My oil painting series, Michelangelo: Reflecting Today addresses the state of our disconnected world through fancifully juxtaposing Michelangelo’s frescoed figures against various threatened wild animals. My primary theme integrates his scenes from the Sistine Chapel ceiling with various wild animals to express my homage to his supreme artistry and my concern for vulnerable and vanishing species. Michelangelo’ s exquisite figures of Prophets of the Old Testament and Sibyls (female prophets) of the Classical World inspire me in their vibrantly colored drapery, athletic physiques, and dynamic gestures.

I have felt an affinity for Michelangelo’s masterpieces throughout my career, and my recent thrilling trips to Italy and the Vatican Museum have deepened my immersive study of his paintings and my passion for exploring a virtual dialog with him in my own work. My appreciation of both the formal qualities and the evocative imagery of these prophetic figures leads me to intuitive reflections and contrasts between them and the forms of animals. This grows out of my previous series of oil paintings that melded dynamic depictions of animals with dancers and (later) with abstraction, generally emphasizing psychological themes and apprehension for the fate of animal species.

My selection of the animal hinges on semi-conscious resonances in painterly qualities, such as form, color, texture, or expression, and in an imaginative narrative that occurs spontaneously to me. Consequently, I view these prophets in my compositions as warning of animals in peril and threats to the earth. In Gaia, the prophetess warns particularly of extreme weather patterns and fires from global warming. I mostly paint endangered species—for example, the Ring-Tailed Lemur—and other animals whose populations are struggling from loss of habitat and poaching—for example, Brown-throated Sloths. Occasionally, I paint an animal, like the Trumpeter Swan, with an increasing or stable population, as a symbol of healing and hope. My devotion to wild animals evolved from an early age, observing animal behavior with my field-biologist parents and caring for transitory pets, such as owls and penguins. In each painting, human to animal interaction may occur, often with a graceful expression of compassion, or they remain in abstruse proximity; some prophets offer protection.

As my study of Michelangelo continues to evolve, I extend my focus to Michelangelo’s Mannerist figures from the wall of The Last Judgement, which Michelangelo executed twenty-five years after the Sistine’s ceiling of the High Renaissance period. I quote figures of The Last Judgement, many resurrected from the dead on their way to heaven or to hell, to express heart-wrenching themes of today. In Avarice, St. Bartholomew carries an orangutan almost starved to death from habitat loss due to palm oil crops in Malaysia. Facepalm echoes a gesture of Dr. Fauci at a press conference earlier in 2020 and the horror of our emotionally distressed reactions to these surreal and tragic times of the coronavirus pandemic. My painting Fires expresses my distress and sorrow at the unprecedented Australian bushfires in which more than a billion animals perished, including tens of thousands of koala bears and kangaroos. Upheaval evokes the chaos and the uprooting of established norms by the Trump administration, the turmoil of systemic racism, and the many other disturbing events of 2020. In Me Too, where a man with horns carries off a woman over his shoulders, I reflect on the Epstein scandal and the Me-Too Movement. Each painting includes images of wild animals in peril. I hope that viewers will savor the pageantry of Michelangelo’s colorful figures of 500 years ago, appreciate their juxtaposition with images of endangered species, and ponder the state of our world and its ecology.

Copyright © 2021 Kate A Sladen