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Archive for Binding of Isaac

The Binding of Isaac

Love came and emptied me of self,
every vein and every pore,
made into a container to be filled by the Beloved.
Of me, only a name is left,
the rest is You my Friend, my Beloved.
-Abil-Kheir (967 – 1049)

I am in the process of updating my art website and I wrote this about a couple pieces I did on the Binding of Isaac. I thought you might enjoy it:

The Binding of Isaac is a story that I have wrestled with for many years. When I first came to it, was overwhelming in its injustice. But now I understand that this is a story, not of God’s cruelty, but of God’s infinite love and kindness toward humanity. It is also a story of the power of surrender.

The Binding of Isaac is about being in an impossible situation, something that is so terrible that we think we cannot face it. This is a common human experience. It is not a question of the justice or injustice of a situation, it is a question of how we face a situation we cannot change or escape. Can we trust the Divine forces in our lives or do we fight and struggle? I have been in this situation over and over again with my health, how do you accept the unacceptable? But I have accepted it and learned to surrender as Abraham did and just as Abraham was shown such compassion and kindness, so have I. The Divine desires us to be creative luminous beings and if we won’t listen to this desire, the we will be forced to listen but in the kindest possible way that we can listen to. The act of surrender is the act of hearing God.

The first piece is Abraham’s Annunciation when he is told by God of his task. The second piece is the Binding of Isaac. There are two more pieces in this series to be completed, the moment Abraham puts the knife to Isaac’s neck and the unbinding of Isaac. These pieces are in progress and will be posted. 

Spiritual meaning of material used: These pieces are on sheep skin parchment representing the ram that Abraham sacrificed. The 22k gold leaf represents the spiritual perfection achieved by Abraham in his of of surrender. The pigments are handmade, for the most part from stones and plants representing the mountain Abraham climbed for his sacrifice. I also used bone black a pigment made from charred bones to represent the ram.

Image #1: Abraham’s Annunciation
The writing pouring into Abraham’s head is the Hebrew text from the Bible.

Image #2: The Binding of Isaac
The Hebrew lettering around his wrists is the text from the Bible, translation on edge of the box.18″x14″.
The Binding of Isaac, Abraham's Annunciation by Sybil Archibald

The Binding of Isaac, Abraham's Annunciation by Sybil Archibald

Are you only as good as your last piece?

The question as asked in Gloria Dean’s Blog is interesting to think about, but I believe this is question misses the true point of making art. Art is not about our own assessments of good and bad, it’s about the work’s relationship to world and its viewers. It is next to impossible for an artist to judge the true purpose or quality of their own work.

Case in point, several years ago I painted a piece about the Binding of Isaac. It is the moment Isaac hands are bound by his father for his sacrifice. The decision to paint the rope tying around his hands as actual Hebrew words from the Bible was automatic. I went through a period of illness, the painting lay abandoned, then judged by me as not so hot. Some time later I had the painting in a gallery and a woman in a wheelchair came in. She was in an almost reclining position. She had oxygen pumped to her nose, and she seem to only have movement in her arms and head. Her wheelchair was electric and she was determined to get into the gallery by herself. She wasn’t going to be bound by her illness. I watched her struggle as she finally made it in, immediately drawn to my painting. I could see something in her body language shift as she looked at it.

She told me part of her story: she was an ultra-orthodox Jew who had left her faith. Something out the Hebrew lettering and the image spoke to her about her illness. I don’t think I’ve ever had someone understand my own work on a level so much deeper than my own understanding before. By seeing her reaction I received new meaning for the painting which helped me understand my own illness. Clearly, I had made this work for her and never known it. She said it helped to ease her. Sometimes we must surrender to our bonds to achieve freedom.

By judging our own work & keeping locked away, we not only block ourselves but block the Divine. Our paintings and works of art can be portals for the creative flow of healing energy into the world. If we are truly creating, it’s not coming from us, but through us. We are the filter through which light can pour. A filter is necessary for otherwise, the light would blind us. This is an awesome gift and responsibility- the responsibility not to judge. Even a piece, which by traditional artistic standards may not be great, may have a greater purpose. We don’t and can’t know. It’s up to use to be humble enough to allow the process to work through us.