Outside artists leave a strange and beautiful legacy.
Ralphael Plescia was browsing in a Salt Lake City used book store in the 1980s when he chanced upon a religious art book and an 1855 King James Bible. “I couldn’t afford them, but I paid on them weekly until I could take them home,” he remembers.
When he paid them off, Ralphael noticed something uncanny—the art book always opened to an illustration inspired by the Book of Revelation Chapter 12. It depicted a woman menaced by a terrifying red dragon.
“I didn’t like that picture—hated to look at it,” he says. “But the book kept falling opening to it.” Soon, Ralphael found himself passionately driven by the illustration in a 50-year obsession to turn a decrepit State Street auto repair shop into an awe-inspiring work of art exploring his personal vision of Creation.
Revelations’ hallucinatory descriptions of apocalypse and a Heavenly war has shaped Western thought from Milton to movies.
Ralphael inherited the old building near 900 South and State Street and he has transformed it into a three-story “Christian School” celebrating his interpretation of Revelations, the sacred female, astrophysics and DNA’s double helix. The disorienting tangle of tunnels and rooms describes a particularly unsettling story—the pursuit of a pregnant woman “clothed by the Sun” by a red dragon with seven heads. The dragon, according to Revelations, plans to devour the child as soon as it’s born. God intervenes and the woman flees into the wilderness where the earth itself rises to defend her against the dragon who, you might have guessed, is Satan.
Amid dusty auto parts, charred cellos, theater scrims and a 1933 wine-red Cadillac, Raphael has created a monument to Creation that includes a sky-lit Heaven and an underworld tunneled beneath the building. Hell is down there—in a pond that appeared when the artist broke through the ground-water level. Tortured half-submerged souls reach up from the bubbling water. At the end of a serpentine tunnel, Eve, the Serpent and the Tree of Knowledge burst through to the floor above, completing Ralphael’s haunting vision that will likely be swept away after his death.
See the wonder of creation!
Torben Bernhard, Travis Low and Marissa Lila made a short film, The Gospel According to Ralphael, about Ralphael Plescia.
Or stop by Plescia’s creation on a Friday afternoon and he’ll give you a tour himself. 1322 S. State, SLC
written by: Glen Warchol
photos by: Adam Finkle