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The Thing About Wings: Symbolism of Wings on Humans

monoprint of girl with one wing holding onto tree in the wind

Troubled Skies, monotype with media, 18 x 25 in

28 JUNE, 2023

"Wings are the expression of the aspiration of the soul towards a higher than human condition, in other words the aspiration to transcend the human condition."   M.A. Carrillo de Albornoz & M.A. Fernández, The Symbolism of Wings

collage woman with butterfly wings and fish

Our Lady of the Harbour,  hand cut collage, 4.5 x 6 in

"The most obvious symbol of wings is freedom. If we had wings, we would be able to fly to wherever we want. We could cross rivers and oceans and fly over mountains..."

Symbolism of Wings

If you've followed me on social media or read my blog(s) for any length of time, you've probably noticed a repeated motif in my work: wings. To be sure, my work is full of birds. I love them for their beauty and the sense of freedom they convey. Bird symbolism runs both deep and wide; I've written about it pretty extensively on my old blog, in particular here and here. But I also enjoy wings on creatures that normally wouldn't have them - like, say - humans.

I recently realized that many of my winged humans (not counting angels, but then, is there a difference?) have only one wing. Clearly, I have a deep, personal, emotional connection with these half-winged beings. If I were qualified to psychoanalyze myself, I would have to say that they're a symbol of my inner self (ha! ya think?). Interestingly, while there is much written about the symbolism of wings, there is almost nothing about the meaning of only one wing.

handmade surreal collage angel and girls playing jump rope

Time to Put On Your Big Girl Pants, hand cut collage, 7 x 9.5 in

One Wing

The Lonely Outcast

So, why am so strongly attracted to portraying one-winged figures? Well, it may have started with my favorite fairytale, Hans Christian Anderson's "The Wild Swans", which I had read over and over again as a child. In this story, a princess's eleven brothers have been cursed and turned into swans.  A fairy tells her that she can break the curse by knitting them shirts from stinging nettles and not speaking for a year. She attempts to do this, but in the end runs short of time. The sleeve of the last shirt is unfinished, so the youngest brother retains one wing.

I remember thinking about this quite a lot as a child. What would his life be like, being so different from everyone else? Would he ever be accepted, or would he become a lonely outcast? I think I must have identified with him, as I sometimes felt like a lonely outcast myself.

collage art of woman turning into a bird
The Spell is Broken, mixed media collage on vintage book cover, 19 x 11 in


Drawing on the symbolism of the aforementioned fairy tale, The Spell is Broken, above, depicts a woman somewhere in the process of a magical transformation. My intent was to leave the direction of the change ambiguous: is she turning into a bird, or is she once again becoming her true self, a human?

surreal collage birds tree people and one winged figure

 When You Speak to the Birds, mixed media collage, 14 x 9.5 in

The In-Between

handmade collage little girl with one wing writing

For me, the wings in my work have always symbolized a transformation in process. The being with one wing is on the way to moving to a higher plane of existence. It indicates that they aren't quite there yet; they're still learning and growing, but some day they will fly.



(left) Flight Path, original collage, 11 x 8 in


The One Winged Angel is an old symbol representing, yes, the lost or the fallen, but it’s also a symbol of incompletion and loneliness...      ImpureTale, Tumblr

It's about more than that, though. It's about being in between one state of existence and another. What are you when you're not quite one thing and not quite the other? I don't really see this as a bad thing; I'll get into this more later on.

 We Are Stardust

"At the most basic level, we are made of the same stuff as the stars, the trees, the air, the ocean.  Having come from the same source, we are all connected in the most intricate ways, both visible and invisible.  This belief is expressed by the transposition of objects, the overlapping of transparent images, and by forms that seem to become something else."

This quote from my artist statement relates directly to what I wrote above, about it not being so bad to be more than one thing at the same time. In fact, that is, in a very real sense, the way we are all made.

collage/assemblage of little girl with butterfly wings

Stronger Than You Know, mixed media collage on vintage book cover, 10 x 14 in

"Except for hydrogen and some helium created in the Big Bang, all of the stuff we, and the Earth around us, are made of, was generated in stars, through sustained fusion or in supernova explosions."   (NASA, Imagine the Universe)

Not only do we share our elemental makeup with everything in the universe, we also share at least some of our genetic makeup with all living things. Geneticists have found that, as a result of evolution, humans have at least some DNA sequences in common with everything from viruses (8%) to chimpanzees (96%). 

In light of this, are the one-winged figures really so fanciful? They are symbols of both a psychological truth as well as a physical reality. I'm beginning to see them as a revelation of our true nature, and a confirmation that everything is one.

drawing silouette of man with one wing

Page from artist's book Interconnections, mixed media on acetate, 12 x 8 in

Thanks for reading, my dear friends! I wish you all peace, love, and art.

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