Voices From the Abyss
2006, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 50", by Jenny Badger Sultan
Voices from the Abyss is one of three paintings partly prompted by the title of a book I’d heard of but hadn't read, “Healing Image--the Great Black One.” The series started at the time of the summer solstice, when we start the Journey to the Dark. Each painting began with a black gesso ground, unusual for me. The other two: In the Garden: Gifts of the Mothers and Hestia.
“Voices” had a rocky beginning--I had gessoed it with a white layer outdoors and left it to dry there. When I brought it indoors it had a very strong skunk odor. I tried for days to get rid of the smell--airing it outdoors, washing it with a baking soda solution. Finally I figured, “Well, the smell can’t last forever, I’m just going to go ahead and work on it.” So I gave it a coat of the black gesso and that seemed to do away with the smell!
I did a lot of messing around on the surface, laying on colors, covering them with black, more textures in gold and bronze, black decalcomania, and so on.
At last, a sort of fissure appeared amidst big rocks. I went with that and put in the small observing figure (me) in green and then the other creatures who appeared out of the texture of the paint.
I’d been thinking of making a painting based on a “Temptation of St. Anthony” and it seemed that that’s what was happening here, as the dark feelings and the tormentors began to show up. But what was in the black chasm? I didn’t know, no image came.
I had some photos from Joshua Tree National Monument that showed a fissure in a rock opening to light, so I tried that--a bit of sky and moon. That changed the initial idea, but it seemed just right, both visually and meaning-wise.
Several things that showed up while working on the painting got included--images of a beautiful bug who landed on it, the black snake I saw on a hike, even a bundle of hair from the clogged drain in the studio which I wrapped in yarn and attached to the edge.