reception, The show is presented by Carri Bass Photography. It is located at 147 E. Main Street (Across from Smith Drug Store) Downtown Spartanburg, SC.  Kris’ art will be on display until December 3, 2013. If you can’t make it during Art Walk tonight, plan to stop by the Bijou Gallery during A Dickens of a Christmas. I can’t promise any fiery chariots, but I can assure you there will be a band of angels on hand.

By the way, today is Kris’ birthday.

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