In December 1988 I was in a record store, back when those were still legal. I remember it so clearly because there was a poster for The Traveling Wilburys, the supergroup made up of George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, and Roy Orbison, who’d just passed away. Someone in the record store had cut out a paper halo and pasted is over Orbison’s head, a small and a little funny but still kind tribute, I thought.
The halo has a long history in Eastern and Western art, appearing as early as Sumer, around gods, heroes, and kings. Whether the crown, or gold circlet, as a marker of royalty was meant to represent the halo or came first is one of those mysteries that will probably never be solved. Its form has changed somewhat, going from usually solid disks to an open circle. And yet throughout time the halo’s meaning has remained pretty consistent, although “halo” derives from a Greek word that meant “threshing floor”. Maybe it’s fitting that the halo has moved from the very highest in the pantheon to everyone who passes through the pearly gates, although the standard has become a simple gold circle while those at the apex get brighter, grander encirclings.
I see halos a lot in graffiti, hovering over various tags. What do they mean? That’s another mystery that may never be solved; graffiti is very personal and individual, and the reason for adding a halo may vary from person to person. Sometimes it may simply be an accent, or it may be someone copying the tag of an artist who’s since passed on. Some artists do copy the tags of others who are gone but not forgotten. I don’t know if that’s always the meaning but if it is I think it’s a small and a little funny but kind tribute.