O'Reilly's inspiration, right.
Des Moines, Iowa: The disappointment has been hard to bear, admitted artist Seamus O'Reilly. But after opening his "Watercolor Iconography Shoppe and Studio" a year ago, he is throwing in the paintbrushes this Saturday.
"I didn't realize the challenges would get this bad," said O'Reilly. "I'm just a religious guy who grew up on the Bob Ross PBS series. I thought this would be fun. Bob always had fun. But it has been a nightmare."
The shop and studio, which opened in September 2007, offered people lessons in watercoloring favorite iconic images, selling paints and paper in the process. Then the shop could arrange for the freshly painted icons to be blessed, and picked up and matted within a week. "People came in the first few weeks, but I couldn't seem to please anyone. I mean, one group of people got upset if I suggested it would be special to make The Pantocrator smile, or put a few spruce trees in the background. Another group of people freaked out about the watercolors, that icons had to be oil based or you couldn't pray with the things. I couldn't please anyone," mourned O'Reilly.
Of course, it does beg the question: why watercolors, an art form often associated with Disney "paint by numbers"? O'Reilly shrugged. "Watercolors are very light; they communicate transcendence beautifully. Plus oils are bad for the environment. Also, I'm allergic to them."
The beginning of the end, stated O'Reilly, was this Spring 2008. Sergey Malkovich, a self-defined "monophysite anarchist iconoclast," began carrying a picket sign with the phrase "Heretics inside" in front of the shop, calling customers "stinking capitalist iconodules." "I still don't know what it means," says O'Reilly, "but it was clearly meant as an insult. So I called the cops."
The cops arrived and ushered Malkovich away, but he came back with others the next day before the shop opened, smashing store windows and throwing watercolor icons to the floor. As police arrived, Malkovich stood alone, staring at an icon under his foot, wailing, "These aren't 'windows to eternity'! They weren't worth this! They're just ... drawings!" Police still have Malkovich under 24 hour watch in the local jail. The other vandals are still at large, and the city churches have locked up iconography.
For O'Reilly, it was the last straw. "I'm going back to painting happy little trees in my garage," he said. "You know, who knew watercolors would nearly start a Holy War in Iowa. The world's not right. Nothing like this has ever happened before."