Saint Javelin Painting by Chris Shaw

On April 3, 2022, in Art, Paintings, Video, by Chris Shaw
Saint Javelin by Chris Shaw, 2022

When Saint Javelin became a viral meme in February 2022 one of the first things I did was to remake the image by my own hand.  Perhaps it was a futile attempt to reclaim my art from the internet somehow, or maybe it was just that the first viral alteration was a bit sloppy in places.  St. Javelin has since circled the globe both digitally and physically printed. and continues to show up in some amazing places, it’s been fascinating to watch and experience.  (See my previous posts on St. Javelin and her origin as Madonna Kalashnikov)

As the original artist, I wanted to make my “official” Saint Javelin painting be something that would stand out from anything printed or digital, but not vary too far from the original form.  With a pure cadmium green base, I used subtle glazing to build up deep transparent tones in the robes.  Multiple thick layers of black for line art are used to bring texture around smoothly painted areas of color.  The background is gold leaf over a red base, then buffed and varnished like a traditional icon.  

The Saint Javelin painting is 30” x 40”, acrylic and metal leaf on canvas, completed in March 2022.

Please inquire for info on this artwork or to commission your own custom Icon.

Start to finish in a minute and a half (no sound).

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.  


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.  


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.