Sylvianne Abrias-Murat

The abyss

In alchemical treatises, the formulaL'Oeuvre au Noir designates what is said to be the most difficult phase of the alchemist's process, the separation and dissolution of substance. It is still not clear whether the term applied to daring experiments on matter itself, or whether it was understood to symbolize trials of the mind in discarding all forms of routine and prejudice. Marguerite Yourcenar,The Abyss1

1L'Oeuvre au Noir, or The Work in Black, refers to the first step in alchemy (Nigredo). Itis also the title of the 1968 novel by Belgian-French writer Marguerite Yourcenar, whose English translation by Grace Frick has been published with the under the titles The Abyssor alternately Zeno of Bruges.

The Abyss

Translation: Leah Light

Despite a certain contemporary doxa, which suggests that all “authentic” artists should maintain a degree of critical distance from their creation, Sylvianne Abrias-Murat made the choice to ignore such an injunction, building her work entirely upon her emotions. It’s only through this kind of emotional engagement that art becomes a gateway for self-transcendence (Gneauthi Seauton – “know-thyself,” said the oracle at Delphi), and even more radically, a gateway, through analogy, to access the universe's hidden secrets.

My art is a window, opening onto my individuality, which itself opens onto the totality of the universe. I’ve called this totality that I’m trying to grasp the absolute. This absolute – represented in my work by the color black – is the immobile motor that motivates my creation, giving it its meaning and purpose1.

Searching, in each of her canvases, to seize this absolute, which is also the origin, the final purpose and the beginning of all things, Abrias-Murat doesn’t paint in the strict sense of the word, in that her objective is not representational (except, perhaps, in painting what Walter Benjamin would call a “crystal image2”), but rather, she operates within the dark material that covers her work (themateria prima3which one finds in a work likeLes Deux Mondes), making a sacrifice. Bending, crushing, twisting, and wrestling her canvases with her body, her works always begin by depicting chaos. Then, with the aid of simple forms whose meanings are identical with the primitive gesture that traces them, Murat roughly sketches the beginnings of an order, penetrating the chaos.

In a work likeOuranos, for example – a work whose title makes direct reference to the first sacrifice from which all Greek mythology4originates (that is, the moment when Zeus had to castrate his father, with his mother’s help, to stop Uranus from devouring his children), which, with a gush of sperm and blood, sets all of human history in motion – the circle which travels through the night’s chaos is incomplete, or even, forms an arc, whose tension forces anyone who looks at it to become, in his way, the equivalent of Zeus, a hero who found the necessary strength to raise a blade against his own father, and in so doing, closed the circle around his father’s perpetual night.

Les deux mondes - Sylvianne Abrias-MuratLe passage - Sylvianne Abrias-Murat

I need to organize chaos. The world’s chaos. My own chaos. This need is deeply rooted in me and I don’t analyze it. I only know that after having plunged into the material, simple forms – a circle, a square, emerge from this magma – and once you’ve traced them, these prove to be powerful symbolic artifacts. It all seems as if the two coexistent elements, chaos and form, show me a vision, both simple and paradoxical, of the absolute – that which escapes at the moment you think you’ve glimpsed it.

Because the absolute – such is its magic – is pierced: it is the orifice in which the front is back and vice versa, thekatabolewhere the number three is formed (and disappears). Indeed, the absolute is sometimes darkness (a primordial chaos), sometimes the movements of fission which create being (the symbolic forms), and sometimes, finally, the movement that unites these elements. In this sense, the absolute that Abrias-Murat is seeking – an absolute which she represents with a rare profundity and intensity, as for example in her works Le PassageorDéflagration –could be compared to the unknown, figureless god of the mystics: that is to say, the pure god of love that only exists within the hearts, burnt and burning, of those beings who know how to hear his call from the depths of their sacred solitude.

1. All quotes from Sylvianne Abrias-Murat are taken from a private interview that I had with her.

2I am borrowing the expression from Walter Benjamin: when he writes of the“crystal image,” he is referring to visual representations which feature the superimposition of multiple places, figures, or motifs.

3Materia Primais the term that the mystic Jacob Böhme uses to refer to the original material from which the universe was created.

4For more on this subject, see the beginning of Hesiod’sTheogeny.

Frédéric-Charles Baitinger


Sylvianne Abrias-Murat is a French artist.