Creatrix IX (Hecate), acrylic on canvas, 36×60 inches, 2019

Creatrix focuses on the wondrous female energy at the origin of everything. In many traditions, this glorious creative potency is represented by goddesses connected with the first void and the darkness of the beginning. She has the power to give life and to destroy it as well, because death and life are intertwined and because life needs death to thrive.

These works honor the various names that the generous destructive black Creatrix takes around the world: she is called Kali in India; Hecate and Nyx in Greece; Ereshgikal and Tiamat in Mesopotamia; Coatllicue in Mexico; Ala and Asase Yaa in Africa. The abstract paintings invite you to relinquish the safety of the recognizable world and to reconnect with the unknown source of everything. Their compositions reflect a deep memory we all have within our heart: the private origin story that fuels our desires, decisions, and actions.  

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In the Beginning was the End

Thirty years ago. It’s the early morning and everyone is still asleep in the house. I am a teen, sit at my desk, pen in hand. I stare in the empty space. I seek something. With all my will power, I seek something out there, in the space in front of me—or rather, underneath the three-dimensional spatiality of my bedroom. None of the books I read really answered my questions. None of the theories about the nature of reality satisfied me. What is the source of everything? What is the true story of The Beginning? Every time I feel the shadow of an answer, I write it down and sometimes, paint it down, too. This thirst for the Origin—this quest— has forged my life and my art. I am fascinated by the ultimate freedom of human kind: our capacity to access and activate the source of an endless creativity, anytime, anywhere, in any situation. For many years, I gave shapes, colors, and structures to my personal creation story. In my Creatrix series, I emphasize some specific aspects of that space-time region situated before the beginning. I focus on its connection with the first void, the primeval darkness, and the passage through death and destruction that the color black evokes. For this reason, I use exclusively black backgrounds.

In many mythologies, the beginning was black (Kastan 168). According to the Bible, “in the beginning (…) darkness was upon the face of the deep” (Pastoureau 19). In Ancient Greece, Nyx, the goddess of night was the first void who engendered sky and earth (Pastoureau 21). In Africa, the Black Mother was the source of all life (Sjöö 21). In Asia, the color black is associated with the concept Yin, which originally alluded to the female sexual energy as a source of power (Walker 1097). It corresponds to death that transmutes into life (Sjöö 64). According to Lao-Tseu, it is “inexhaustible, deep, unfanthomable” (Walker 975). The Japanese word for black, Sumi, evokes the mysterious laws that govern reality (Tanaka 42). For the middle-age alchemists, black was the primordial substance, full of transformative potency (Pastoureau 92) It was the “negative pole that initiates the creative activity of matter” (Sjöö 64). In his Paradise Lost, John Milton writes about “the womb of nature of dark material available to create worlds” (Kastan 172). In the art world, Malevitch’s Black Square is considered the beginning of a radically new form of painting, and it visually renders “the fist step of pure creation” (Kastan 171). Throughout the world, black was seen as a source of life and was a symbol of fecundity. In Ancient Egypt, for example, the dark silt left by the Nile made soil rich and fertile (Pastoureau 21). Black was also associated with the earth as source of life in the four elements system of the Christian middle-age (Pastoureau 22).

However, black had often a dual nature. If we observe the etymology of the word “black”, we discover the cultural complexity of this color. Latin had two words for black: ata, which corresponds to a dull black and is associated with ugliness, sadness, and dirt, and the word niger, which corresponds to a glossy black and evokes beauty (Pastoureau 28). In Old English, blaec can also mean “to burn” (Kastan 165), and the Germanic blikan, means “to shine”, suggesting that blackness can be a source of light and warmth. If the Scandinavian saw black as a sign of wisdom and divine magic (Pastoureau 36) and the Egyptian saw it as a promise of rebirth (Pastoureay 30), it was feared by other societies. For the Christians, it was the color of the Devil (Pastoureau 52) and every black animal—raven, cat, bear and boars—was seen as diabolic (Pastoureau 58). Black was the color of Hades’s underworld, the Greek realm of the dead and, consequently, the Romans started the tradition of wearing dark clothes during funeral ceremonies (Pastoureau 35). Eventually, even the color black’s ancient function as positive trigger and activator was distorted. In middle-age Europe, it became the color of the marginal and the transgressive: the criminal, the adulterous spouse, the prostitute, the witch, the beggar, and the cripple (Pastoureau 79). In the 1880s, the anarchists had a black flag for their emblem and in the twentieth century, the Black Panther represented the rebellious element of society (Pastoureau 190). Black embodies that which cannot be tamed or understood. Sjöö and Mor suggest that this fear of darkness is due to the rejection of the matriarchal mysteries—the pagan— by the patriarchal system, whose controlled order felt threatened by the “dark jungle within” and the “black hairy forest full of beasts” (30).

It is a fear that expends to the mystery of death as source of life. We sustain our body by killing animals and by eating plants “born from the ground of the dead” (Sjöö 181). The daily presence of death can even sharpen our senses and make us feel more alive. About the impact of the AIDS epidemic in the New York artistic milieu of the 1990s, Jennifer Krasinski comments: “To live in a present full of unnatural absence can (…) catalyze a muscularity of attention” (170). This enigmatic law of nature was represented by many ancient goddesses. The Obo people of Nigeria called her Ala, queen of the dead and creatrix of the livings (Monaghan 8). For the Ashanti, she was Asase Yaa and for the Yoruba, she was Iya Nla, both goddesses of death and fecundity (Monanghan 9, 14). In Egypt, she was Hathor, cow creatress of the universe and ruler of the underworld, where she guided the dead (Monaghan 30). The Sumerians called her Ereshkigal, queen of the underworld and of the wilderness (Monaghan 64). She is the Greek Hecate, who can give life or destroy it (Walker 378). Maybe the most famous of these dual goddesses is the Indian Kali. The “Dark Mother’ (again this color…). She is the maternal and the devourer. Vishnu says of her:

« The whole universe rests upon Her, rises out of Her and melts away into Her. From Her are crytallized the original elements and qualities which construct the apparent worlds. She is both mother and grave… the gods themselves are merely constructs out of Her maternal substance, which is both consciousness and potential joy. » (Walker 490)      

Tantric practitioners know that they have to embrace her deadly side in order to receive the bounty of her nurturing aspect (Walker 489).

Neolithic European tombs illustrated well the symbiotic relation between death and life. Their structure clearly referred to the female generative organ. They are often round shaped like a full womb or triangular like a vagina. Their central passage leading to the outside world reminds of the birth canal (Gimbutas 55). Their floors were covered with red ochre, the color of blood, (Gimbutas 57) and they sometimes contained egg-shaped stone sculptures (58). On the Maltese Island and in Mediterranean areas, the skeletons were placed in fetal position (60). Al these images support the belief that death was seen as a passage, a period of incubation of a new life.

For many others cultures, the moon embodies this regenerative power because of its capacity to reappear after its cyclical disappearance form the night sky. The three nights of the “death moon”, the dark moon (again this color…), is a period of dissolution of the old order of things (Cashford 356) and the first stage of transformation. It is a passage from the temporal to the eternal (Cashfrod 355), from forms to formlessness, from the personal to the impersonal (Cashford 354). It was the restoration of a primordial state, from before the beginning: “the point about the moon’s death was a return to the original wholeness of the beginning” (Cashford 355). Again, death and destruction seem to be sine qua non conditions to the birth of new life.    

As science is the modern religion, it would be instructive to examine its version of the Creation. The Big Bang hypothesis is presently the most accepted theory. However, scientists still do not know how it exactly happened, and even less, what was there before it happened. Some physicists suggest that the Big Bang was a “singularity” (see more bellow) similar to the Black Holes (Talbot 153) and , consequently, that by observing Black Holes, we can learn about the beginning of our universe (Hawkins 111). Very briefly and roughly, a Black Hole is formed when a massive star—many times the size of our solar system—collapses under the pressure of its own gravity. This process has several stages. After the star burns all its hydrogen into helium, it becomes a red giant. When the red giant burns all its helium, it shrinks into a white dwarf, which elements continue to be fused into heavier elements, like iron. After the white dwarf’s gravity provokes an ultimate explosion (a supernova), the remnant of the star becomes a neutron star, a “dead star”. It is now very small (the size of Manhattan), but also extremely dense. Gravity eventually crushes completely this neutron star and gives birth to a Black Hole. The Black Hole’s density is so huge that even light cannot escape its gravitational field (Kaku 217-223). Black Holes are thence a sort of extremely dense nothingness.

This is when things become interesting: Back Holes shares many similar characteristics with the ancient black goddesses of life and death in her dual role as destroyer and creatrix. Because of the tremendous gravitational force of Black Holes, everything that approach its horizon collapses into it and seem to be lost forever… but Black Holes also create new matter (Hawkins 110). They actually emit particles at a steady rate (Hawkins 107). Some tiny Black Holes the size of a proton and the mass of a mountain release the energy equivalent of six large nuclear power plants (Hawkins 109). The enormous energy stored by larger Black Holes, might be in fact, power quasars (Kip 353) and form the fuelling core of galaxies (Kip 322). Hawking even theorizes that Black Holes can give birth to “baby universes” that “exist in realms of their own” (124).

Another feature that Black Holes share with the ancient spiritual passage through darkness and death is their faculty to dissolve known laws. The density and gravity inside Black Holes are so great that they crush the most establishes physical laws. They create a space-time singularity, “a region where the curvature of spacetime become infinitely large and spacetime ceases to exist” (Kip 450). Fritjo compares this region of timelessness and spacelessness with the higher consciousness that Eastern sages try to reach through meditation, because it gives access to the true essence—the origin—of life (179). This state corresponds to the period of the dark moon, when the old, known world dies and is “absorbed in the primordial unity of eternity” out of which something new arises (Cashford 355). It reminds the Babylonian Tiamat, the goddess of the primordial deep, the formless abyss, from which the world once appeared (Walker 491). It evokes the Tantric Shakti who “swallows the universe and shrink it into a point without dimension” before giving it birth again (Talbot 88). In scientific words: “It may therefore be that there was an earlier phase of the universe in which matter collapse, to be re-created in the big bang” (Hawking 111). At the beginning was destruction.

As a painter, my job is to give a human dimension to these more-than-human phenomena. From which part of me should I create to access and render this wondrous mystery? Which aspect of my human constitution connects me to the deep laws underneath human laws? Maybe my womb? It is dark and empty like the first void, and can engender whole human beings. And yet, men do not have a womb, and they are as creative as women. Maybe my mind? It is mysterious and a source of endless imagination and possibilities. And yet, it does not really acknowledge my whole experience, as it too often leaves aside physical and emotional intelligences. I believe that this all-encompassing navel, source of infinite energy, immense potency, transformative power, wisdom, magic; that this breaker of all logical rules, this mover of mountains, this miracle maker, is the heart. In Ancient Egypt, the heart was the seat of the soul, and it revealed our true essence. At the hour of death, it is this organ that the gods weighted in their balance to evaluate the worth of the deceased (Moss 228-9). In the Purgatorio, the heart is also the door on which Dante literally has to knock on in order to open the gates of Heaven because the heart gives access to our deeper and truest selves (Moss 230). This untameable, elusive, fierce, and wild core of our being knows how to die and how to survive its own demise. Its driving secret is the art of knowing how to love fully and to lose fully, to love fully again, and to lose fully again… and then to love fully again, in a perpetual pulsation of death and rebirths.

When I paint, I enter this timeless and spaceless region situated between death and life. I let dissolve all I know about life, about myself, about art. I focus on my heart center. I let myself be swallowed by the creative process. Before the painting is birthed, my old world would have collapsed into darkness… because before the beginning, is the end.

Cited works

Capra, Tritjof, The Tao of Physics, Shambhala Publication. Boulder, CO, 1975.

Cashford, Jules. The Moon: Myth and Image. Four Walls Eight Windows. New York NY.         2002.

Gimbutas, Marija. The Living Goddesses. University of California Press. Berkeley and    Los Angeles CA. 1999.

Hawking, Stephen. Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays. Bantam Books.             New York NY. 1994

Kastan, David Scott. On Color. Yale University Press. London, England, 2018.

Kaku, Michio. Hyperspace. Oxford University Press. New York NY. 1994.

Kip S, Thorne. Black Holes & Time Warps: Einstein’s Outrageous Legacy. W.W.Norton            & Compagny, Inc. New York NY. 1994.

Krasinski, Jennifer. “Loosed Threads: The Art of Reza Abdoh”. Artforum. October 2018,          pp. 160-171.

Monaghan, Patricia. Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines. ABC-CLIO, LLC. Santa            Barbara CA. 2010.

Moss, Robert, The Dreamer Book of the Dead, Destiny Books. Rochester, VE(?), 2005.

Pastoureau, Michel, Black: The History of a Color. Princeton University Press. Princeton,           NJ. 2008.

Sjöö, Monica, and Barbara Mor. The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Reliion of            the Earth. HarperCollins Publisher. New York NY. 1987.

Talbot, Michael. Mysticism and the New Physics. Penguin Books. London, England.       1993.

Tanaka, Ikko, and Kazuko Koike. Japan Color. Chronicle Books. San Francisco CA.     1982.

Walker, Barbara G. The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. HarperCollins       Publishers, Inc. NewYork NY. 1983.

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