Deconstructing St. Sebastian is based on the story of the third century saint and martyr. Ledged has it that St. Sebastian was persecuted by the Roman Emperor Diocletian for advancing Christianity. Displeased by his actions, Diocletian ordered his archers to shoot Sebastian. He was struck by the arrows and left for dead (by one account he was, “as full of arrows as an urchin is full of pricks”), however Sebastian had a miraculous recovery and did not die – only to be later beaten to death for the same offence.
St Sebastian is a frequent subject in both traditional art and pop culture. Images of the saint range from stoic to horrific. The idea for this sculpture came from a group of archery trophies in the corner of my daughters’ room. Something about the assembled group of archers reminded me of the ledged. Sebastian is the patron saint of athletes, especially archers (ironically, if had the archers been better shots, there would have been no need to kill him again).
The layout of this piece is based on the golden mean. The archers arranged in a semi-circle at one end and Sebastian stands stoically at the other end in counterpoint to the arc of archers at the opposite side. The base is made of highly varnished cherry, which provides an interesting interplay of reflections and shadows. The corners of the base are dovetailed together – a link to my past with Shaker furniture making.
Why deconstruction? Every other depiction that I have seen shows only Sebastian. In this piece, the entire tableau is presented, allowing the event to be viewed from different perspectives. Although constructed primarily of trophy figurines, it is instantly recognizable as St. Sebastian to those familiar with the ledged.
The archetype of the hero with miraculous healing abilities is pretty pervasive in our collective mythologies. It might just as well be Wolverine (X-Men) or John Locke (Lost), who both share the same healing abilities and occupy similar niches.
It seems that we keep reinventing pantheons, from classical deities, to medieval saints, to the X-Men. It is interesting to note that these individuals with special abilities are sometimes feared and persecuted because they represent a threat to the status quo.
On a purely physical level, it is interesting to see how rearranging a few trophy elements can create a completely different symbolic meaning. I won’t deny the obvious physical humor in the piece, but there are other things going on.
Am I saying that Deconstructing St. Sebastian is deep – like Joseph Campbell deep? No; well, maybe just a little. The pantheon of special individuals is ingrained on our collective consciousness. Maybe we all need heroes.
“Please state your name and power…”
-Mystery Men, 1999