Work of the Week — “The Second Angel and the Burning Mountain” by McKendree Robbins Long
By Matt Gorga
I leaned back in my porch chair on an unusually warm, yet beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon, swaying to the gentle beat of “Fire on the Mountain” by The Grateful Dead off of their album Shakedown Street. I happened to be browsing the Museum’s Permanent Collection when I came upon this piece by McKendree Robbins Long. Its beauty and spiritual energy along with its extremely dark, apocalyptic message reminds me of the same contrasts I find intriguing within the Dead’s music. I decided to take a closer look into this piece.
My eye is immediately drawn to the fire. The reds, oranges and white make it appear blistering hot, emphasized by the stark contrast to the lush green color of the mountain. It took me a second to realize that this beautiful mesh of warm and cool colors is actually portraying chaos and destruction. The ships are sinking, the black smoke is rising, the sea creatures are perishing… wow, this is a bit heavier than I initially thought.
What’s the message here? Is there one? Observing what looks like a smokestack with black smoke barreling out, I wondered if this was a dramatic representation of the effects of industrialization. After all, there are many artistic pieces that aim to portray such a message. But, then what of the angels? I thought to myself, “Duh,” this must be Biblical. I was right. In fact, it’s right out of the book of Revelation.
Regardless of which translation, Revelation 8:8 basically refers to a second angel sounding a horn as a mountain of fire is tossed into the sea, killing all of the sea creatures. As it turns out, McKendree Robbins Long became a Christian minister in 1922 in Statesville, NC (where he was born), and later became an evangelist in Macon, GA. Starting to make sense, right?
This was one of 90 Revelation paintings he completed before his death in 1976. His worldly experiences provided him with a wealth of emotion which he exhibited in his work. He studied art in North Carolina, New York City, London, Holland and Spain, and was an ambulance driver in WWI. His early works were mostly portraits, but his religious calling shifted his work in the direction that produced works like the one above. He is one of the most famous visionary painters from North Carolina, and examining his work is truly thought-provoking.
Who knew the apocalypse could be painted so beautifully…
Artwork Above: McKendree Robbins Long, The Second Angel and the Burning Mountain, c. 1965, oil, 23.38 x 29.38 inches. Gift of Milton Bloch. Permanent Collection.