Apocalyptic Fears: Executing Peace by Katherine McDaniel

How do we deal with things that scare and anger us? Art can help us work through fear toward hope.

My newest painting came about while I was meditating on fear. I wanted to know what my mind would put on the canvas if I thought about things that scare me and visualized the colors of terror. The result is The Execution of Peace, hued not only in the expected oppressive greys and blacks, but in bright oranges, pinks, purples, blues, reds and whites. This piece explores the sharper side of fear, especially those horrors which become active and aggressive. At the end of the process I found that I had obliterated any traces of green, which for me connotes growth. So, what is going on in this busy picture?

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The Execution of Peace, © Katherine McDaniel, 2014


There are three zones present: earth, a blasted heath that looks ill and charred; sky, which is blue but teeming with yellow and purple “clouds” and pollution; and a celestial region above the sky which features a storm cloud and an enormous, bloated sun. The two levels of sky are separated by a red stripe spotted with many colors, an umbilical cord which symbolizes life and its continuation.

The action of the piece is taking place in the regions above earth. The sun has grown to enormous size and deepened into orange, suggesting something apocalyptic. The upper atmosphere has taken on the hue of the dying sun, but the left hand corner contains a dense storm, from which emanate three bolts of lightning. There is a dove, with a distinct halo, standing protectively on the umbilical cord. His halo is echoed by a similar nimbus around the sun. Both seem to be barely holding off the onslaught of the stormy darkness.

photoFor me, the dove, associated with peace by many traditions, is here a Christ figure, with arms outstretched in the manner of the crucifixion. Depending on your beliefs and heritage, you might prefer to associate it with the dying savior archetype, or just the concept of sacrifice in general. Regardless, the dove is being blown apart–if you look closely you can see what looks like fire or blood streaming from his body–yet he holds his position while the lightning force is directed into him.  Shock waves ripple through the upper atmosphere.

One lightning bolt is stopped by the bird’s flesh, while the other two cross each other on their way into the lower sky, where they connect with two red robed figures on pedestals. My husband took them for monks of some sort, and perhaps they are, but they are of a twisted and bitter variety. Red is a symbol for blood, and these figures are covered in it. They both contain a stripe of yellow down the center of their bodies which mirrors the lightning itself. The same energy is also disseminated throughout the surrounding air. Yellow is the color of aggression in this particular painting. In contrast, the purplish clouds seem related to the umbilical cord, as if life was floating free from its source. That’s a source for hope, I think.photo 2

photo 3At this point I find it impossible to judge whether the lightning strikes are feeding the red figures with the energy of the raincloud or whether the rage of the red figures is feeding the ominous storm. It’s probably both.



photo 4The two red figures face each other at a distance, proudly erect, while a third figure lies between them, bowed and sliding down the face of a cliff. This shape didn’t have a face and hands until paint was removed by mistake during an accident in varnishing. I left it that way because to me, it now looks rather like Mother Mary or some facet of the grieving mother archetype. Can you see her hands raised to her face in weeping? I see this mother as wounded and dying, her body pierced by  aggression that lies like yellow arrows embedded in her bloodied body (thus the red and yellow on her front side). Does she protect the body of a child there as well?

Below this battle, there lies a group of peach colored folk who appear to be observing the scene, almost like tourists. The first two on the left appear to be running, followed by a man wearing a cloak that billows in the wind, and a well dressed lady, standing with two children behind her. I wonder how they understand the situation above them… are they being compromised? I think they are. Take a look at the blood on the man’s heel. I don’t know if it is his own or that of another. All of these folks have the yellow fog of aggression about their eyes. To me, they represent the civilized and comfortable of the world, who, whether they acknowledge it or not, will be impacted by the slaughter of others and the shattering death of peace itself. The resulting cataclysm is as deadly as a sun gone supernova. I belong to this tribe and you probably do, too. How do we stand against the injustice around us?

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Humankind’s aggression threatens reality and the continuation of life itself. The sacrifice of life represented by the dying savior and lived out by children, men and women everyday is required not to appease some wrath of God, but because human beings will it to be so.

As always, I invite you to tell me what you see. We don’t always understand the visions we are given and we certainly can’t control what they mean to others.



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