Saint Javelin artwork by Chris Shaw

I woke up a couple weeks ago to find an image of “Saint Javelin” going viral all over the internet as a meme.  St. Javelin is a digital alteration of my 2012 painting, “Madonna Kalashnikov”.   

It’s been a humbling experience to watch as the Ukrainian people adopted the Saint Javelin image as an icon of resistance against the Russian invasion and to see it transform into a global symbol of support for Ukraine.  Worldwide, media has been calling her a’ Symbol of Resistance’ or the ‘Face of the Conflict’ .  As the artist who drew that face, I’ve been in awestruck to see what has become of my art.

An image of my Madonna Kalashnikov painting had already made its way around the internet and into Ukraine and Eastern Europe some years ago. Madonna Kalashnikov has been a popular tattoo, used on military patches, and unfortunately, bootlegged onto all kinds of merchandise. (See my post Madonna Kalashnikov – 2022)

In 2018 someone in Ukraine altered an image of the Madonna Kalashnikov painting to make the figure hold a Javelin missile launcher and posted it on Twitter, she was named “Saint Javelin” shortly after.  That image didn’t really go anywhere until February 2022 when it appeared again amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and eventually went viral as “Saint Javelin the Protector of Ukraine”.

It seemed almost instantaneous, St. Javelin was printed on stickers, shirts, flags – everything.  Suddenly, hundreds of items and variations of the art appeared – dozens of pages of on Amazon and Etsy are now devoted to selling St Javelin stuff.   A Saint Javelin website selling stickers with the image was set up – the stickers themselves went viral – leading to more coverage in the media.  Currently, the St. Javelin stickers have raised over a million dollars to aid Ukraine.  

In the last week or so, the meme has not seemed to have slowed, just changed.  As that has happened, she’s spawned many different versions, theres a cool anime version, a Lego version, a 3-D printed version, and dozens of others.  St. Javelin has evolved from an image into a character, maybe even a real icon. 

Being the original artist, thats all pretty cool, but I also have mixed feelings.

As an artist who paints modern icons, designs political posters, and has a deep love of politics, media, and propaganda, the miraculous appearance of St. Javelin seems like a strange dream.  For people to organically adopt her as a real symbol of resistance and strength during an invasion is, again, very humbling.  For St. Javelin to become an image helping to aid relief and show solidarity with Ukraine is amazing.  Now that she is everywhere, I want her to do good.

On the other hand, it’s been frustrating to lose all control over my art.  Especially watching profiteers producing merchandise, for profit. When the internet steals your work, it’s important to try to take it back. I remade the art properly, creating an official ‘made by the artist’ version of Saint Javelin.  

I need to address that Saint Javelin has also come to symbolize many different things to different people.  Her use as a warmonger is deeply disturbing to me.  I don’t like that the Javelin missile system itself has been nicknamed “St. Javelin”, a viral Tweet nicknaming her “St. Raytheon” was on-point.  The St. Javelin image featured in the TikTok memes of missiles hitting targets garnering hundreds of millions of views makes me upset.  I’m abhorred by her use to cheer on an actual war.

At this point, I don’t know where Saint Javelin will end up, but I do hope she remains a symbol of freedom, strength, and good.  I’ll probably make a painting of her, then move on to the next thing.  Most, I hope St. Javelin will help Ukraine, and the money raised by those using the her image will make a positive difference to someone.  

LINKS:

History of the St. Javelin meme at KnowYourMeme

Madonna Kalashnikov (2012)

Madonna Kalashnikov (2013)

Madonna Kalashnikov (2022)

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Madonna Kalashnikov painting by Chris Shaw, 2012

When I completed my painting “Madonna Kalashnikov” in 2012, I immediately loved her.  From the very first sketch she also seemed to have a life of her own.

The initial idea for the image was conceived during the post 9/11 era.  I have always juxtaposed and mixed concepts about culture and religion into my icons, and had long been intrigued at how weapons can be perceived as both evil and good – especially if they are doing God’s work.  The concept was brought a bit further in another painting I made around the same time, “Madonna of the Suicide Vest”.

Weapons have been a part of religious art forever of course, but instead of swords and spears I thought, why not something modern?  There’s probably no more iconic weapon than the AK-47 Kalashnikov, both visually, and in its history.  At the time AK-47’s seemed to be everywhere, the AK was both the official weapon of conservative Islamic terrorists, and a symbol of freedom and democracy during the Arab Spring.  This is exactly the type of intertwining of opposing ideas that I love to explore.  Because the Kalashnikov is a Russian rifle, I chose an Eastern Orthodox theme for the icon and painted it.  

The painting itself is acrylic on canvas, 30” x 40”.  The figure is painted smooth with high gloss line-work, the Kalashnikov is made of gold leaf.  Contrasting the smooth figure, the background is a matte black textured impasto created with a palette knife. The color of her robes is a saturated “Spring Green” shaded with blue.   Like all my icons, I constructed her root design using golden proportions and sacred geometry.  I first exhibited Madonna Kalashnikov at Varnish Gallery (2012), then at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2013).  She received plenty of attention but also came back unsold after both exhibits, I think she was a bit too subversive for the times. I eventually sold her directly out of the studio. 

The Madonna Kalashnikov exists as a painting that hangs on a wall, but because of the internet her digital alter-ego has led a very different life. 

I can’t say she was ever a meme or went viral after her debut, but the image of Madonna Kalashnikov from my website got shared around.  I’d look it up occasionally and typically got a kick out of where she ended up, eventually she was getting all over the place.  Unfortunately that also meant unauthorized prints and merchandise started showing up too, ever since it’s been extremely labor intensive trying to keep people from printing her on shirts or other items to sell.  Bootleg Madonna Kalashnikov merchandise has been popular in East Europe, which isn’t surprising.  Less frustrating are the tattoos, there’s a lot of great Madonna Kalashnikov tattoos, I always enjoy seeing them.

In 2015, apparently Madonna Kalashnikov was conscripted by the Ukrainian Army and became a morale patch.  Her image began to show up on other military patches in Ukraine and East Europe too.  As an art image made as a comment on the AK-47’s iconic symbology, it was bewildering that Madonna Kalashnikov was co-opted to become a symbol itself.  

The story continues, in 2018 someone in Ukraine altered an image of the Madonna Kalashnikov painting.  She now held a Javelin missile launcher and was posted on twitter, shortly after she was named, “Saint Javelin”.  Not many people saw it then, I didn’t.  However, in 2022 amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the St.Javelin version of Madonna Kalashnikov went hyper-viral, eventually becoming the face of the conflict and a symbol of Ukraine’s resistance against Russia.  (See post: Saint Javelin)

As the artist who made the root image and the icon’s character, it’s truly amazing.  As a longtime supporter of Ukraine it’s an unbelievable honor to have an image organically adopted this way.  That said, there’s mixed feelings about losing all control of one’s art, and that art becoming a symbol of a conflict. Ironically, to make peace with it, I feel better knowing that she’s become an icon of hope, freedom, and good.  

LINKS:

History of the St. Javelin meme at KnowYourMeme

Madonna Kalashnikov (2012)

Madonna Kalashnikov (2013)

Saint Javelin Post

Please inquire to commission your own custom Madonna Kalashnikov!

Any printed reproductions of Madonna Kalashnikov for sale are unauthorized.

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When the infamous Zoltron asked me if I wanted to make a Primus poster this season and Green Elvis was mentioned there was no way I could say no.  It was 24 years ago in 1994 when I made my first Green Elvis rock poster …for Primus at the Fillmore.  It’s always been one of my favorite posters, complete with Day-Glo inks – if Green Elvis was going to make a comeback Day-Glo had to be included.  Green Elvis is again portrayed as a classic Christian icon, but in this new version I got in pretty deep with the classic geometry and symbols which is more related to my recent artwork and icons.  Its a nice hybrid of my old and new art.

I was having a great time making the image, I knew immediately it had to be a special print too.  I needed metallic, fluorescent, and non-fluorescent inks and and some unique printing & color know-how to make this poster – I called Chuck Sperry, he’s the master of that recipe, he’s printed Green Elvis before, and we’re old friends.  I really need to thank Chuck here.  He accepted the project and squeezed it into his crazy schedule, he also turned it up to “11” with the technique – meaning these are some really beautiful prints.  We had a blast making the posters over a few days, the inks and color are perfect – sizzling but scaled back fluorescents, the famous hi-test Hangar 18 silver, and a slightly transparent black.   A huge thank you to Primus, Zoltron, and again, Chuck Sperry for making this poster possible.

This poster looks awesome in blacklight!

 

 

The Green Elvis posters will be released at the Primus concert on June 2, 2018 at Pier Six Pavilion in Baltimore, Maryland.  #P297 in the Primus series. 

I will release a limited amount of standard edition posters as well as variants HERE at time to be announced shortly.  

Edition info and photos below.

 

 

 

Primus at Pier Six Pavilion, Baltimore, MD

June 2, 2018

#P297

 

THIS POSTER WILL BE RELEASED FOR SALES WEDNESDAY, JUNE 6th, 2018

 

STANDARD SHOW EDITION: 

18” x 24”

6 color Screenprint on Cougar stock

Edition of 250

Signed and Numbered – Sold Out – Thank You!

 

 

 

GOLD VARIANT:

18” x 24”

5 colors on Metallic Gold stock (minus yellow plate)

Edition of 16

Signed and Numbered – Sold Out – Thank You

 

 

PEARL VARIANT:

18” x 24”

6 colors on Iridescent Pearl stock

Edition of 20

Signed and Numbered – Sold Out – Thank You

 

 

 

FOIL VARIANT:

18” x 24”

6 colors on Holographic Foil

Edition of 12

Signed and Numbered – Sold Out – Thank You.

 

 

 

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