My work investigates what power means to modern-day societies, and more specifically, in America. At age nine, I was introduced to the concept of religion, and have since been intrigued by worship and sainthood. In 2010, I studied with a local Russian Orthodox icon painter to continue my investigation of holy subjects. I am intrigued by the materialism amongst churches, and how that ornamentation is reflected in today’s ideals.
My recent body of work, titled “All Hail,” adorns contemporary celebrities whom are glorified and controversial. The series includes Obama, Lady Gaga, Steve Jobs, Justin Beiber, Amy Winehouse, and Lil Wayne portrayed in a light that idealizes each person’s fame and stature. The pieces are photo-realistically rendered in a Christian icon stylistic method, with glowing 24 karat gold halos. They wear crowns and “bling” made of excessive sugar detailing and extravagant rhinestones. Their clothing is constructed of carefully stained veneer, and their hair is made of preserved moss to resemble the kitsch of the American Chia Pet icon. My use of natural materials is reflective of today’s Go Green trend. In my series titled, “Green is the New Bling”, I embellish appropriated material items with natural ornamentation.
These popular icons are chosen based on their level of idolization in current American culture, whether their fame be positive or negative. Ultimately, they serve as candidates up for panel discussion, and speak of the boundaries, fine lines and blurred categories between sacred religion and pop culture. This has lead me to further investigate the historical processes of canonization, and what qualifies one as a “saint.” —Angie Crabtree
Pablo de Pinho: How did you start making icon drawings?
Angie Crabtree: I had a friend growing up whose dad was a priest at a Russian Orthodox church near my house. His mom was an icon painter as well. The inside of the church was covered in beautiful frescoes, and that’s where my fascination of holy saints and icons began.
Was gold leaf something you took from traditional icon paintings?
Yes. Last year, I got in touch with my friend’s mother who paints icons, and studied with her for a short time. Once she taught me the basics of icons, I began experimenting with 24 karat gold leaf so I could put halos on all of my own icons.
How did you get the idea for using moss and mixed media in combination with your graphite drawings?
I like the idea of giving my icons “bling” made from natural materials because it reflects the Go Green trend that’s happening right now. Their crowns, teeth, and jewelry are made of sugar and rhinestones, and their clothing is made of wood stained veneer. Their hair is made of preserved moss to resemble the kitsch of the American Chia Pet icon.
What other artists inspired you to use graphite as your main medium?
Aurel Schmidt is a favorite of mine.
Your work is very realistic. How long have you been drawing realistic portraits?
I’ve always been fascinated by portraits, specifically celebrity portraiture. By the time I was 8, I was drawing the Backstreet Boys in hopes that I could get them to see and respond via snail mail — needless to say, I was pretty disappointed when that turned out to be a fail.
What is the meaning/purpose behind making celebrity icons?
My icons are chosen based on their level of idolization in current American culture, whether their fame be positive or negative. Ultimately, the pieces serve as candidates up for panel discussion.
How long have you been in San Francisco, and has that been an influence to the kind of work you produce? What is the best thing about the city?
I grew up in the Northbay, and have been in the city for 6 years now. Graduating from SFAI has probably been my biggest influence — that, and going to school on exchange in Amsterdam. My favorite thing about the city is its cool people and cuddy spots.