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  • Constantina Alexander

Something from nothing - the Tzim Tzum of creating.

I once had a free studio space at the top of an office building. I was allowed to access it after the workers had gone home and would often go there late at night to paint till the sun came up. It was the first time I had a large space to work in and it was wonderful.

The studio was in Worthing, near the seafront, and I would paint accompanied by screeling seagulls, sounds of the sea and numerous exchange students laughing and talking outside the McDonald's opposite.

Large spaces beget large canvases but in those days, there were no cheap canvas suppliers. If you wanted a canvas you had to make it. A lot of my early work was stretched on very rough frames - I am no carpenter - after a layer of rabbit skin glue was applied it would be primed and taut.

One night, sitting on my tool box staring at a large blank canvas, I was wondering what to paint. I have a tendency to paint from the imagination rather than real life. Painting is an exploration of my inner self and my engagement with the universe on a subliminal level, something to contemplate and explore further on my spiritual path.

This particular night I decided to use a large decorators brush and just paint on some areas of bright oil paint, well diluted with Portuguese turpentine. It's marvellous painting with a great, big brush. You can't get finicky and just have to let it flow. Oriented in landscape mode, the canvas began to represent some kind of hilly scene with a river, perhaps. Paint was dripping from my elbows and my pallete needed a good wipe. Time for coffee and to study the effect of what I had created from a blank space, from nothing.

Yes, maybe I could work in some abstract trees, and develop the mountainish bits. I turned the canvas ninety degrees to see what it revealed. In portrait mode, there before me, was a Madonna and child. I just needed to tidy it up a little and reinforce the oval areas of light that marked the faces and it was complete.

She has been with me for nearly 20 years now and is sadly rolled up and stored in a chest, a bit cracked with age. She reminds me of Creation. There is a Jewish tradition called the Tzim Tzum. A Big Bang theory, if you like. Nothingness contracts upon itself and then after a time it suddenly expands and Existence comes into being. This mystery repeats itself in Christ, who would go off to the mountain to be alone, quiet and still before returning and continuing with his mission. As a Franciscan and an almost hermit, I know the value of retreat to a place of stillness. New creation can come from a place of emptiness, it is very powerful. An eternal adventure and one worth pursuing and repeating at various stages in one's life. You never quite know what it will produce, but that is the exciting part. I thank my dear Madonna and child for reminding me of this possibility once more.