[ ahy-luhm ] the hypothetical initial substance of the universe from which all matter is derived.

6" x 6"


acrylic paint, ink, mustard seed, varnish (+ removable paint marker on transparency overlay)

Art and science are two of my favorite things, and I love combining them. I immediately knew what I was going to do for this, although it requires a bit of explanation.

The galaxy-esque look is self-explanatory; it’s the beginning of space-time. I had experience with this swirly abstract technique because of my Transience painting, which I completed 2 years ago to the day.

Earlier this week I had noticed the Space Dog painting in my son’s room, and thought about how much I loved doing the “DNA strand” and how I should do more of that. I think it subliminally influenced me, because I found myself wanting to add something like that here.

I liked the idea of a reference to string theory, but my tests with thread didn’t look right. In another test, I drew a quick string/twist on a transparency sheet. I liked that as is, with the sloppiness and the visibility of the transparency sheet itself. The hardest part of painting is knowing when to quit, because that last element can make or break a painting. So I left it on, but not permanently attached.

Now for the complexity.

The central dot/lump represents the Initial Singularity.

“At some time in the past (about 13.7 billion years ago), the distance between neighboring galaxies must have been zero. In other words, the entire universe was squashed into a single point with zero size, like a sphere of radius zero. At that time, the density of the universe and the curvature of space-time would have been infinite. It is the time that we call the big bang.” – Stephen Hawking, A Briefer History of Time (I prefer the original book, FYI).

That lump is an actual mustard seed, embedded in the painting. It’s a reference to the 13th Century Rabbi, Nachmanides (or Ramban) who supposedly said that in the beginning the universe was concentrated in a space no larger than a mustard seed (old school way of saying “super tiny”). In his Commentary on the Torah (Genesis 1:1) Ramban says:

“The Holy One, blessed be He, created all of the creations from absolute nothingness. And we have no other expression in the Holy Tongue for bringing out something from nothing than “bara” (which is found almost exclusively in this verse). And none of all that which was made – ‘under the sun’ or above – existed [directly] from nothing. Rather, He brought out a very fine element from complete nothingness; it has no substance, but it is the energy that can create, that is able to accept a form and to go from the potential to the actual. And this is the first material [and] is called hyle by the Greeks.”

Oh yeah, and the mustard seed glows in the dark.

Ylem string singularity mixed media word painting by Sarah M. Schumacher