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Showing posts with label Creation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Creation. Show all posts

3.11.2011

Creation (2003)

By Gerald McDermott

Dutton Children's Books

My telling is based on Genesis 1:1 through 2:3 of the Hebrew Bible, with an eye toward its antecedents in the ancient Near East, such as the Babylonian epic Enuma Elish, and sources as diverse as the illuminated Bibles Moralisees of 13th Century France and the Sarajevo Haggadah of 14th Century Spain.

A tall order, Mr. McDermott.  Though, to be fair, this is the same guy who wrote and illustrated the classic Anansi the Spider and many other cultural trickster tales from the world over.  McDermott has earned his credentials.  When he speaks, I listen.  When he writes, "The voice of the story is an inner one that begins with a breath and a whisper, a spark ignited within us all that grows to illuminate the universe," I take him at his word.

The size of the book is what initially impressed me.  However, its first image makes ironic use of that size.  It is just a large, black page with a tiny gray dot in the center.  There is no text.  There appears to be movement within.

This is a story told in the first person.  "I was before time.  I was everywhere.  There was nothing.  I was there."  God appears as a large, gray, textured breeze floating in the blackness of space.  Then the gray turns sheet white, which becomes the foam on the rolling waters, above which hover dark and stormy rain clouds, between them a strand of blackness, all the meanwhile God is still narrating:

I gathered together the waters below and made the sea.  Out of the sea I brought the earth.

Things are beginning to make spatial sense at this point.  The earth rises like a giant tortoise shell from the murky depths.  Soon it is covered with grass and tress, growing larger and larger, taking over the whole of the planet.  At this point, McDermott unleashes his whole palette of colors.  Reds and oranges and yellows are what he uses to fill the sky with stars and suns, which become the wings of colorful birds and underwater creatures, animals of every kind rising out of the sea and moving inland - a reference to God's hand being instrumental in Darwinian evolution?

Regardless, McDermott loves animals.  His creatures always have a two-dimensional look about them, but taken together with so many and so brightly colored, they fill the pages with beauty and life and movement.  The charging of the rhinoceros and elephant and lion and boar seem as though they are charging toward life, rushing toward the earth with zealousness.

Lastly come the humans - curiously blue-skinned and faceless with wild multi-colored hair, reaching toward the atmosphere.

With the final few pages, the Big Bang seems to have begat the Big Crunch, as all the animals, the birds, the fish, the plants, the sea, all of it swirls about the people in a receding cyclone, until all that is left is that small dot, in parallel with the first page, but housing now a fetus in embryo.

I am all this.  All this I AM.

3.04.2011

Genesis (1997)

Illustrated by Ed Young

A Laura Geringer Book

"To me, Genesis represents the very beginning of all possibility - the energy that is the seed of life," writes Ed Young in the introduction of this splendid little book.

Although I almost wonder if the smallness of the volume works against it. We're dealing with abstractions here. Each opposing page has a line from the King James version of the book of Genesis, set alongside Young's best attempt to capture that thought artistically. I would love to know more about his thought process in this. For example, the first illustration is:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was wihtout form, and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.




Well, what would you paint? Young presents a textured, dark red background, within which sit two vaguely human-shaped forms, one large, one small. Is this God? Is this the void? The "firmament in the midst of the waters" takes the form of a bright stretch of light acorss a dark, thundercloud of blue and gray.

The only thing which is distinct are the two "great lights" set within the firmament of heaven. Even when we get into the territory of the animals - birds of the air, fish of the sea - they are only vague and indistinct. A feather, a fin, a hand, lost in a swirl of color.



I wish the book had been larger. Much larger. It reminds me a bit of looking at the paintings of Mark Rothko in books and not understanding what the big deal was. It was only when I saw them in person and was overwhelmed by their sheer size that at last was in awe. These illustrations too, I feel, could benefit from such an enlargement. What would the impact be if the black and red shapes meant to signify God and Void were large and encompassing instead of small and compact within this book?



Nonetheless, this is a beautiful book. But the beauty isn't limited to the paintings.

"The endpapers," Young writes, "are composed of the names of hundreds of endangered and extinct animals, with those that are extinct highlighted; for I also see in Genesis a gentle reminder that the earth is ours to protect."


2.04.2011

Adam and Eve (1987)

Retold and Illustrated by Warwick Hutton

Watercolor

Margaret K. McEldery Books

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth was without form, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.

This is a straight adaption of the creation story found in Genesis, using the language of the King James Version.  The first image is of a dark stage, the blue of the waters just subtly colored in, a sliver of light just barely visible.  I have not found Hutton to do such abstract images before, and I can't help but wonder if this represented a challenge for him, especially as this is the illustration which opens up this work.

As the earth takes shape and comes into form, so does the artistic rendering of same.  The next page, the sun and the moon are in the same sky, plumes of what appear to be smoke, but are perhaps meant to be billowing shadow which will eventually become night.  Or, as God puts it, "Let there be a firmament in the midst of the water."

God is drawn as a white outline of a person, whose face we never see.  He brings Adam to life in a circle of light.  The animals also come out of a similar orb of light, and Adam and God watch as they emerge, lions and horses scattering off into the jungle, birds immediately taking off toward the sky.

Then, the final creation - Adam laying face down in the earth, unconscious, while Eve floats above him, as though a spirit who has just been exorcised.  This is but a small scene in a much richer illustration filled with blooming flowers and wild overgrowth, animals hiding in shadow.

 I must admit I admire about Hutton's view of Eden is that where the text declares, "And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed," then indeed, it is so.  Hutton is not ashamed either.  Adam has a penis.  Eve has breasts.  They both possess bare bottoms where their backs are turned.  It is not for naught.  After the serpent has done it beguiling, we next see the first humans hidden in the woods, using leaves to cover themselves, Eve with a hand across her breasts.  It is a resonant image.

Down the garden path strolls that glowing white outline of a person, and all the animals hide in fear, peeking out.

So He drove out the man and the woman from the garden of Eden and He placed at the east of the garden cherubims and a flaming sword to guard the tree of life.

Such a stark tale.  Is there a moral?  I don't think so.  Just a portrait of the human condition.
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