Los Angeles artist J. Michael Walker thinks a lot like Antonia Labella, heroine of The Possibilities of Sainthood. In the summer of 2008 he exhibited a series of large portraits of saints whose names are commemorated in the roads and streets of many Los Angeles neighborhoods. Each large, ink on paper portrait portrays a contemporary person as one of the saints of the City of the Angels. The portraits connect the individual stories with the histories of saints, and blend the quotidian and the miraculous.
For his paintings, Walker researched not just the Catholic saints but the 103 L.A. streets which have been named after them. In this way he created a spiritual history of the city and a "saint map" of Los Angeles. People living and working on these streets found their way into the paintings, becoming the faces of the contemporary saints. Residents of Skid Row are the inspiration for the face of San Julian, patron saint of wanders. Santa Monica (the patron saint of wives, mothers and abuse victims) incorporates the faces of mothers with sons in prison; while San Ysidro (St Isidore) resembles one of the many gardeners working in the Bel Air street named after the patron saint of laborers.
The paintings have been exhibited in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles and have been collected in a book, All The Saints in the City of the Angels: Seeking the Soul of L.A. on its Streets.
Listen to an interview with J Michael Walker on NPR.
The lives of the Saints are no longer hidden in musty histories like the ones in Antonia's school library. iPhone users can now download applications that will provide them with the daily liturgy. iPhone users can also download the Bible, the Koran and the Bhahagvita.
This article was originally published in February 2009, and has been updated for the
August 2010 paperback release.
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