Mother of All
1979, oil on canvas, 30 x 30", by Jenny Badger Sultan
I’d been wanting to make a figure in the form of a swastika, or whirling cross. This is a very ancient symbol, used in cultures around the world, and horribly stigmatized by its use by the Nazis. It is seen in China, in Tibetan Buddhism, in ancient Greece, pre-Columbian America and can symbolize energy or continual regeneration. I consciously chose a rotation in the opposite direction from the Nazi swastika.
Then the challenge was to somehow make a figure around this form. I painted the face as a self-portrait and then filled the body with a proliferation of people, animals, creatures, all fitting into each other in a dense array. The work of M.C. Escher has been my inspiration in this sort of figure/ground exercise--I find it endlessly fascinating.
At this time, with two young children, I thought of a lot of the painting I was doing as “serial painting.” Since I only had short periods of time to paint I found it very helpful to be able to complete one small unit or figure at a time, letting them add up to a whole in the end. I named it “Mother of All” to express the feeling that the Goddess contains and encompasses all of creation.
Forty years later, in 2019, I returned to this Escher idea, slowly building up a similar composite Goddess figure: Gaia Running.