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Angels Cloaked In Layers of Humanity

LOS ANGELES-based sculptor Ron Pippin has been receiving a great deal of attention around these parts for his unusual and moving sculptures of winged figures. His ``angels,'' as Pippin calls them, stand beside or sit astride animals like deer, antelope, or bighorn sheep made from foam and executed in not quite life-size. The animals, wide-eyed and innocent, are crafted with the faultless realism of a taxidermist's specimens. The winged angels all bear the same small porcelain, doll-like face that Pippin borrowed from a Victorian statue of Cleopatra, then reproduced for use in these eerily beautiful works. The delicate faces with their fragile features and upturned, supplicating eyes are framed and draped in layers of cloth, carefully arranged to suggest - all at once - the costumes of medieval pilgrims and nuns bearing face armors and bandaging for the wounded.

The androgynous bodies and clothing of the figures, each one elaborate and unique, are constructed from stuffed, sewn, massed, and flowing fabrics. Fine silks, laces, and tattered, stained rags are held together with thread, silver twine, bits of cloth, jewels, and feathers. The dime-store bric-a-brac-like chains, bells, prayer beads, small alchemical bottles, crucifixes, and weaponry that hang from the eccentric costumes take on the appearance of sacred talismans.

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Though these angels have the first-glance look of antique dolls, they pull you in magnetically. At once you realize that Pippin has worked out every detail, every nuance of dress and posture, every strange association through which he leads the viewer with a formal and intuitive strength that can only be called very fine art.

Pippin's figures strike us as saints and sinners, warriors and peacemakers. The power of the works is just that - as otherworldly as these creatures are, we easily find ourselves in them - the timeless collective of humanity, past and present, frail and resilient. In the context of so much cynical, smug, and mediocre art today, Pippin's figures are like looking at the sun directly for a moment, so intense and unfiltered is their emotional punch.

Ron Pippin is an articulate, well-schooled, and serious professional who has been an artist for nearly two decades. He speaks in carefully selected phrases with careful reasoning. After many years of spiritual soul-searching he seems to know who he is as an artist and a person.

The inspiration behind the work only adds to its intrigue. ``I began making these figures about three years ago,'' Pippin says. ``They came to me in a dream. There was a door and when it opened there was a tremendous bright light and these figures were lined up behind it.

``I knew it was a professional risk to put out such strong, strange work, but I knew I had to create them. I also knew that they needed to express a quality of struggle; a feeling of falling down and getting up again, of traveling a long distance, accumulating layers of knowledge along the way and sometimes losing your direction. I knew they had to express innocence and fragility - that's what the animals refer to - and the dignity and courage we all demonstrate in just carrying on. We are all saints an d martyrs in a way, just to be able to get through a day. The angels represent the grace of survival.''

This series showcases artists at work. Each essay is succinct, introductory, and captures art in motion before labels are applied.

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