The Genesis Series
Genesis, the first book of the Hebrew Bible, relates the story of the creation of the world over seven days. Between 1977 and 1997, Golahny worked on three series of seven paintings each, one for each day of the creation story. The first series tends to have more muted colors than the second and third series, and less specific plants, animals and celestial bodies. Several of the compositions in the first series are templates for the next two. Each 36” x 30” painting may be viewed as an individual work, a part among the seven in each series, a version of three representations of the same day, and as a component of the whole series of twenty-one paintings.
Golahny joined generations of illustrators of the Genesis story, the most famous among them Michelangelo Buonarotti (1475-1564). Michelangelo figures God as a wizened yet robust man, sprawling majestically on the ceiling of Sistine Chapel (1511). An admirer of Michelangelo, Golahny portrayed her divergent vision of the first seven days of the world. Present and effective as light itself, Golahny’s God permeates her paintings of Genesis but never assumes human form.
Golahny was inspired by the grandeur of the concept of creation. She conveyed supernatural forces creating a luxuriant cosmos, a teeming underwater world, and a dramatic terrestrial scheme of plants, animals and humans. Her transformation of the biblical text was yet loyal to the original words. This meant that she studied cosmology, ichthyology, and biology in order to render with scientific accuracy phenomena and life of the sky, water, and land. To depict the stars and planets, she consulted the faculty of the Harvard Astrophysics department, the archives of the Harvard College Observatory, and the telescopes of the institution; to represent the plants and animals, she repeatedly visited the Harvard Peabody Museum, the Boston Museum of Science and the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
Here are brief descriptions of Golahny’s triplicate days of creation:
The first day, the separation of light and dark, entails swirls of rose, orange, and pale blue emerging from a cone of blackness.
On the second day, the establishment of water and sky divides the chaos into upper and lower regions.
On the third day, the land and sea are separated, and vegetation is created on the land.
On the fourth day, the sun, planets, moon, stars are formed. The sun’s lower half descends into the frame, while on the lower right spin Saturn and Jupiter. The earth, circled by its moon, centers the astral activity.
On the fifth day, the creatures in the water and air vibrantly appear. The big fish coming out of the water is the legendary coelacanth of evolution theory, and is based on a drawing of the specimen in the Peabody Museum of Harvard University. The coelacanth counts among the oldest of living creatures; known by its fossils, it was thought to have been extinct until several living specimens were found recently off the coast of eastern Africa and in Indonesia. Unusually expressive for a fish, the coelacanth conveys oxymoronic emotion: its gaping mouth reveals small, sharp, threatening teeth, while its wide eyes appeal almost affably.
On the sixth day, the creatures on the earth are created, including man and woman. The couple here may be seen as any male-female pair and as the biblical Adam and Eve.
On the seventh day, God rests after having brought the world into being. The watchful eyes on the bottom of these frames, gentle and abstract in (a) while unnerving and anthropomorphic in (b), may suggest God’s attention on his creation, untiring even as God rests.
Taken together, these images evoke the dynamism, mystery, and potential of creation.